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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

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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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Musical Mondaze

The 131ers

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Pringles may have cornered the market (and the trademark!) on “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” but the sentiment behind the catchy tagline applies to the catchy pop sound of the California-based The 131ers. Their latest album, “Nothing’s As It Should Be,” is chock-full of delectable audible delicacies, the kind you can’t help but revisit over and over again.

We recently sat down with the band – Kaleb Davies (vocals/guitar), Ryan Dawson (drums) and Chris Graue (bass) – to discuss the evolution of their sound, sewing Star Trek costumes at the eleventh hour, and why they’re poised to take over the world.

TrunkSpace: Your latest album, “Nothing’s As It Should Be,” is available now. Did you guys feel less pressure in the studio putting together the follow up to your debut knowing that you had already established your sound and who the band was sonically with your first album?
Davies: To be honest, no not really at all. If anything there was even more pressure. Our first album was a long time ago and I think we really see NAISB as this fresh start. This is us. This is our sound and it’s drastically different from our debut – which I like. I don’t think any artist should stay the same too long.
Graue: The first album was done much more quickly, mostly to get something out so we could play shows. We spent nearly three years getting NAISB just right.

TrunkSpace: Did you guys attempt to do anything different with “Nothing’s As It Should Be” that you didn’t set out to do with your debut, and if so, did you accomplish your goals?
Davies: The main differences are in the songwriting style. A lot of the music on this new record was built to be played live – it’s all about, “What will work in front of a room of angry teens?” ya know?
Dawson: We started writing songs based on the shows we were playing, which I think really changed our sound and how we accomplished certain movements.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Davies: I’m just really proud of Ryan to be honest. He did a really good job with the drums and everything.
Dawson: Aw Kaleb, that’s so sweet. 😉

TrunkSpace: You guys infuse a little bit of everything into your music. Does that genre-bending approach allow you to create without any self-imposed margins?
Dawson: Nothing is really off limits for us while writing. If there is a super dope trap beat we’re into, we’ll write a song to that. I think once you break the box of what your sound “could” be, you start to figure out that you can make anything your own sound.

TrunkSpace: If The 131ers are still together and churning out music in 10 years, do you think it will sound similar to what we’re hearing today or are you being continuously influenced by what you’re absorbing around you? Is “Nothing’s As It Should Be” part of an ongoing musical metamorphosis?
Graue: We’re always evolving. Already, our new songs we’re writing don’t sound like the record we just put out. If a band quits trying new things, they might as well just stop.

TrunkSpace: Where are you guys hardest on yourselves as artists? What is the biggest personal hurdle you have to overcome with each new song or album?
Davies: I think because of this band I’ve truly begun to hate myself.
Dawson: Hey Kaleb, I love you, okay.
Graue: It’s probably at least a little bit because we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to top what we’ve done before. No one is really asking us to do anything more than play a couple songs, but then there we are sewing our own Star Trek costumes the night before a show…

TrunkSpace: Many people say that music is a form of therapy. Is it that way for you?
Davies: I’m not sure about that one, but I’m going to ask my therapist about it next Tuesday.

TrunkSpace: Can you imagine a day when music isn’t a part of your life? Is the act of creating a part of you, even if you were not releasing it to the world?
Graue: We’re all pretty creative, but not necessarily limited to music. Kaleb builds stuff, Ryan does visual art, I make videos, we all do a bit of writing. Personally, I don’t know if I would play music if no one was listening, but I’m always making something.

TrunkSpace: What do you consider “success” in music and have The 131ers achieved it? If not, what will it take for you to feel successful?
Dawson: That’s a loaded question. But I think it’s all subjective. There are times where I’ve felt we were and times when I feel we aren’t, and I don’t think that’ll ever change. Even the Killers feel that at some point too.

TrunkSpace: What has been the single greatest music-related moment of your lives thus far and why?
Graue: One time I got to crowd surf while playing a solo in Gainesville, Florida. I thought I would be too excited and jostled around to play it well, but it actually sounded all right.

TrunkSpace: Finally, what’s on tap for The 131ers for the rest of 2018? What should fans be on the lookout for?
Davies: I’m not sure exactly what the rest of this year looks like right now or even what 2019 will be. But there’s gonna be more music, and more shows and more crazy shit. Whatever happens, I know one thing for sure – The 131ers are gonna take over this whole fucking world.

