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Musical Mondaze

Ellisa Sun

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With a new EP due next week, our favorite soulful, soul-baring singer/songwriter Ellisa Sun is sharing her latest single, “Just A Little More,” with TrunkSpace. Come for the song, stay for the chat below!

TrunkSpace: We spoke earlier this year. Are you in a different mindset – creatively, emotionally – than you were when we chatted back in May?
Sun: Absolutely. I’m still the same person, of course, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the past year and a half. I’ve grown not just as an artist, but as a businesswoman. And I’ve built a band I’m insanely proud to have. I’ve learned to collaborate and create this EP with my band from the ground up. With my first album “Moon & Sun” (released in April of last year), the songs were pretty much written and arranged ahead of time. With this EP, I worked with my band to create five pieces of intricate music, inspired by my personal experiences with love and loss. Emotionally speaking, I haven’t changed much – I’m still the crazy person I was back in May! But I have been lucky enough to find a partner since May, Ken Michienzi, who serves as my rock through the insanity of navigating the music industry and touring the USA in a 30-ft RV.

TrunkSpace: How do those creative and emotional changes directly relate to your new single “Just A Little More,” which we are premiering here today?
Sun: I’ll just go ahead and be super open with you: I wrote “Just A Little More” when I was first dating Ken, my current partner. When I first started dating Ken, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted. I knew I liked him, but I also wanted my freedom. I was conflicted, and I talked to a lot of my friends about it. Nowadays, with all the dating apps and the ability to pick up a person with a single tap of your finger on a screen, it’s easy to throw people away. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid to take the leap and admit I liked him. Suffice it to say, it worked out and we’re together still! But, this song is about that chaos of being afraid to admit your true feelings for someone.

I wrote the song and brought it to my band while we were on a band retreat in Watsonville, CA. We had the weekend to hang out by the beach and it was a beautiful and peaceful place. The song came together over the course of a day, as my band members added their parts organically. Over the next few months, the song grew even more into what it is today! This is a testament to the creative changes I’ve made over the past year and a half. We worked together as a group, and this is something I’ve always wanted: a harmonious band that communicates effectively, works hard, and creates fearlessly.

TrunkSpace: The single is from your upcoming EP of the same name, due September 21. Would you say this is a new chapter in your creative life, and if so, what does the EP say about who you are as an artist in 2018?
Sun: Well, here’s the sad part of all this “harmonious band” talk: my band broke up after we created this EP. Nothing bad though! One member needed a break to focus on his family, one moved to New York, and as for me: I was ready to leave the Bay Area. It’s all good – I’m so grateful we ended things peacefully, there was no drama and we still keep in touch (we’re even doing a full-band reunion tour in Boston, NYC, Philly, and DC at the end of September!)

I left 1 month ago to embark on a year-long tour in my 30-ft RV with Ken. This is DEFINITELY a new chapter in my creative life, because I no longer have my band. I am being forced to focus on my craft alone, with Ken to play the Cajon for me, which is really nice. But I’m being challenged to improve my guitar skills and songwriting.

The EP is both a showcase of me and my band’s hard work, and a sort of “time capsule” of my life in the Bay Area since this was our last project together before taking a break. I’m using this solo tour as a time of reflection, to figure out what I want next: where I want to live, what types of sounds I want to create, and how to make a full-time living off my music – cause I am hellbent on making that happen!

TrunkSpace: You and your band self-produced the EP this time around. How did that change the process of recording for you? Did having more creative control mean having more of your vision take shape?
Sun: Absolutely. We wrote, arranged, rehearsed, produced and recorded these songs over the course of a year. This is VERY different from “Moon & Sun,” which was recorded at a studio over the course of four days. I wrote three of the five songs, but the other two were started by Niko, my bassist, and Chuck, my guitarist. The songs would start out as one idea and end as another. We had the time to play around with ideas, throw out new ideas, throw away ones we didn’t like, and start over if we had to. We kept shared Google Docs with notes and ideas, rehearsed at least twice a week, and made sure we were all on the same page. It was truly a collaborative labor of love.

TrunkSpace: Last we spoke we referred to your music as “sexy.” Will that sexy vibe carry forward into the new EP?
Sun: (Laughter) Me calling my music “sexy” was a joke at first – I use that adjective too much and my bandmate Niko made fun of me, so I (of course) kept doing it. To me, “sexy” doesn’t necessarily mean the cliché, slow jam, baby-making music you hear on your local late night radio. Rather, it’s a word to describe music that makes you feel something. Sometimes that feeling is emotional – it brings you back to a certain place or time. Sometimes it’s physical – it makes you want to move your body or it gives you the chills. Other times it’s mental – it sparks questions you’d never had before.

But I do want one of my songs to result in a baby being conceived. Just saying. That’s a real goal of mine.

Photo By: Ken Michienzi

TrunkSpace: We also spoke about the various styles and influences we heard in your music. Did you try to bring anything uniquely new to this project, sonically or lyrically, that you never tackled before?
Sun: Yes! A lot of this is EP is new sonically and lyrically. Compared to “Moon & Sun,” this EP is a lot more upbeat. The songs make you want to move and sway a bit more. Sonically speaking, we experimented with tons of sounds. Quincy, my drummer, tried a bunch of different percussion instruments. David, my keyboard player, tried out piano, synth, and organ sounds with the songs. All of the guys were fabulous singers and came up with their own backup vocal lines.

We created A LOT of demos, test mixes, and versions of the songs before we settled on the final arrangements. I also had the pleasure of working with two horn players, Dan and Ethan, who work really well together and created some truly delicious horn lines in all of the songs. I even sing in Spanish in one of the songs, “Chaos”, with my guitarist Chuck! I speak Spanish and I generally want to sing more in Spanish, but haven’t had the chance until now.

TrunkSpace: When you’re choosing the first single, do you pick the track that you personally enjoy most? The track you think will be the most accessible to a mass audience? What is the formula you use when making that decision?
Sun: I chose the track that is the most representative of the band. “Just a Little More” shows off our band’s many talents and it’s my personal favorite. I have a deep emotional connection to this song because of where it came from and how it grew with the band. It’s easy to sing along to, and hopefully my audience will enjoy singing along to it! Since I’ve been on the road, I’ve played a lot of house shows where the crowd is intimately listening to every word. So I’ve incorporated a lot of sing-alongs with the song, where the crowd sings some “ooos” and the chorus line “break your little heart”. It’s been so much fun!

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new EP?
Sun: I’m definitely proud of how collaborative it was. We created the songs together and we did the legwork to finish them. It feels so good to know your music came from a place of peace, a place of true love. It wasn’t just some guys I hired to play the chords I wrote, and there was no drama about who gets to play what. We made it together.

TrunkSpace: Do you place expectations on yourself and your music when you release something into the world? Does the “Just A Little More” EP or the single of the same name have personal goals attached to them that you hope to achieve?
Sun: I absolutely place expectations on myself. Ken can attest to that – he has to deal with my constant self-deprecation. I’m incredibly proud of this EP, and therefore terrified to release it into the world. I’m scared of people saying negative things about it, or telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing in the music business as a result of this EP. But I always try to remember that I’m following my heart and my dream for MYSELF, not for anybody else. I am doing this because I love it and it makes me feel alive.

As a personal goal for the EP, I want people to feel connected to the songs and relate to the lyrics. This EP is all about love: the chaos of love and the payoff of all the ups and downs. All I want is for people to feel something from my music and share it with people they love.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead into the future 20 years to get a glimpse at how your career played out over the next two decades, would you take that trip? Would you want to know how things ultimately work out, and if not, why?
Sun: This is a very difficult question! I would say, yes. If someone offered me the chance to travel through time, why the hell wouldn’t I?! If I wind up under a bridge homeless and living off dead rats because my music failed, I’d rather know now. And if I wind up living in an enormous mansion surrounded by servants and statues of pure gold, then I’ll know to keep on truckin’.

Photo By: Ken Michienzi
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Musical Mondaze

Steve ‘n’ Seagulls

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You enjoyed the songs the first time around, singing along and banging your head to the familiar rock tunes that were accompanied by electric guitars and drums. Now Steve “n” Seagulls have gotten their mandolin-holding hands on them and you’re tapping your foot in a completely different tempo to classics like “Gimme All Your Lovin” and “Panama.” But make no mistake, this is not a novelty band. No, the Finland born and bluegrass-inspired Steve “n” Seagulls are rousing musicians honoring the past in the present, and they’re doing so in an innovative and exhilarating way.

We recently sat down with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Remmel to discuss where it all began, how they choose which songs to honor, and why a Juhannus album may (or may not) be in their future.