Nothing’s As It Should Be” is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Soul Asylum

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Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Minneapolis, July 15, 2012. © Tony Nelson

Soul Asylum and the band’s string of hits are often sloppily lumped into the Seattle sound movement of the 1990s. Dave Pirner and the original lineup first formed in Minneapolis circa 1981, nearly a decade before anyone had smelled like Teen Spirit or stared up at a black hole sun. More punk than grunge, the band scored multi-platinum success on the backs of singles “Somebody To Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train,” and have continued to chug along on those runaway tracks as many of their peers have given up on music.

Constantly looking forward, Soul Asylum is out on the road as part of the Rock & Roll Express Tour with 3 Doors Down and Collective Soul. For a full set of dates, click here.

We recently sat down with Pirner to discuss how there are still surprises to be had on the road, the reason he has a “let’s see what happens” battle cry, and why he prefers band life to that of a solo artist.

TrunkSpace: Are you somebody who has that gypsy soul and looks forward to life on the road?
Pirner: Well, unfortunately yes, I do have… there’s gotta be gypsy in me somewhere, because there’s wanderlust. I’m very comfortable sleeping in a moving vehicle. Things like that. The other side of it is, it’s fucking war, you know? It certainly doesn’t get easier. I know what to expect, which is sometimes comforting and other times just like, “Oh god!” Predictable, I guess, is the word I’m looking for.

TrunkSpace: Do you still experience firsts when you go out on the road?
Pirner: Yeah. There’s always something. This winter we played during the Super Bowl and it was 10 below zero and it was just the biggest snowstorm and we’re playing outside. I was walking towards the stage and there was like a blizzard going on, on the stage, and I was like, “I’d really thought I’d seen it all, but here it is, something else.” So there’s always something out there that you’re just like, “Alright, well I never would have seen this happen if I didn’t come here.” So I guess it was worth it. Sometimes it’s a tragedy and sometimes it’s a tragic comedy, but it’s always something that you just thought, “Ugh, I’d thought I’d been through it all.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Does your creative brain work on the road? Are you somebody who writes while touring the highways and byways?
Pirner: Yes and no. I carry Dictaphones around with me and I try to keep it portable as much as I can. But yeah, you’re on a crowded bus and you’re in public spaces all the time and there’s not a lot of opportunities to get some quality alone time.

TrunkSpace: You hear all of the time about how creative people – songwriters – have a hard time shutting down the creative brain. Is your head always churning?
Pirner: Yeah. It can be annoying. And I like to quote Mitch Hedberg on this, because it’s just a perfect analogy to me. Mitch Hedberg, the great comedian from Minnesota, he goes, “Well, you know, I’m laying in my hotel room at night and I think of something and I have to decide whether I should get out of bed and go over to the desk and write it down or lay here and convince myself that it’s not funny.” And that’s the thing. I’ll get an idea in my head and I’m like, I got to record this, I got to write this down, or convince myself that it’s just not worth it. So that’s kind of going on all the time.

TrunkSpace: Because there’s always a chance that you could turn your back on a gem, right?
Pirner: I’m sure I’ve done it many, many, many times. That’s always in the back of your head. I lose a fucking Dictaphone and I’m like, “Oh, that’s the tape recording device that had the song that was really going to turn my life around and I lost it.”

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, are you somebody who has to step away from music for periods of time to refuel the tank?
Pirner: Well, if touring is stepping away from music, yeah because it’s more visceral. You’re just cranking it out and I’m not really having a lot of opportunities to think about what comes next. You’re very frozen in a moment for two months, where you’re grinding it out and playing. It’s a shorter set, so you’ve got to play your stronger material. It’s always good to sort of… reckoning and stepping back and trying to see the big forest of trees, I think is kind of an innate part of songwriting.

TrunkSpace: The band first formed in ’81. Did you ever think that you’d be here all these years later, still discussing an entity that you created nearly 40 years ago?
Pirner: No. The modus operandi has been to keep your head down and go forward. I am not a nostalgic person at all. I don’t know what the Patti Smith line is… “I don’t fuck much with the past…”? It’s been a lot of that recently, because we’re re-issuing our first records – our first Twin/Tone records – and it’s a lot of trying to put all the pieces together as far as how we got to where we are. And man, it’s a crazy long trip that has been… I don’t even know what the right word is, but I learned a lot and I’m happy to be here and thankful that I can continue to do it.

We were coming from a Ramones era, no future kind of aesthetic, where it was just kind of, “Fuck it, let’s just do this and see what happens.” And that’s kind of still how it feels.

TrunkSpace: A living in the moment kind of thing?
Pirner: Yeah. It’s cool that we’ve been around long enough to have some interesting learning experiences. I tend to try to move forward.

TrunkSpace: It’s just got to be so interesting to look around and see how many of your peers the band has outlived, and beyond that, the clubs and venues themselves. So much has changed within the industry since you guys first started playing together.
Pirner: Yeah, it’s pretty hard core. You start to see the survivors and you start to realize that the people that were in it for all the right reasons are pretty much hanging on. The studio that I’m at in Minneapolis, is the first studio that we recorded at, and somehow, the owner managed to survive all this kind of stuff where studios were just dropping like flies all over the place, because of the new Pro Tools technology or whatever it is. And you find the same thing with clubs and club owners and… yeah, it’s a surprise when you walk into a club and it’s the same guy that you worked with 30 years ago. But you’re like, “Man, we made it. We made it through this and we’re still doing what we like to do.” That’s something because a lot of people just go, “No way. This is too much trouble.”

TrunkSpace: Is one of those reasons that you’re still doing it because you can’t be without it?
Pirner: Yeah, that would suck. I wouldn’t like that life so much.

TrunkSpace: You said that you’re not a nostalgic person, so in terms of a tour like this where, like you said, you’re putting your best material out there, do you long to get up on stage and play some of the new stuff that is sparking you creatively?
Pirner: Yeah. It’ll be exciting as far as stuff on our last record that we never could have played 10 years ago or 20 years ago. Playing it is a thrill. It’s not so much that I’m paying attention to whether or not the audience likes it, it’s just that I’m going, “Oh shit, I’ve never sang and played in this sort of rhythmic structure where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m doing it. I’m tapping my head and rubbing my belly and singing at the same time to a whole new groove here and this is what I want to be doing, because what comes after this?’” I’m doing something that I couldn’t do before. And that is definitely exciting and definitely where I want to be going and what I want to be doing.

The other side of that is you go out and play a song, you play it 500 times, and it’s just very natural and there’s something to that also.

TrunkSpace: Plus those songs are generally greeted with such warmth from an audience and that must be a feeling that’s hard to duplicate.
Pirner: Yeah, and I know I’m not going to fuck it up. (Laughter) But you’re absolutely right. I can look out into a crowd and see a couple and their reaction between each other is relative to the music that we’re playing and I’m like, “Aww, they’re hugging during this song. This must be special.” I remember it just happened in Kansas City and I walked off stage and I looked at Winston (Roye) and I said, “Did you see that couple out in front there to your right?” And he’s like, “Yeah, I saw them.” And I’m like, “I bet you anything, they met at a Soul Asylum concert.” And he goes, “I bet you’re right.”

So there’s kind of charming elements to that.

TrunkSpace: And that’s the wild part of music, what a song might mean to you can take on a completely different meaning to the listener when it finally reaches them.
Pirner: Yeah. I always equated that with painting. Everybody sees something different in a painting and that’s the story behind “Runaway Train.” Once they put the video with the song, it changes people’s perception. I think that’s the beauty of it. And the situation of putting music videos to music… it’s a little disorienting and a little unfair somehow, because your visual becomes enhanced by this predetermined visual thing that doesn’t really have anything to do with the song.

TrunkSpace: The same kind of thing happens when a song winds up in a soundtrack. You start to connect the music to the film in a way that you don’t purposely set out to do.
Pirner: Oh yeah. We played at an After the Flood gig in North Dakota and we played “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and the kids went crazy. And I was like, “What the fuck? I don’t understand what they like and what they don’t like.” And then somebody said to me, “They used that song in a big movie this summer that all the kids went to.” So they were identifying with the song through the movie.