TrunkSpace: If you can start us off on the personal inception aspect of your journey, how did bluegrass find its way into your lives in Finland and then ultimately inspire you enough to not only pursue it yourselves creatively, but to do so utilizing well-known rock tracks?
Remmel: Well, bluegrass probably came with country, which came with other acoustic music and that came along after growing up with music like rock, heavy and hard rock. There is a small but lively country/bluegrass scene in Finland.

But we ended up with this kind of mixture and flavors a little bit by accident and fortune, too. In 2010 when the band was first formed, it was only supposed to do a 15 to 20 gigs run in a chain of restaurants, playing music in country and spaghetti western style. From there it went on as a side project, changed a little bit on the way. This lineup came together in 2013 and after that more acoustic stuff came in and electrics got cut a bit. Somewhere along the way the music changed also from all kinds of pop etc., towards rock and metal. And it’s been fun and also challenging so we just dug in deeper and deeper.

TrunkSpace: Your new album “Grainsville” features 12 tracks, including Pear Jam’s “Alive” and our personal favorite, David Lee Roth’s “Panama.” With so many great songs at your disposal, what is the process of deciding what you will take into the studio? Is it democratic? Does everyone get to pick one? (It must be so hard!)
Remmel: The process itself is most of the times pretty much similar. Someone comes up with an idea to play a riff, beat or something to a song with a different kind of style, vibe or feel to it, then we start to work around this idea together, adding flavors to it, throwing in ideas, and at some point we end up with an idea which is usable or we end up never talking about it again. Or something in the middle. So it’s about fiddling around with your old favorites and finding new ways to pay a tribute or honor them.

TrunkSpace: In the process of recording “Grainsville,” were there other songs that you laid down that didn’t make the cut, but may end up seeing the light of day in another format?
Remmel: There were some. There always will be some that will never see the daylight. Some might too. Some make it to the next album or live set – who knows. But these are well kept secrets for the future. If we told you, we’d have to be so hammered that no one would remember it the next day.

TrunkSpace: Your songs have so much instrumentation – so much energy. Is it difficult to sometimes capture that energy in the studio? Are there songs that have worked on stage, but not in the studio?
Remmel: Yes to both. It is difficult, and still our live set is somewhat different from our albums. Sometimes capturing the live energy in studio is not even necessary, but trying to do it is pretty damn hard. We also at least have had songs in our live set that never made it to the studio. Not sure if we do that anymore. We have worked hard for our live set and it is a good thing that there are both sides to the band, live and studio. We feel that it gives the audience something totally new, too, when they see and hear us live. It’s all about enjoying music, playing and honoring these classic, iconic tracks. That being said, we also do our original stuff live and studio.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “Grainsville?”
Remmel: That’s a tough one. Maybe the album is more whole. It has more dimensions compared to previous ones. We’re happy and proud that we have been able to take steps forward on each album. We’re proud we made a good album. Huge thanks goes to our producer, Jarkko Viinamäki, recording engineer/co-producer, Jyri Riikonen, recording engineer Petri Majuri, and Tommi Kakko, who helped with lyrics. And many more people we love dearly. And beer and sauna too.

TrunkSpace: You guys are a tireless touring machine. What is it that keeps you on the road and performing these songs each and every night?
Remmel: Well… it’s a way of life. It’s fun! It has to be fun, even though we do not wanna be seen as a joke. It’s more about having fun with music and honoring the songs. When we play live we give our 100 percent. But playing in front of a crowd and getting that energetic feel and being worn out after a show is awesome. We really, really want to thank each individual that comes to see and hear us live. We work hard on our live sets. We want to keep it as tight as possible. We also have a great audio engineer that is responsible for our well-praised live sound. Antti “Ministeri” Laitila, we salute you.

TrunkSpace: What must be awesome about what you guys do, particularly in a live setting, is that an audience can (and probably does) sing along with every single song you perform. That has to be a powerful motivator knowing that you’re thrilling it and killing it before you even step foot on stage every night?
Remmel: Well, to be honest, you never know what’s going to happen. We need to give our 100 percent every night, but it is a blast to see people smiling, singing, having fun and dancing around, and also to have a chat with people after the show. One of the best things in playing live is to see people smiling and just having a good time.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far? What is one moment that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your musical journey?
Remmel: There are so many. Making albums. Playing live shows around the world. We never thought we’d find ourselves playing abroad, touring. Maybe our first big festival show in Sweden rock, that is one. Suddenly we were in front of 10,000 to 12,000 people with our instruments. (Laughter) That was a moment we’ll probably never forget – something between being spooked and feeling like a kid again.

TrunkSpace: We’re throwing it out there… we’d love a Steve ‘N’ Seagulls holiday album. What are the odds of that coming into fruition?
Remmel: (Laughter) “Hi, come enjoy Christmas with Steve ‘n’ Seagulls!” We have no idea. Maybe we’ll do a Labor Day album? Or to celebrate Finnish holiday, Midsummer – in Finnish, JUHANNUS! We’ll see about that. (Laughter) “It’s Juhannus with Steve ‘n’ Seagulls!!”

TrunkSpace: Going back to your take on David Lee Roth’s “Panama,” we’ve got to ask, can any of you guys rock the midair splits like the original madman of rock was known to do on stage?
Remmel: Hiltunen gets pretty close. Me and Hiltunen have tried and it seems to be hard to get back up standing on stage while playing and trying to do a split. David Lee Roth had spandex on too, so it’s easier than what we wear. He also jumped pretty high. We jump like logs of wood.

TrunkSpace: Finally, we’re on the back nine of 2018 now, but what’s on tap for the rest of the year and what should fans be on the lookout for heading into 2019?
Remmel: We’re touring the USA at the moment. October and November we’ll tour Finland and December it’s time to do a UK tour. In mid January, 2019, we start our European tour and we go on to France, Germany, Netherlands, etc., for about a month. Seems that we’re coming back to the USA in March 2019. So, touring, videos maybe some new music – who knows. But touring for sure. So we have some kick ass live shows comin’ up. See you there!

Maybe a new hat for Hiltunen.

Maybe new instruments that we’ve never played before, at least one?

Grainsville” is available now on Spinefarm Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Taylor Grey

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Photo By: Nikko Lamere

With her new single “Back to Bite,” pop artist Taylor Grey has created a track that she hopes will empower people to take back their voices. That motivational anthem, which is out now, is off of her forthcoming EP, a record she says is working hard to be the best representation of who she is as an artist today.

We recently sat down with Grey to discuss her dedicated fans, why a Z-list level of fame is appealing, and the reason she has a weekly mental breakdown when the summer comes to an end.

TrunkSpace: As an artist, you’re always creating in the present. Does that make “Back to Bite” the best representation of who you are as an artist today?
Grey: It is definitely part of the best representation of me! I think it’s hard for one song to encompass an entire person, but my new EP, which has “Back to Bite” on it, is for sure trying its hardest.

TrunkSpace: That being said, can you listen to the single and say, “This is the sound that I want to be creating for the rest of my career?”
Grey: I mean, I love the song but I’d be lying to myself if I said that I’m constantly changing and I would never want to put an artistic barrier on myself. What I can say is, “This is the way I want to feel when I listen to my music for the rest of my career.”

TrunkSpace: Do you feel like an artist is in a difficult position to mature and build off an established sound? It seems you’re damned if you do (people want you to grow as an artist), but damned if you don’t (they don’t want you to venture too far away from what they love about you).
Grey: I completely understand the dilemma. For me, I feel really lucky because I never had a huge fan base with my old music, but the fans that I did have are so dedicated and lovely – I think they mainly just want to hear me be more authentic. They are the absolute best to stick by me. I’m not sure what I did to deserve them.

TrunkSpace: You described your current sound as less filtered and more vulnerable. As an artist, that emotional honesty is certainly the way to connect to an audience, but as a human being, is it difficult to be more open and exposed in such a public world, especially with everyone having an opinion on social media?
Grey: Yeah, it’s really difficult for me. Part of me still gets scared when I talk about topics like feminism or sexual assault with men because, although those are integral themes in my song “Back to Bite,” I still feel like someone might get mad at me. And then I think, “Oh yeah, THIS is why songs like this need to exist – to make these themes more seen and more comfortable, just to have an open conversation about them.”