TrunkSpace: You released your first solo album in 2002. Is there another one in you?
Pirner: God, I don’t know. That was a whole new learning experience and what I’ve basically learned is that I want to be in a band. It was a challenge and if I make another solo record, it’ll be because someone in the band died or something. It’ll just be a thing that will happen, not because I particularly want it to happen, but I’m still going to put a record out.

TrunkSpace: Did you just find the experience too solitary… too detached?
Pirner: Yeah. Well, it was all on me so it didn’t really matter what the player’s opinion was, because a lot of them were just hired guns and they were there to do whatever I told them to do. So when you’re traveling with a group of four musicians, I know it’s not the same for everybody, but I want input. I want the whole band to feel responsible for deciding to put that song on the record and not that song. And I want the band to be responsible for not complaining too late. Say something before. If you never ever want to go to Timbuktu ever again, you got to tell people that. Don’t come to Timbuktu and go, “I hate this fucking town,” because no one wants to hear it because there’s this commiserating thing that you either have to put on your big man pants and just do it or sit around and second guess everything.

So yeah, I just like the feeling of a team and a band. There’s only seven of us, I think, going out this summer. And that’s my family. That’s my team. I don’t want to do that by myself. It has to be an organization that is going to support each other.

TrunkSpace: Again, we know you said you’re not a nostalgic person, but if you could sit down with your younger self, the you that was first drawn to music, would he be surprised by the way your career and musical focus has gone?
Pirner: Yeah, I think so. I think I returned to New Orleans with all my fascination with music, and jazz music particularly, and none of it was relative to a job in music. I was pretty much raised to believe that that was not possible. So, I don’t know what I would tell me. Do I care that I dropped out of college to play music? So far so good. But, I don’t know what else I would do, so that’s a little scary. But it really does sound really corny, “Follow your dreams, man,” because you never know what’s going to happen. But it could have turned out so much worse for me. I could be dead.

Pirner is not dead. In fact, he and Soul Asylum are out on the road with 3 Doors Down and Collective Soul. For full dates, click here.

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Musical Mondaze

Collective Soul

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With hit songs like “Shine,” “Gel,” and “The World I Know,” Collective Soul helped to solidify the identity of the alternative rock scene of the mid to late 1990s, and while the lineup has experienced its share of changes throughout the years, the band’s signature sound has remained intact. With the Rock & Roll Express Tour set to kick off in early July alongside 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum, the multi-platinum hit makers are excited to once again look out at amphitheaters filled with people singing along with them, this time until the final dog days of summer.

We recently sat down with drummer Johnny Rabb to discuss the preparation he goes through in order to get ready for life on the road, how the band is friends both on and off the stage, and why rumors of a possible double album on the horizon may hold some truth.

TrunkSpace: After all these years of gigging and touring the world, do you still get excited about hitting the road?
Rabb: Yeah, absolutely. We all have families, but some of us have kids, so that part is a juggle, but I have a very understanding family and kids myself, so I still absolutely love it. It’s what I wanted to do since I was probably in the third grade, so for me it’s pretty exciting.

TrunkSpace: This tour will last about three months and includes nearly 40 dates. How do you prepare mentally and physically, because that’s a long time to be away from home and regular routines?
Rabb: It is a drain on the body, but something happens before the show and I’ve felt it happen. You can be extremely exhausted mid-tour, beginning of tour, end of tour – anytime during the tour – and something magic happens where, I don’t know what it is – adrenaline from the crowd’s energy, the amphitheater vibe – where you get this adrenaline rush for real. You’re like, “Okay, show is starting…” Then you tell yourself, “Whoa, we’re in this thing, and this is amazing, and it’s working.” That’s real.

As far as preparation, I’m not going to lie, I need to exercise. I know Ed (Roland) runs and does a good job taking care of himself. I’m not saying the other guys don’t, I just know that myself, I do the age old thing of getting a trainer for a little bit, then all of the sudden the tour happens, and I’m lounging around. (Laughter) But a little bit more to the story, I just try to bring a jump rope out, I’ll try to jog when I can. I’ll try to do some of the stuff I can do on the road to keep in shape. Then the drums, I’m not going to say they help my belly, but they definitely help cardio and stuff like that.

TrunkSpace: One hand must scratch the other one’s back in that regard. Drums help you stay in shape, but you have to be in shape to play drums. The physical stress alone of all of that playing must take its toll?
Rabb: It can get a little difficult. The funny part that people sort of forget is that the beginning of the tour, your body goes, “Okay man, you haven’t done this for a little bit…” Or even if we played a lot of shows this year, no matter what, I’ll get a couple of blisters again, with my skin and stuff going, “Hey man, you’re really not giving us a chance to recover here.” Then that’ll turn into a callus, and I think you know what I mean from there. It’s sort of right back in it again.

TrunkSpace: There must be those days where, perhaps a shoulder isn’t feeling right or you’re sore all over, and you just have to muddle through it and finish the set.
Rabb: A hundred percent. Each of us have had some sort of thing where it almost feels like a… it’s probably not a pinched nerve, but a thing in your back where you’re just like, “Oh, I can’t get up,” or whatever. We’ve had that several occasions where it’s just that something that is stressing the body and overuse will happen. I give the guys total credit, because we’re always super cordial to each other if somebody is not feeling well. In the time I’ve been here, everyone just rises to the occasion. We try our best in that time that we’re on stage to make the best performance for the crowd, and for each other. We try to do the best we can.

TrunkSpace: And you can go out on the road for three months together, and then come home and go your separate ways for a bit and refuel the tank.
Rabb: I think a lot of people make that joke about, “Oh, I can’t wait to get off tour and get away from these guys.” That could be true for body rest. One thing that’s awesome about this band is we get along great. All of us are buddies. Even when the show is over, we don’t just go off into some room and ignore each other. We go out, hang out and have dinner. On days off we do stuff. So I agree with you, yes, rest wise, we all are excited. We’re excited for the tour, and then basically it’s a reward at the end of the tour of, “Hey, good job you guys, let’s do a few shows for the rest of the year,” or whatever we have planned, then just regroup, like going into the studio or something that helps us get a little bit more energy and get back to it. But I’ve never been on a tour with these guys where at the end of it there’s any sort of negative, “Oh, get this thing over with,” vibe. Quite the opposite.

TrunkSpace: Which is great because you hear stories all of the time about people who can do the professional thing and make it work, but secretly can’t stand to be in the same room with each other.
Rabb: I don’t really want to name names, but we’ve seen that out on things we’ve done where when they hit the stage it’s cool, and when they’re not, it’s not. Even sometimes I’ve seen situations out in Nashville where it’s not cool even on stage. It’s like, “Whoa!” So I’m happy to report that all we do is pretty much make a lot of jokes. (Laughter)

Photo By: Joseph Guay

TrunkSpace: You joined Collective Soul in 2012. How has your life changed the most since coming on board with the band?
Rabb: It’s changed the most in these sense of, even though I’ve always done music and had the same passion as these guys have had, and even followed them when I was doing my career in Nashville and loved the band, it’s changed in the sense of… I don’t want to say comfort, because I never want to get too comfortable and pretend that I don’t respect my position, but at the same time, almost settled, which I love, because I have a wonderful wife and two daughters. We live in Indianapolis, and it’s been an amazing experience because we can live in Indianapolis or anywhere. It’s also just the schedule – getting used to the schedules. It’s nothing different, because I used to tour before, but it’s one focus. I feel part of a group, as opposed to just hired on as, “You’re the drummer for bing bing…” and put the name in there, country artist or artist. This feels like a long-term plan, and I feel part of a team. So in that sense, and the growth, and getting to know the guys better every year, that’s where it’s changed stuff. I can’t predict the future, but if you said, “What would you want to do?”, that’s what I would want to do, is raise a family where I’m doing it, and work with Collective Soul.

TrunkSpace: There must be something nice too about coming into a band that already has an established audience and knowing that when you go out on tour, there’s going to be fans out there, not only in the audience, but singing along with everything that you guys are doing? There’s got to be a sense of, “I don’t have to go to the club and play to two people and build our way up, because here it is.”
Rabb: Oh, there is! I’ll tell you what, that’s a great analogy. Two things. One, I’m super proud that I have done that whole due paying. Not necessarily, “I paid my dues to be in Collective Soul.” I don’t mean that. I mean, I’m proud to be able to tell you that I’ve done the 12-passenger, 15-passenger van tours. I’ve done the things that I think all drummers and musicians do – the kinds of rites of passage – should do, whether it’s trying to get signed with my band in Nashville, or playing with a country artist and realizing that you are the hired gun.