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “Back to Bite?”
Grey: When the song released, a really good friend of mine messaged me and told me how much the song meant to her, she said it made her want to fight back against her assaulters. So yeah, I’m most proud of how the song connects to people. I wrote it with the intention for it run the gamut on meaning – it could be someone who is hurting from being cheated on to someone who is hurting from having their control over their body taken away. It’s just an empowerment song to take back your voice.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
Grey: Oh, a lot of places. (Laughter) Sometimes I think I’m a good songwriter and sometimes I think I’m absolute trash. I’m definitely hardest on myself about my body though. I’ve never felt good enough. Not once. So I wrote a song about that and put it on my EP.

TrunkSpace: Many people say that music is a form of therapy. Is it that way for you?
Grey: It absolutely is. But I wouldn’t suggest it be a replacement for anyone struggling; I don’t know where I’d be without real therapy.

Photo By: Nikko Lamere

TrunkSpace: How important is branding and creating a look and vibe that helps to emphasize your public persona? Is it something you enjoy, creating that extra layer beyond the music, or is it a necessary evil?
Grey: This is a really tricky question.

Well, I hate taking pictures, because I never like how I look, but I do think it’s necessary to create a look that conveys who you are. So with this new music, I’m more interested in creating a look where it isn’t about my body, but it’s about the art and the music first.

TrunkSpace: What do you think the biggest hurdle is for an artist to overcome in 2018? Where do you have to work the hardest to be seen and heard?
Grey: I think it’s really small at the top, and the music industry likes to stay where it’s comfortable – a lot of artists that are already very well known. But I don’t really want that kind of pressure. I’d be very comfortable as a Z-list celebrity with a group of really amazing supporters just doing what I love and jamming out together. That’s the dream.

TrunkSpace: You’re also currently attending Stanford. Internally, how do you juggle your studies and your creative interests? Do they coexist or are they completely separate?
Grey: It’s hard. I like summer… I’m going to miss summer. During school, I drink a lot of coffee, rarely go out, and have a weekly mental breakdown. But that being said, I want the education/degree and I want the music. I love both and wouldn’t change it, so it’s my choice. And my low-key parents because I don’t think they’d be happy if I told them I was dropping out.

TrunkSpace: Finally, we’re on the back nine of 2018 now, but what’s on tap for the rest of the year and what should fans be on the lookout for heading into 2019?
Grey: Definitely be on the lookout for my new EP coming out this year. I’m beyond excited for it!

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Musical Mondaze

mmhmm

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Are your ears jonesing for a sound that they haven’t necessarily heard before? Something that is part Smothers Brothers-throwback and part country-modern? Well, if your answer is “Mmhmm,” then Raelyn Nelson and Hannah Fairlight may have just the thing for you.

Already established on the Nashville music scene by way of their individual musical endeavors, the duo came together to form mmhmm after their personal friendship slowly developed into a creative partnership. Following the release of their self-titled debut in June, mmhmm received criticism for what many deemed the perpetuation of a word associated with hate speech, featured in the song “Lookin’ Like a Tranny Blues.” Both Nelson and Fairlight address the issue here with TrunkSpace, ensuring their fans that it was never their intention to offend anyone. (Read more below.)

We recently sat down with the pair to discuss future holiday happenings, penis-shaped clouds, and why they sometimes second-guess themselves creatively now.

TrunkSpace: We have to say, after listening to your debut, we’d stand in line for a Christmas album by the two of you.
Fairlight: Oh my gosh.
Nelson: I’m writing it on the to-do list.
Fairlight: She’s writing it on the to-do list! It’s happening and you’ll be surprised because we have many a hairbrained idea, but we’ve not thought of that yet and that’s an amazing idea. We’re going to have to give you credit.

TrunkSpace: We’ll be awaiting the festive snap, crackle and pop of the holiday vinyl.
Nelson: By popular demand!

TrunkSpace: Your debut album was released back in June. Looking back, now that you have distance with it, is there anything that you guys would have done differently?
Nelson: I think we probably would have not put “Lookin’ Like a Tranny Blues” on the album.
Fairlight: I agree.
Nelson: We didn’t realize that the word is a taboo word now and that it is linked with hate crimes and hate speech, and we don’t condone that.
Fairlight: We love everybody and we did not intend for the song to be interpreted that way.
Nelson: I gotta say, it was a hard thing to go through with our community, in Nashville, that seemed to turn against us very quickly. The wound is still healing. I think we’re trying to stay far away from that song still.
Fairlight: We had a long process in making the debut and I would say that, every approach to every song was from a storytelling standpoint. We’re out, we’re active, but I guess we didn’t really get any queues from anybody along the way that the song wouldn’t be…
Nelson: So, we had our CD release party planned at Lipstick Lounge, which is a lesbian bar here in town and we’ve played there many times. We played the song there many times and no one said anything to us that it was considered hate speech. It was a place of ignorance, and to answer your question, we probably wouldn’t have put that song on there had we known it was that…
Fairlight: That racy and that bad, yeah. We just didn’t really even think of it that way at all during the process of making it. Other than that though, we love the way it (the album) turned out. Brad Jones, over at Alex The Great, did a really good job capturing mmhmm with minimal instrumentation and maximum us – comedy and who we are and what we want to put ourselves forward as.

TrunkSpace: There is a great live energy and vibe to the album. Is that something you set out to achieve?
Fairlight: Absolutely.
Nelson: Yeah, you know, everything kind of happened organically with Hannah and I. We were just writing some songs together and then a gig fell in our lap. Funny you mentioned Christmas because it was a Toys for Tots Christmas gig that was offered to us and we had maybe three songs written, so we learned a couple covers and then put the show together.
Fairlight: It started to take shape. The show became the best vessel for mmhmm and when it came time to record… actually, right near the end, we actually talked to Brad about adding the banter that we do our show with, to make it feel like that.
Nelson: We haven’t even talked about putting the bits in there with the next one. Who knows if we will or not, but it was definitely important for the debut one.

TrunkSpace: With the negative feedback you received for “Lookin’ Like a Tranny Blues,” did that make you then second-guess yourselves when writing new material? Are you more aware about what you’re creatively putting out into the world now?
Fairlight: Yes.
Nelson: Yes, I question everything a little bit… racy isn’t the word. What’s the word?
Fairlight: I’ll tell you this, I was on the way here writing a song in my head about falling in love with a gardener and being like the mistress of the house, just ’cause I had passed somebody doing the lawn care and was inspired and had this idea. Coming down the driveway to meet Raelyn here, it feels like… it did enter my head, and it wouldn’t have entered my head before this whole thing, that well, I don’t want us to be branded as an affair-promoting band. You know what I mean? Just weird stuff has been floating into our heads.

Right after that happened, there was a penis cloud in the sky and it took us like 10 minutes to try and caption it because we couldn’t figure out what was appropriate for the penis cloud.
Nelson: And that’s hilarious. Everybody’s going to laugh at a cloud shaped like a dick, c’mon!

TrunkSpace: Society seems so divided and it feels like music should be one of the safe spaces where you can go to a show, stand amongst people you may have nothing in common with, and still all enjoy yourselves collectively.
Nelson: Exactly.
Fairlight: Yeah, I really felt like we had that, sort of, comradery there at Lipstick and also just in our community in Nashville. I think we still have that. I feel like it’s our responsibility now to be the dorky headhunters or whatever, at this new understanding of certain words and moving forward be light-hearted and make fun of ourselves and get back to having fun. We just want to have fun. We want people to have fun.
Nelson: That was hard to get back to fun.
Fairlight: We were guilty for putting anything fun up, like the dick cloud.
Nelson: We were just in this grieving mode and it was affecting our families and it was a tough time. On the other side of it, we’ve learned a lot and it bonded us closer, ’cause we felt like it was us against everyone.
Fairlight: It has definitely been something that we didn’t anticipate and for many reasons, I feel like it’s helped us grow as artists and friends and people, so it’s good. Bring it on!

TrunkSpace: You talk about your bond now and just in reading about your story of how you two came together, it felt very much like the “Step Brothers” movie. “Did we just become best friends?”
Nelson: (Laughter) That’s funny.

TrunkSpace: Was there just like an instantaneous connection on a creative level?
Fairlight: I think we both watched each other perform and we started to get a sense of who we both were, but our friendship came first. I think that it was really neat because, I don’t know, probably like a year and a half or so, two years, into our friendship, it seemed like the obvious thing to write songs together, but we just didn’t do it. Then one summer Raelyn had the extreme misfortune of having her house burn down.
Nelson: So, when they were rebuilding my house I was relocated to a house that was about a mile from Hannah.
Fairlight: We were right there and we were at each other’s houses a lot and we started playing shows with a small of group of local female artists and doing these shows together. Off the back of that, Raelyn and I just started writing together, mainly on our porches and just…
Nelson: About things that were happening around us.
Fairlight: It was crazy. We called it the Bad Decision Summer, ’cause we were drinking a lot in response to how crazy it was. (Laughter) Just a lot of crazy stuff was happening and so these songs just kind of came to us. And the sound. And everything. We followed our feet and everything about mmhmm has been like that. We just have an idea and we’re like, “Yeah, let’s try it,” or, “No, absolutely fucking, no.”