When I play the songs every night, I’m like, “Man, this is awesome. Look at Ed up there, Will (Turpin), Dean (Roland), Jesse (Triplett). This is great. We’re doing it. This is killer.” I’m excited. It could be in the spur of the moment of a show where I’m concentrating and I go, “Wow, this is that hit song. I love this song. This is great.”

But then there’s a little bit of, and I can’t change time, but a little bit of envy of the past. You can’t change the past, and you don’t want to mess with time and the how-everything-is-meant to be vibe, but sometime I do wish like, “Man, what if I would’ve been in this from the beginning?” But at the same time, I have such respect for Shane (Evans) and all the other drummers – Ryan (Hoyle) and Cheney (Brannon) – so I’m doing this like, “This is where it is now, and this is what was supposed to happen.”

TrunkSpace: There was some stuff floating around online that the band is working on a new album, and that it might be a double album. Is there any truth to that?
Rabb: I always want to not speak out of school or whatever, but there has definitely been rumors that there’s enough to do a double album, and that’s exciting. I’m not keeping any secrets. I’m more just being careful with who knows when it will really be released. But I’m sure there’s plans – talks in 2019 for new music. I will tell you, I know for a fact that it’s definitely true that we’ve got tons of songs that Ed has written. We’ve all gotten together as a band and recorded them over the last year and a half, even in New Jersey. We just went to The Barber Shop Studios for about 10 to 12 days. We had an easy flow in the recording process and we did knockout nine tunes. It’s all sounding really new, fresh, and still has that Collective Soul, undeniable sound.

You can view the Collective Soul tour dates here.

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Musical Mondaze

Hilary Roberts

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After overcoming personal struggles and self-doubt to find the strength to achieve her dreams as a recording artist, Hilary Roberts is now giving back, projecting a message of positivity and redemption through her songs. Her latest creative endeavor is the music video for her most recent single, “There For You,” which tells the story of people helping one another.

We recently sat down with Roberts to discuss the benefits of making music videos, why she was so drawn to the message of “There For You,” and how she persevered through difficult circumstances to find the value in who she is as a person and artist.

TrunkSpace: The “There For You” video dropped today. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material to the world?
Roberts: Surreal. Gratitude. Excitement. Joy. Wow. Unbelievable.

TrunkSpace: In our current multi-media, multi-platform age, how important is it for artists to put time and energy into producing music videos? In 2018, are videos meant to give existing fans more content or to help establish new listeners?
Roberts: I think it is a wonderful way to share your vision of the song and to connect with your fans. It takes it to a personal level. I love seeing what artists create visually after hearing what they have done sonically. We are creatures that love to see, touch, feel and hear and a video adds another dimension to experiencing the music. It is another way of connecting with people. Both…for people that already love the sound of what you have created it gives a visual connection to your fans. It also invites new eyes and ears to hear and see what you are about.

TrunkSpace: The ‘80s and ‘90s were the golden age of the music video thanks to MTV, but we also consumed what MTV told us that we had to. Today, anyone can access any music video that they like. While accessibility is off the charts, what’s the key to engagement? How does an artist get people to listen to his or her music and watch their videos in 2018?
Roberts: I love this question because to get peoples’ attention. You need to give them something they are craving. A lot of people are craving a higher elevation of thinking. They are wanting positive messages along with a great sound. They are wanting something that is uplifting and helpful. You also have to have a ton of talent and absolutely love and be excited about what you are doing… and never give up.

TrunkSpace: Can you tell us a little bit about what “There For You” meant to you when you were crafting the song and how you wanted that vision to be reflected in the music video?
Roberts: When I was faced with a life and death surgery, I told God that if He would let me stay here on earth that I would spend the rest of my life being there for His kids. So when Damon Sharpe and Eric Sanicola sent me the rough foundation of the song “There For You,” it really resonated with me. So we took that foundation and transformed it into a song that was personal to me and conveyed my message. As for the vision of the music video, with the vignettes/stories I wanted to show people helping one another. Some of the stories are examples from my own life. In the dance scene, I wanted to show a celebration because when you go through the darkest of times you think it will never be better, but when you walk it through and get to the other side, then you can celebrate! You survived. And you celebrate with the people you walked it out with.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been open about the struggles that you have faced and have had to overcome throughout the course of your life. Do you view your music as an outlet for telling those stories in a way that can help listeners to feel like they are not alone in what they themselves are going through?
Roberts: Absolutely. I think feeling alone and thinking you will always be alone and that you have no value are some of the reasons why we have lost so many beautiful people to drugs, alcohol, depression and suicide. I have learned that sharing the pain of my past is one of the greatest gifts I can give to help others deal with their pain and give them hope.

TrunkSpace: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Roberts: I discovered I could sing when I was 10 years old. That is when I found my physical voice. In this last year, with the music we have been creating, I feel that I have found the sound and the message I was meant to give to the world.

TrunkSpace: Where did your journey with music begin? At what point did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Roberts: I have wanted to be a performer since I was a little girl. I had to walk out some very traumatic circumstances from childhood and things that I drug myself through, which always stopped my dreams. Once I started walking through the healing, I could pursue my goal of becoming a recording artist. This past year I have done just that with nothing able to hold me back.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome self-doubt when it comes to your creative endeavors?
Roberts: I have to be diligent about not beating myself up for past mistakes and just let myself create. I overcome self-doubt by realizing it is not about me. I am here to give to others.

TrunkSpace: What do you consider to be success in the music industry and by that definition, have you achieved it?
Roberts: Of course, we all want the Billboard awards, the Grammys and the respects of our fellows and fans. To me that would be mind-blowing. But, more importantly I want to make a difference in this world. I have not achieved a Billboard award or Grammy yet, but I know that the music we have just released is already helping the hurting and transforming lives, so yes, I have already achieved success.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Hilary, if you could sit down with your 12-year-old self, what would she say about your current career path? Would she be surprised by the artist you have become?
Roberts: She would say she was proud of me, excited for me. She would say, “You are doing it and you are getting to do it.” She would be blown away. She would be so proud that I am helping others. And she would say, “I am so happy that you found out that you are worthy.”

View the “There For You” video below.

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Musical Mondaze

Sam Evian

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Photo By: Josh Goleman

Sam Owens puts every bit of himself into his songs, opening up his head in a way that enables the listener to swim around in the New York-based songwriter’s brain, backstroking to thought-proving lyrics while bobbing up and down to infectious grooves that stream from his viscous creativity. His latest work, “You, Forever,” falls under the name Sam Evian and features band members Brian Betancourt (bass), Austin Vaughn (drums), Adam Brisbin (guitar), and Hannah Cohen (backing vocals). The album is available now on Saddle Creek. (See our review here.)

We recently sat down with Owens to discuss spontaneous recording sessions, why he sometimes Jekyll and Hydes himself, and the feeling he gets when listening to a favorite record that he’d love to pass on through his own music.

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “You, Forever” dropped June 1st on Saddle Creek. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material to the world and is it ever difficult to let go and allow the universe to take over?
Owens: Releasing music in 2018 is kind of an unhealthy process. I don’t have a problem letting go, but it’s tough not to compare myself to others. The internet is a strange place for anything, and it’s kind of the opposite of heart and soul, which is what I put into my music. Anyway, I feel lucky to be able to do this dance.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any creative pressure with this album knowing it was a direct follow-up to your debut? Is there a sense of having to deliver on expectations now that may not have existed when you went into the studio for “Premium?”
Owens: Not necessarily. “Premium” was a relatively quiet release. It kind of has its own life out there. I love hearing from people who stumble into it. I knew I wanted to try for a different sound with LP2, and I wanted to keep it honest. Beyond that, the pressure was low.