Actually there’s no, no in mmhmm.
Nelson: We try it first and then…
Fairlight: We pretty much try almost everything, which can feel very wrong sometimes but, you know, we’ve learned.

The self-titled mmhmm debut is available now!

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Musical Mondaze

Bodega

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Photo By: Mert Gafuroglu

With their debut album “Endless Scroll” (out now on What’s Your Rupture), the Brooklyn-based art rock group Bodega isn’t peeling back the layers of music to see what’s beneath, but instead, adding layers so that there is substance at every level of its creation.

We recently sat down with guitarist/vocalist Ben Hozie and vocalist Nikki Belfiglio to discuss the experience they were trying to establish when creating the album, the reason they also view themselves as critics, and why the greatest function a band may perform is having no function at all.

TrunkSpace: Did the band set out to accomplish something on a macro level with the album?
Hozie: Yeah, “Endless Scroll,” it’s not necessarily a concept record in the way maybe you’re talking about, but we did wanna make a… the Bodega mantra is the best critique is self critique, so we went into it looking specifically at me and Nikki’s day-to-day existence, and I guess this was 2016, and flipping this, the critical lands on ourselves. Obviously, Web 2.0, social media, the Internet and just screens in general… we’re both filmmakers, and people say, “How is,” for example, “‘I Am Not A Cinephile’ related to staring at a computer?” To me, they’re the same thing. It’s a life lived through the screen, which isn’t even necessarily a good or a bad thing. It’s just how people live their lives. It’s how we live our lives right now.

TrunkSpace: We get that. The music itself is not always the hook anymore. It could be the visual. It could be the packaging. Not many people, at least in the younger generations, are just sitting around experiencing JUST the music.
Belfiglio: That’s why with the album we created a lyrical zine to go with it – the vinyl – with the intention to put on your headphones or put on the record and read along to the lyrics to get a full immersion into the album.
Hozie: Away from a computer screen.

TrunkSpace: So what the band set out to do was create something beyond just the music itself? You were creating an experience?
Hozie: Yeah, to me, that’s why rock and roll is still a valid art form, or a vital art form, because an electric live rock and roll moment can’t be duplicated. There’s so many different elements that go into it, whether it’s the five players of the group, or the room, or the people there, or the idiosyncrasies of the moment. No matter how sophisticated sample-based music gets, there’s nothing like the spontaneity of the electric rock and roll experience.

TrunkSpace: And seeing a live show, especially now when we seem so divided as a society, it’s one of the last communities. You go and you can all have a sort of common focus.
Hozie: Yeah, or not. I often wonder, no two people experience the same event in the same way at all. That’s pretty apparent when you read reviews of records or books or whatever. It’s like, “Are they hearing the same thing I’m hearing?” And they’re not. That’s why a good friend of mine says, “You should never feel bad about criticism from someone who’s dull.” That says more about them than it does about you.

TrunkSpace: Well, an in the social media age, everyone is a critic.
Hozie: I feel the way people most listen to music is, they’re 20 seconds in and they’ve already decided whether they like it or not, just on whether the vibe of it is what their brain wants to hear. Or, whether the color of the record sleeve is… is the palette pleasing to them? So, in 20 seconds they’ve already made up their mind. In fact, they’ve probably already made up their mind before they clicked on it.
Belfiglio: ‘Cause of the name.
Hozie: Yeah. I think you could only really enjoy music if you go into it wanting to like it. You have to have that openness, and even the way I listen to music, I don’t want to do this, but I find my brain doing it – I’m making critical judgments before a song is even over. That’s just the way the world works now, which is for better or worse.

TrunkSpace: So as artists, is that daunting to you both as musicians but also as filmmakers knowing that the way people are absorbing things is different than it once was?
Hozie: I think we’re trying to adapt with the times, and part of what I see Bodega doing is functioning as a critical apparatus as well. I mean, all inherent art making is sort of critical in the sense that by choosing to play a certain type of music, you’re critiquing, inherently, the other kinds of music that you’re not playing. I see a lot of our best songs as little pocket essays. They’re not critical in the sense of thumbs up or thumbs down, but they’re critical in the sense of… I relate to, for example – this is a film analogy – but the French new wave guys all started out as critics before they were making films. I feel like there’s an element of that in our band.

TrunkSpace: In creating art you kind of have to be a critic in a way, because if you can’t judge your own work and fall in love with it in some way, the end user can always sense that.
Hozie: Yeah.
Belfiglio: You recognize it’s real.
Hozie: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.

Photo By: Mert Gafuroglu

TrunkSpace: So when you look at the messaging within the songs, were you looking to say something that people could not only enjoy in the moment, but also walk away from – leave the show, put down the album – and kind of think or find a different point of view within (or because of) something that you were saying?
Hozie: Absolutely. I think the goal of any artist’s work is to simply… well, I said this before, but I think the first goal that you need to do is you need to tell the truth. The secondary goal is to sort of de-program. I say it a lot in Bodega. What we’re trying to do is point out the sort of hidden things that are holding up the pillars of not only rock music, but just the inherent cultural underpinnings. Like for example, in our track “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” it might be kind of obvious, but the cultural logic behind late capitalism is expressed in almost all pop music – the idea that you can’t knock the hustle. So that song is kind of meant to poke at that, and it kind of becomes a dumb arena sports anthem. But obviously the message is that you can knock hustle. It’s more complicated than that because it’s referring to the Jay-Z song. I think Jay-Z’s message of not being able to knock the cocaine hustle when you come from an underprivileged background, and you’re slinging coke in Brooklyn or whatever… you can knock his hustle. That’s his point. The song playfully extends his logic outside of the context where his logic doesn’t make sense anymore, which is the ice cream parlor. 
I heard one of the bosses there in that ice cream parlor… so it was all African Americans, mostly Jamaican guys, who worked in this ice cream shop, and it was all white people from the Hamptons who were the managers. These guys, who are listening to Jay-Z would kind of say, “Well, you know, our bosses are clearly racist in some way, and they’re exploiting us, but you can’t knock the hustle ’cause they’re just doing what they can to feed their families and get bigger houses out in the Hamptons.” And you wanna be like, “No, you can knock the hustle!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It seems like nowadays, in the climate that we’re in, people are scared to knock the hustle. They’re worried what’s going to come back on them.
Hozie: Right. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. One of the great premises of DIY culture is based on functionality. I’m thinking about, like, Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” Function. Function is the key. Or the promise of the Minutemen. We jam econo, and we’re going to hop in the minivan, drive to the next town with the most limited means possible, and we’re gonna increase our functionality as much as possible. Sort of like a Utopian capitalist fantasy in a way. That’s what a band has to do too. It has to create as much content as possible. It has to function. But I’m wondering if maybe the most radical thing you can do is to not have any function at all. To be completely useless.

Endless Scroll” is available now on What’s Your Rupture.

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Musical Mondaze

Mackenzie Nicole

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Mackenzie Nicole’s debut album “The Edge” is representative of who she is as an artist today, but she is determined to not let it define who she will become as an artist tomorrow. At only 18, the pop singer with the classically-trained voice and a wide array of musical influences (including The Doors!) anticipates growing and adapting creatively as she does so in her own life, always focusing on the now, especially in the future.

It was me actually experiencing something in real time,” she says of the love songs on her debut album. “If I continue to do that, I think you’re right, I think that it will continue to be a small glimpse into my life at the time, and that’s how I kind of like it.”

We recently sat down with Nicole to discuss how the ‘80s and ‘90s impacted her music, what she would produce if left to her own creative devices, and why she’s on a mission to break the pop mold.

TrunkSpace: You said that your album was reflective of what you were experience in real time when making it. That’s what makes music so powerful, isn’t it, that people can relate to the honesty of what you’re experiencing as an artist?
Nicole: Exactly. That’s something that I want to strive for more, is being more honest and being more myself on these tracks, because something that was really hard about this album that was a great learning experience, but that definitely affected the outcome of the album, was that it was co-written. That’s something that I definitely had never done before. I’m so used to writing everything myself, and that’s something I can’t wait to get back to, because it was such an interesting learning curve. I think it was valuable. I think it’s valuable to learn to work with others on every level as an artist, but I can’t wait to get back to being 100 percent, completely me and what I’m thinking and the way I would say it, which is something that’s really important to me.

TrunkSpace: That’s pretty rare in the pop world. And especially from your particular perspective where you play instruments and have voice training in operatic singing, that would be a different approach than most take with the genre.
Nicole: I think that’s accurate. Thank you so much for knowing that and acknowledging that, because I always joke that my goal is to Trojan horse some substance into pop music, because right now, I know that for me, something that always wowed me is that I longed for, growing up, the music of the ’80s and ’90s and the pop music of that time, because it spoke to me more. That’s not to discount everyone. There’s amazing pop music of every era, but what spoke to me more was the pop music of the past more so than what I grew up around. It was always my goal to bring back some of that earlier influence into pop, packaged like the way I am which is, I look like a very typical pop artist, but I want to bring something else that you haven’t heard in a while or maybe you’ve never heard before, and that’s one of my goals.

We have a lot of really amazing artists doing that right now. We have artists like Halsey. We have artists who are in this more dark pop vein, which is what Dua Lipa calls her music. I think that pop is taking a really cool turn, especially the more urban influenced it is with hip hop and rap music, because that’s a huge part of what I grew up on, obviously, being a part of Strange Music.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned ’80s pop, and if you look at somebody like Cyndi Lauper, regardless of who wrote her songs or who was playing on them, they were clearly HER songs. They had her unique point of view, which seems to be a rarity these days.
Nicole: That’s what I want to get to. After co-writing an album, what I learned and something I developed an ear for, is developing an ear for when an artist has written the words they’re singing and when they haven’t. I can pretty well identify which parts of a song were co-written an artist wrote, and which parts weren’t. I think that’s something that, if I can do that, that means other artists can do that. That means they can do that with my album and they can do it with any other album. I want to get to a point where the album, or the project, or whatever it is – the song itself – is so entirely my message and what I’m going for and what I’m trying to say, that you can’t tell the difference between if I wrote it or if I did have a co-writer. I want to get that authenticity. I think we did a pretty good job on “The Edge,” but nothing is perfect and especially not your first try, so I really can’t wait to improve.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned having influences in pop, hip hop and rap, but in terms of your training, you were coming from a much different place. Did you have to relearn anything when you started your pop career?
Nicole: 100 percent. Yes! Nothing is harder than being an opera singer and deciding to do pop music, because nothing is more at odds than pop music and classical training, because you learn to do everything correct when you’re classically trained. You know the exact, accurate, perfect way to sing. Not to say that I’m perfect or that my voice is perfect, but I know the perfect technique because that’s how I was taught to sing, and that’s how anyone who is trained to sing opera or classical was taught to sing. You know how to do something. What you don’t know is how to break those rules in a way that’s experimental. That’s something I had to learn, because it was very hard for me to come out of my shell to be able to not sing everything proper, to not insist on having everything be correct. You have to learn the rules to break them is what I’ve said about it. I’m grateful for my training, but it definitely was something that got in my way the first several years of my career.

TrunkSpace: There’s something very mathematical about pop, in terms of the structure, which must be so different than singing classically?
Nicole: The way in which each one is technical is very different. Opera is technical in a way that is more fluid and more creative, but there is a formula to pop. It’s like a writing prompt. You are given the lines and you have to decide how you’re going to color them in. That’s something that was also hard to accept, because I like a weird concept album. Left to my own devices, I would’ve created some weird alternative, dark pop rock concept album that 86 people would’ve listened to. I know that unfortunately, that was not beneficial to the group at large, being my label and the division I’m starting on A Strange Main, so we had to go a little bit more pop on this record. Cast that wide net first. That’s fine. I’m fine with that. I’ll go ahead and do a pop album and I’ll try and grow my following through that, and then I’m going to come through later on with a more experimental work that will really blow the minds of hopefully, the people that are following me from that wider net that we cast with the pop album.

TrunkSpace: As an artist, is there ever a fear that you’ll be pigeon holed into a particular sound?
Nicole: Absolutely. Do we really need another blonde haired, blue eyed pop artist? That’s honestly something that bothers me a lot, every day, is that ultimately, I look and can sound just like 20 other artists I can think of off the top of my head, and that’s just the ones that are out right now. “How do you distinguish yourself?” That’s always the question I have to ask myself. “What are we going to do to keep from being pigeon holed, and how do we make sure that doesn’t become us?” Really, nothing is more true than the statement that the industry doesn’t need another blonde haired, blue eyed pop artist that sings love songs.

Ultimately, my goal is to say, “Okay fine, if I can’t fit that mold, if I can’t be that pop artist because there’s already too many of them, then what am I going to do?” I’m going to have to be myself. I’m going to have to figure out how to make myself work.

TrunkSpace: There’s something to be said about growth as a human. You’re still so young. You’re growing. You’re going to learn different perspectives and ways of thinking about things within your own life that will then be reflected in your music.
Nicole: Thank you. I get very frustrated a lot of times, because I look at people like Stevie Nicks and I wonder why I’m not her yet, and then I realize that’s because I’m 18. I look at people like Jessie Reyez, who is a goddess, and I wonder, “Oh my God, how am I not her yet?” I realize she’s been doing this since she was my age and she’s 27. That’s why. It’s about time and experience. Have I had an interesting life experience so far being raised in a rap label, and then starting my music career when I was nine, starting my solo career when was 15? Yeah, I’ve had a lot of weird and interesting things happen, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to take time for me to learn how to bring that to my artistry.

The Edge” is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Gin Blossoms

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We can reflect on the past, but we don’t need to live in it. We’re all guilty of attaching memories to songs, and in the process, suspending the artist responsible in a type of pop culture cryogenics. In our minds, the best music that artist produced was the music that etched itself into our personal timelines, but that is rarely ever the case.

Take the Gin Blossoms for example. Although hit songs like “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” are seared into our subconscious forever, the Arizona-born band is writing and recording some of their best music to date. Their latest album,“Mixed Reality,” took eight years to come into fruition, but the wait was well worth it… and proof that there’s always a good reason to live in the present.

We recently sat down with guitarist Scott Johnson to discuss nostalgia, the impact of marrying visuals to music, and why he’s happy to not be starting his career in 2018.

TrunkSpace: Being in a successful band obviously has its share of ups and downs. Is part of what keeps you going, for you personally, that the ups are always more memorable than the downs?
Johnson: You’d hope, right? (Laughter) Yeah. Well, you know, a lot of it is just, even on tour, you’re just hanging out for 22 hours to do that two hour show. So, that’s the down. Even in a small way, there’s that down time where it’s slow and not much is going on but then all of a sudden, I’m on the road again or, like I said, you’re hanging around the hotel all day and then finally get to go do something and get to do a show and it’s really exciting. Yeah, the highlights are always better and I suppose if they weren’t, then we’d probably be gone.

TrunkSpace: People always ask musicians what it’s like playing the same song every day, but it has to always be different because the audience is constantly giving you a different flavor… a different vibe… a different temperature.
Johnson: No, you’re absolutely right. People ask me that all the time and you’re right, every show is different. The weather is different. The crowd is different. There’s a saying, “The crowd plays the band.” And some crowds are really super into it and other people just stare at you or they stare at their phones.

TrunkSpace: Yeah, cellphones must be creating a different dynamic now. Instead of being present and creating memories, a lot of people nowadays are recording their memories for social media.
Johnson: Right and it’s tough because I’ve heard singers say, “Everybody put their phones down. Put your phone away dammit.” But it’s a tough one because somebody might be getting a text from their mom or their babysitter or their wife. Yeah, it’s a tough one but it’s definitely changed a little bit. Most people don’t, but every now and then you will get that crowd where they’re basically filming you, staring at their phones, when it’s like, “Man, I’m right here. Hello?”

TrunkSpace: So, having done this for as long as you have, do you still experience firsts?
Johnson: Well, it’s like Johnny Cash. I feel like I’ve been everywhere man but there’s still places I haven’t been. So, that’s interesting. Actually, one of the cool things is you’re in the heart of Chicago or New York and then the next night you’re in a small town in Pennsylvania and so, that’s actually an interesting thing. You’re at the Four Seasons on Michigan Ave. in Chicago and then the next day, off the interstate next to Denny’s in some weird hotel, but I really like that. Each one has its own vibe and its own pros and cons and I like that. Every day’s different and you’re right, every show is different and I don’t mind playing the same songs over. I know people want to hear the hits. I’ve seen Neil Young a bunch of times and I really like him. I’m a fan and we got to tour with him for eight shows back in the ’90s. I was so excited, but man, he will not play “Heart of Gold.” (Laughter) He just won’t do it and everybody’s been waiting for 30 years and I don’t know why he won’t do it. I think it’s such a great song. He just won’t, he refuses. So, some people just have different attitudes I suppose about that kind of thing.

TrunkSpace: What’s great about the hits are, everyone has their own memory connected to them. They make the experience more personal for the audience because in some way, those songs impacted their lives at a particular time.
Johnson: Yep. Just like “Heart of Gold” is to me. You’re right. It’s, whatever they say, “the fabric of your life.” You got laid the first time when you heard “Hey Jealousy” and you’ll never forget that, right? It’s always going to be with you and then you think it’s going to happen again. And I’ve heard so many stories, up and down – sick, in illnesses, in happy times and everything in between – and really, all you can do to experience that yourself is remember, “Oh, yeah, I remember when I heard The Jackson 5 for the first time when I was a little kid and how exciting that was and how cool it was.” It’s hard for me to think like that to be honest with you. For somebody, it’s such an important part of their lives.

TrunkSpace: And you guys hit at a time when MTV was still MTV, so there is a visual component to the memories people have with your songs. That is always a fascinating thing because as a listener, you could feel one way about a song, and then see the video and suddenly your point of view changes.
Johnson: Yeah, that’s true. That’s funny you say that because I’ve been working on… my girlfriend’s a singer/songwriter and she had a gig last night and I played with her and so, it’s like listening to the songs, and I had heard them before, but I’d never seen the videos and suddenly, there’s that connection. She does that song “Paris” and I mean, I knew it was about shaving you smooth and all this…. Grace Potter, she’s from up there in Vermont, and then I saw the video and I was like, “Oh, wow, okay, I didn’t know there was going to be Moulin Rouge.” And it totally makes sense. (Laughter) Now I have this image of girls in lingerie every time I hear that song and I suppose you’re right because when we did “Hey Jealousy,” we did the, oh god… I don’t know what they call it. Where you throw the toilet paper in people’s front yard?

TrunkSpace: Back when we were kids we called it TP’ing.
Johnson: TP’ing! That’s right. The TP thing. So, I’m sure people, when they hear that song, it might take them back to, “Oh, yeah, in high school, we did that to my neighbor or my best friend,” or something.

TrunkSpace: Having that mainstream success and being in people’s memories, does it force you into a position to be nostalgic about the past? Is it something you have to carry where otherwise you might not?
Johnson: Never really thought about that. I don’t know. I remember I did an interview once and the person called us nostalgic and I got a little bit edgy about it because I said, “Well, I mean, a hit song from two years ago, that’s in the past, isn’t that?” I was making the argument that everything is nostalgic to some point. It’s either fresh on the radio or it’s not – it’s in the past.

TrunkSpace: Or for a personal reason, a song can be nostalgic. If you have a memory tied to it, and even if it’s brand new, it can still be nostalgic.
Johnson: That’s true. I don’t know how to answer that one. I wonder if it does anchor you down in the ’90s. We will always be “that ’90s band.” It will never really change in people’s minds or even in my mind, so that’s a good point.

TrunkSpace: In terms of the original question, we were even thinking of it more from… here you guys are having to play those big hits, “Hey Jealousy” for example, and maybe those hits aren’t the songs that you have the biggest emotional and creative ties to. Because other people want to hear them, you’re forced to be nostalgic about them.
Johnson: I see what you’re saying. Yeah, that’s true and I suppose a hit song is a hit song but at the same time, that one song, you didn’t really think much about it, it just ended up on your record and then suddenly it’s a huge hit. Like I said, we are anchored to that one song for life or forever. Even after you’re gone. (Laughter) People will always be, “Found Out About You” from Gin Blossoms.

TrunkSpace: Your new album “Mixed Reality” is out now. It’s the band’s first record in eight years, and while there was a lot that was out of your control in terms of what slowed the process, was getting back in the studio a bit like riding a bike? Were you able to tap into that creative magic as you did with your previous albums?
Johnson: Yeah, I think so, and we have done it so many times and then I’ve made records outside of the band since then and with other people, and yeah, you do slip right back into it. It doesn’t take that much thought and I know how the guys write and what they want. Every now and then there might be something different, but yeah, it’s pretty easy for us to jump in there and do pre-production and rehearse. We’ve done it so many times and we dig through the songs pretty hard before we go in the studio. “Is the key right? Is the arrangement correct? Is the tempo correct? Is the groove correct?” We’ll mess with a song quite a bit before we will actually put it on a record. We’ll demo them and so, we definitely do our homework. Yeah, it was good to get in. One of the problems is some of these indie labels, I don’t know, man, they aren’t very good. And I’m not talking about those current ones but past ones, Once you get out of the major label scene, you work so hard and it’s just a guy on his computer selling records. So, that’s what slowed us down a bit. This one, we made it ourselves, we saved up the money, we hired the producer, we booked the studio time – it was totally our thing. When we were with the indies, it was their record, it was their studio time, they paid for it. This time we said, “No!” I think that may have been slowing us up a bit. This time we were like, “Okay, we’re just going to do it ourselves.” We’re tired of handing over masters to people. That’s just not working anymore.

TrunkSpace: Do you think it would be more daunting to start your career today in 2018 than it was when you started?
Johnson: Well, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer but it seems to me… my nephew’s a musician and he got his music degree and I’ve seen him play with a dozen bands and it’s hard for him. I think it is hard, but at the same time, other people, man, you get a buddy and a couple acoustic guitars and they throw a song on YouTube and it’ll take off, you know? You know that kid Kane Brown? That’s how he started. I met him right before he took off. I was in a studio in Nashville and he had recorded there and he came in and talked to the producer and I got a chance to meet him and, what a career out of a couple of videos in the backyard! I think I saw some beer cans and a bong in the background. (Laughter) And suddenly these guys are huge. So, I don’t know. It can go either way. But yeah, I’ve seen it with my younger friends… they’re struggling to get anything going.

TrunkSpace: As we mentioned, it’s been eight years between the last two Gin Blossoms records. Do you see another large gap between “Mixed Reality” and what’s to come or do you hope to keep creative momentum going?
Johnson: Well, actually, we have talked about doing another live record, which is interesting because I was like, “Well, shoot, man, this one’s only out a week.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: That’s because it’s already nostalgic. (Laughter)
Johnson: (Laughter) It’s already done. It’s already in the past.

But we’ll see. We’ve talked about maybe doing some songs acoustically, doing some things, something like that. So, we haven’t made up our mind yet but knock on wood, it will not be another eight years. That was a long time.

Mixed Reality” is available now. For a full list of tour dates, click here.

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Musical Mondaze

Static and Surrender

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With their self-titled debut, San Francisco based Static and Surrender are beginning a new leg of their journey, which to date, has included many twists and turns. For starters, when frontman/guitarist Jeff Campbell first came together with guitarist Adam Schuman to mess around with a few old song ideas, they never imagined it turning into their full-time creative focus. Now fully invested in their new musical endeavor, the band, which also includes drummer John Schuman and bassist Lauren Stockner, is planning for a future that involves touring, videos, and of course, more tracks.

We recently sat down with Campbell to discuss expectations, what success in music means to him, and why the push and pull of their writing works.

TrunkSpace: Your debut album is due out July 13. What emotions are you guys juggling with as you gear up to release new material to the world?
Campbell: Great question, what with us being the artsy types and all. You always want people to respond to it, so there’s that. But just the same, we’ve been putting out little tidbits and playing the songs live for a while now and people have really dug them so I’m cautiously optimistic that people will dig the whole thing when they hear it. The tricky part is getting them to take action, share it, promote virility, etc. And also, to have it land in the right hands in terms of radio, tastemakers, etc. So, I guess it’s a combo of excitement and anxiety. 

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any pressure in the studio with this particular project knowing that it is, more or less, Static and Surrender’s introduction to the world?
Campbell: Nah. When we made it, we were just kind of doing it to do it. We knew we had something good in working with each other so it was worth going big with production and stuff, which we did. Spent all our lunch money on this one.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Campbell: The fact that we recorded the whole thing in four days, kept and used basically all the scratch vocals and scratch guitars (vocal and guitar takes usually just recorded and used for reference while trying to get keeper drum takes in the very beginning stages). We were a pretty tight band before we had ever really even played live, which is an awesome feeling.

TrunkSpace: What was the journey like for you guys creatively? There’s nine songs on the album, but did you go in with more that ultimately didn’t make the cut?
Campbell: Yeah, we have three or four left over from the initial writing sessions we did that will likely make an appearance later. The journey was cool because it initially just started with Adam (Schuman) and I wanting to record some old ideas he had that we would then try and get placed in film and TV (which is one of the biggest ways musicians make money these days, and sometimes are discovered). It wasn’t until we started recording that we were all, “this thing has legs.” The whole thing started with just a handful of computer/drum machine demos Adam had lying around and turned into a band that’s basically our whole lives today.

TrunkSpace: The band came together because of a conversation about feeling stagnant in your careers. How soon after coming together did you feel that creative spark ignite. Was it instantaneous? Did it make you fall in love with making music again?
Campbell: Yes, I guess the name and the advent of the band are kind of one in the same, aren’t they? The first three songs we recorded were exciting to us when we recorded them, but when we started listening back, there was something missing. That something ended up being Jim Greer, the producer that took us on after he heard those initial recordings and saw the potential that we kind of weren’t seeing in ourselves yet. He made us get into a rehearsal studio instead of a recording studio and play together a bunch before we went to the studio, and listen back to new ideas, song structures, etc. on the first three we did. Then once we got into that groove, the other songs all came super quickly.

TrunkSpace: Do you believe that there are creative soul mates when it comes to music and art? Could the energy and vibe of Static and Surrender only exist in its current form because everyone involved clicks on various levels?
Campbell: Yes and no. Writing with other people is hard for me particularly as a guy that’s always been the primary writer in everything because you have to accept the push/pull of ideas from the others involved and that you’re not always going to get your way and end up playing/singing something that’s not ideally what you would have done if left entirely to your own devices. But I think the thing that makes this band so cool is that Adam and I especially come from VERY different schools of thought when it comes to what makes a song great sometimes. And we push/pull quite a lot. But it works because we both respect each other a ton.

TrunkSpace: Is there something creatively inspiring about working in a band atmosphere? Does the democratic approach to songwriting spark new ideas that, individually, you never would have come up with outside of Static and Surrender?
Campbell: Hearing the way two guitar parts and a bass part and a drum groove that all came from different brains lock up together and make orchestral music vs just playing and singing an idea yourself is an irreplaceably cool feeling. See previous answer.

TrunkSpace: What do you get from creating music that you don’t get from being a listener alone? What does the experience as a whole give you that keeps you in the game?
Campbell: When you make something cool enough that you know you’d listen to it on repeat yourself, you get a win.

TrunkSpace: What has been an unexpected side effect of your musical career that you could have never anticipated? What have you received from the experience that you never thought possible?
Campbell: Personally, I’ve now been self employed as a musician for a decade, which isn’t a way I’d ever looked at it before. I work for myself. I answer to no one except my business partners (bandmates, our management and label), until it’s done and it’s time to answer to the fans, who totally control the trajectory of what happens next. When I was a kid, I guess I always thought of it like, “You work a day job and play music on the side until you ‘make it’, and THEN you quit your job and live off of music.” I never realized that you have to make the art your full-time job for a very long time before any of the make it stuff ever even becomes a possibility.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, the music industry is not all positive and inspiring. It has broken many artists down over the decades. What is an aspect of the industry that you could do without completely?
Campbell: The internet has made people less inclined to do pretty much everything, because now you can have a comparable/truncated experience without leaving home. It has effected the music business in many ways: concert going, and the experience of going to the store to buy the new record from a band you love and actually holding it in your hand. Everything has to happen now now now, and as with as little effort as possible, and people don’t even realize it as they watch live footage on YouTube vs going to an actual show (and I think people tend to think, “I’ll go see them someday” as they watch), and just download or stream a song vs going to the mall and buying the hard copy art, that still very much exists, and that artists still put a lot of time and effort and creativity into and is sadly lost by many that would actually enjoy the experience.

TrunkSpace: Finally, what’s on tap for Static and Surrender for the rest of 2018? What should fans be on the lookout for?
Campbell: Lots of shows on the west coast, more singles and videos eventually and hopefully some radio play thanks to the efforts of our amazing management team, label and PR team, and the ensuing national touring once markets start to play our stuff. So if you hear “Fall on the Blade” on a local station, let us know! And request that they play it again so we can come play your town, which is our favorite thing to do.

The Static and Surrender self-titled debut is available today on Funzalo Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Matt Muse

MattMuseFeatured

From shy kid to confident artist, Matt Muse reflects on growth in his personal life and his music. The introspective rapper is embracing who he is and what he’s all about with his latest album, “Nappy Talk,” which is an audible representation of him coming into his own both lyrically and in the messages expressed within those words.

We recently sat down with Muse to discuss talking about what he feels, if he was ever in creative conflict with himself in the studio, and why those he grew up with would be surprised by the path he has taken.

TrunkSpace: “Nappy Talk” feels very personal. Was it meant to inspire others through your own experiences?
Muse: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to have the feel where, when you hear what I’m talking about and my confidence in myself, that it makes you feel that same self confidence, or repeating those words that I’m saying will subconsciously make you feel great.

TrunkSpace: We read that the album as a whole was inspired by your decision to grow out your hair, and through that, be the person that you wanted to be and not the person that other people wanted you to be. Was that pressure to be someone you were not an experience of life in general or was it specifically the music industry, where it seems everyone has an opinion on how artists should present their art?
Muse: I think naturally it was more so a life thing, especially when I was not a full-time artist, when I was in school. I was rapping when I was in school, but I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I am now. I was kind of doing it, and I’m like, “Yo, I really want to do this,” without saying it a lot, and not doing it. Then there was this pressure, this social pressure almost, where I could just tell that there was… I wasn’t being taken as serious because of the way that my hair looked. Then the combination of that, and me being a dark skinned black male in a world that does see color, regardless of what people say… I think that was the strongest influence.

Then I think when it comes to the sound and what it is sonically, it is the most me project that I have done. It is the project where I let go of anything… kind of what you were saying about influences and people’s opinions. I didn’t really take that into account when I made this. I had an idea of how I wanted it to sound, and I just did it. I think in the past, there’s been a lot of raps that I’ve written where I’m like, “Yo, how can I appeal to this person?” Or somebody wants me to be more conscious, or be more like this, and be more like that. It’s like, “No, I’m just going to talk about what I feel. I want this song to feel this type of way, and that’s what it’s going to be.”

TrunkSpace: And that’s a great way to be as an artist… to put your point of view forward. We worry that for the next generation, the one that is growing up in the social media age, they might care more about what other people think instead of what they themselves think, and that will be reflected in the art. As a teacher of young creative people, have you seen any of that?
Muse: Yeah, and I think you just have to be able to weed out the negative influence of social media, and find all the positives that it does have to offer. I didn’t grow up in the social media age. I was already maybe 18 or 19 when Twitter and Instagram really became a thing. When I was in high school and I was a kid, there was none of that. There were no iPhones. It was right before the wave started, so I can’t relate to a lot of the ways that my students move. But what I can relate to… I use social media, so I can relate in that way, but also there’s this sense of, I see so many different lives being changed through social media in so many different ways. It can make your voice bigger. It can keep you connected to people. I think that it does something, even in my travels that… I went to Toronto last year during my tour, came back a year later and the only reason why it didn’t feel like I left, was because I was able to stay connected with all those people on social media.

TrunkSpace: Yeah, as an artist, it can become a tool in your toolbox.
Muse: Yeah. So it’s really just letting them know, don’t pay attention to any of the garbage that may distort your idea of self image and self love. Just focus on the fun you can have using social media, and things like that.

TrunkSpace: In the studio you were both creator and producer. How did you balance the two, and were they ever in conflict? Did writer Matt Muse want something different than producer Matt Muse did at times?
Muse: That’s a great question. Wow, nobody has ever asked me that.

No, there was no conflicts because the first step of the whole thing was telling all the producers that I worked with exactly what I wanted. I literally refused any sound or beat that didn’t match that sound. Then if there was a beat that I enjoyed but it needed a little tweak or a little change, we just made that happen. But because I put word out from day one to the producers that I worked with like, “Yo, no samples. I want it upbeat. I want heavy bass. I want this. I want it knocking.” That’s all they sent me. We worked from there, and that made it way easier to sit down and write to the beat, because I was able to clearly tell them what I was looking for when going in to releasing this project.

TrunkSpace: With wearing all those different hats throughout the process, personally what are you the most proud of with the album?
Muse: I love the way it feels. That’s what I’m the most proud of. I can rap, and I really am proud of my rap skills. That’s something I’ve been proud of for a very long time, so I think the easy answer would be, “Oh, I wrote a good rap, and I have bars.” That’s really not how I feel, because I always feel that way. (Laughter) There are few rappers who will say that they don’t think they can rap, so that really means nothing.

What I’m really proud of is the way the project builds, and that it ended up being exactly what I wanted from day one. From start to finish, it gives a feeling of energy, and confidence, and just like, “This is heavy,” in a good way. I’ve never released a project that had all upbeat songs. Now I have a project with seven of them. I was doing another interview, and I was telling them how much I love “Dirty Sprite 2” by Future. I’m a huge Future fan, but I’m also a huge Common fan, and so how do I blend… they both have influences on me, so how do I blend those influences where lyrically I’m still being true to myself and who I am, while having sound and feelings that when you play this, automatically the energy is going to flow through you before a word even comes out of my mouth? I think I accomplished that with every single song, and so that’s what I’m the most proud of.

TrunkSpace: What you accomplished too with the album is that there really is just a great flow from track to track. It’s got a front to back feel to it.
Muse: Thank you. That’s so important. Thank you.

TrunkSpace: Are you somebody creatively who can shut off that part of your brain, or is it always sort of working? Are you always finding new stuff for future songs?
Muse: No, I be chilling. I am very… I’m changing now, but I’m a very… I don’t know what the right word is. Let’s just think about the last year, 2017. It was 2018 when I was working on the project, maybe, let’s see, March? I dropped the EP March 2017, and then March, April, May, June, didn’t write a single song in that whole time span. I went on tour, did some other cool stuff, was enjoying my life, and I’m very happy that I didn’t write. I didn’t feel bad that I wasn’t writing.

I wrote a song in July, dropped a song in July. That was cool. Then a month after that, I still just relaxed. Then in September, the idea came to me to do this project, started writing, getting to it. Then from September to pretty much when it got done in about May-ish, I was working on that project. I’m probably not going to write no more songs until maybe September of this year, because I want to focus on video.

I’m okay with compartmentalizing my time like that, because I’m not just a rapper. I am a rapper, but I’m not just a rapper. The visuals, the production, I have a hand in all of it. I want to give focus to all of those things, so I’m not letting one lack. With music videos for example, I would never, and this is just me, I would never say to a videographer, “Yo, come up with a video idea for me,” and just leave it in their hands, never. I would work with them. I would love to co-direct something, but I always want to have a hand in everything that is associated with me as an artist, and as a brand.

To answer your question, yeah I don’t struggle with that at all, because I have no problem not working on art, because I think artists need breaks, and I know I need breaks.

TrunkSpace: From a lyrical standpoint, it’s important to live life in order to say more on the next album anyway, right?
Muse: Exactly! Yes! Wow! Yes, literally somebody said that to me last year after I played them my EP. They hated the EP. (Laughter) That was their advice, live life, and so yeah, definitely!

TrunkSpace: If we sat down with some of the friends you grew up with, would they be surprised that this is where you ended up today in 2018?
Muse: Yeah, definitely. 100 percent.

That’s a great freaking question. Wow! This is a side note. I have been doing some amazing interviews. This was great. I really love that question.

So they’d definitely be surprised. It’s funny you asked that, because I had just did one of our local news stations here in Chicago and it blew a lot of people’s minds. Not in a negative way, but there was so much positivity and love from a lot of people from back in the day when I posted it to my Facebook and things like that. Yeah, they would be surprised. I think the reason being is that I was a very, very shy person growing up. I didn’t become my fullest and truest self, and I didn’t really find self love and the ability to really hone my powers until I got to college. I loved who I was at that time, but I’m just not the same person, in a very good way. So I think yeah, people who grew up with me would be like, “Wow, look at how he’s blossomed.” Or, “Look at the growth. Look at the ability.” I’ve always been smart. I’ve always been intelligent, but, “Look at the ability to influence, and to open your mouth and let the world hear you.” I think that would be where the surprise would really be… the confidence. I’m a confident person, and I think that energy always rubs off positively, I hope, on others.

“Nappy Talk” is available today.

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Musical Mondaze

Michael Mancuso

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Photo By: Monty Limon

With a number of new tracks set to drop this year, Michael Mancuso, the smooth POPerator with the equally-as-smooth voice, is poised to take the music world by storm. His latest single, “Give It To Me,” recently received the video treatment, which is an extension of the art that the California native not only revels in, but feels is necessary when investing back into his own musical brand. (View the video below.)

We recently sat down with Mancuso to discuss how they shot the entire video in one day, the reason he’s tapping into his own experiences when writing, and why a career in the music industry is the only place he ever envisioned for himself.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been promoting your new single “Give It To Me” and the corresponding music video since it dropped earlier this month. How important is it for an artist in 2018 to continuously be putting new material out into the world? This is no longer the days of putting out an album out every few years and remaining relevant through reputation alone, right?
Mancuso: I would say that it’s extremely important to keep releasing new content for your fans to hold onto. We live in a world where things are consumed and forgotten at a much faster rate than they ever have been before. Reputations can be built just as quickly as they can be lost. It’s important to remind your fans why they’re your fans! Releasing one new song every two to three months as a new artist is a great place to be.

TrunkSpace: What about the visual element? Clearly we no longer live in the age of actual music playing in regular rotation on MTV, but at the same time, music videos feel more important than ever. For an artist, is it imperative to marry visuals with your music?
Mancuso: I would argue that releasing a song without a visual element is a wasted release. If you invest in yourself and make a video, you have it forever. It will always be part of your brand and is just another way that your fans can feel connected to you. Additionally, by utilizing video-supporting social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, you give yourself a second opportunity to promote your song by releasing the music first and the video a few weeks later!

TrunkSpace: What was the process like in bringing the video for “Give It To Me” to life? Did you have a firm grasp on what you wanted people to SEE while they were LISTENING?
Mancuso: The entire video was shot in one day. One camera, a few lights, an awesome art studio, 20 extras, six dancers, and me. Everyone brought an amazing amount of energy to set and we are all extremely happy with the final results. We mapped out the video beforehand and decided we wanted the video to accentuate the lighthearted joke of the song. I keep going after this girl but she just won’t “give it to me”… but at the end she finally does.

TrunkSpace: Having a visual component to music can sometimes change perspectives. There are certainly times that we can recall where we had a connection to a song, only to feel like our insight into the meaning of it changed once an accompanying video was released. As an artist, is there ever concern that you’ll place a track into a constrictive box by giving it visual margins for the audience to follow?
Mancuso
: You bring up an interesting point, but I’ve personally never been worried about that! I’ve always found it interesting to see an artist’s perspective of their own work. Even if it doesn’t line up with what I might have originally pictured or imagined, I still enjoy getting to glimpse their world through their own eyes.

TrunkSpace: In terms of your music, particularly now with your solo career, what do want people to take from the experience itself? Not necessarily a specific track or album, but the vibe as whole.
Mancuso: I want people to relate to the songs that I write. I do my best to create a personal connection to anything that I put my name on. Every song that I will be releasing through the end of 2018 is written about something I’ve been through or a moment I’ve shared with someone. I want people who have gone through similar things, both positive and negative, to see that there’s someone else out there who made it through to the other side too!

TrunkSpace: You were a member of the a cappella group The SoCal VoCals. How much of an adjustment was it to go from a group atmosphere to a musical career where you called all of the shots, both creatively and from a business perspective?
Mancuso: I would say that it was a pretty seamless adjustment. I began my solo project while I was still a member of the group, and they were all extremely helpful, supportive and encouraging! By the time I graduated I was well into the swing of things and felt ready to take the reins and pursue music on my own.

Photo By: Monty Limon

TrunkSpace: Was there ever a doubt that a solo career would be your path? Did you always know deep down that you’d steer your career in this direction?
Mancuso: I have never been able to imagine myself happy anywhere else. Music has always been the only real option that I could see myself pursuing whole-heartedly. It’s definitely scary at times, but the highs and lows are part of what make this industry so special and forces you to keep growing and evolving as a human being.

TrunkSpace: Can it be a solitary experience creating as a solo artist? Do you miss having a springboard for ideas and the ability to go off on creative tangents based on the suggestions of others?
Mancuso: I would say that I collaborate more now than I ever have before! I feel like I do my best work in groups, and I actively seek co-writing sessions for my own artist project wherever I can find them. I would encourage every solo artist to write with as many people as they can!

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
Mancuso: I would say I’m hardest on my writing. I go into every session with the goal of beating my current “best song”!

TrunkSpace: What’s next for you? What can fans expect for the rest of 2018 and into the new year?
Mancuso: Lots of new music and music videos. I’m planning to release at least three more songs before the end of 2018! If you want to be part of my journey, follow me on Instagram – @michaelmancusomusic or subscribe to my website’s mailing list – www.michaelmancusoofficial.com!

Check out the video for “Give It To Me” below.

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