TrunkSpace: “You, Forever” has a great feel/vibe to it as a whole that really ties everything together and makes it feel like a cohesive collection of tracks. How much creative thought was put into looking beyond just the songs themselves and into producing a sort of, for lack of a better word, classic record?
Owens: Thanks! Well, I spent a ton of time preparing for the recording on the technical side. I pieced together a van full of gear to truck upstate. I even made my own mic cables. I got to the house a day early and spent a long time getting it all ready… cleaning the tape machine, setting up the patch bay, hanging blankets on the walls. By the time the band got there, I had turned this little house in the woods into a fully-functional analog studio. On the music side of things, I held off from teaching the band any tunes until they arrived upstate. I think it made for a spontaneous atmosphere, where we banished insecurities in favor of instinct and first thought/best thought mentality.

TrunkSpace: While all music you create is no doubt personal to you, this album feels like it goes places emotionally that “Premium” didn’t. Is that a safe assessment and if so, does “You, Forever” feel like you’ve put more of yourself out there than with your previous work?
Owens: Well, definitely. For me, “Premium” has its moments. Tunes like “Cactus” and “Big Car” are special to me, but are more situational and remind me of a super particular place and time. Maybe the songs on “Premium” were more like small exercises, whereas the new record digs deeper.

TrunkSpace: Did the writing process itself change for you on this one? Did the time between “Premium” and kicking off the creative for “You, Forever” inspire you to take a different approach in how you pull things from your head?
Owens: “Premium” was definitely more off the cuff. The lyrics and music came together pretty quickly. This time around I spent a lot of time demo’ing by myself. I held off from recording vocals though, because I didn’t want to commit to lyrics without really working through them. I tend to stick with ideas once I commit them to tape. I was working on final lyrics well into the process, up until the week before I mixed the record.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a producer. Do you tend to wear the two hats simultaneously – songwriter/musician and producer – and do they ever butt heads? Is what musician Sam wants not necessarily always what producer Sam wants?
Owens: Sometimes I Jekyll and Hyde myself. Producer Sam usually says, “This vocal isn’t good enough. Do it again.” Musician Sam doesn’t always want to do that. Other times the two roles seem to merge. Writing/recording become one in the same.

Owens with Hannah Cohen. Photo By: Josh Goleman

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “You, Forever” and why?
Owens: I’m not sure… I love how it all came together. It was a ton of work but it felt fun the whole time. I’m proud of my bandmates for their work. They really threw themselves into the process and trusted me/themselves/each other.

TrunkSpace: Over the course of your songwriting career, have you written songs that you weren’t particularly happy with at the outset, only to end up learning to appreciate them more later down the road?
Owens: Sure… unfortunately I usually trash those songs. There were a couple songs that we recorded for “You, Forever” that I decided I couldn’t deal with. They made it all the way up to the final mix stage and I canned ‘em. Maybe I’ll come back around…

TrunkSpace: What does music give you as a participant that you are unable to achieve as a listener? What is the draw for you to be constantly creating?
Owens: I think I’m always chasing the experiences I have as a listener. My favorite records give me chills and make me weep. It’s rare and fleeting but when it happens it gives me such a positive feeling for life on earth. I’d love to be able to pass on that feeling.

TrunkSpace: What is the single greatest music-related moment of your career thus far and why?
Owens: Moving to New York City. It was the best thing I could have done for myself and my career. If you are out there in a small town somewhere, know this: it gets better.

You, Forever” is available now on Saddle Creek.

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Musical Mondaze

Crystales

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With their self-titled debut recently released on Burger Records, the members of the dream pop quartet Crystales have finally figured out how to “present” themselves. Growing up together, the Los Angeles natives have been writing and performing as a unit for years, but they pumped the brakes on going into the studio to record a full-length until they knew that the album they would produce was one they themselves would listen to. Satisfied with the creative direction of the debut but eager to move on to the next chapter of their musical existence, Crystales is now hoping to bring their laid back California sound into a sophomore follow-up as soon as next year.

We recently sat down with guitarist and vocalist Billy Gil to discuss sonic similarities, why they’re ready to tackle new tunes, and where the Hollywood Bowl comes into play.

TrunkSpace: Your debut album dropped on Friday the 13th. Did it prove unlucky or lucky?
Gil: Very lucky! We’ve been really happy with the response so far.

TrunkSpace: Do you think there is an added layer of pressure in creating a debut full-length album because in a lot of ways, it establishes who the band is sonically and vibe-wise to a wider audience? It sort of sets the table for those people who may not be familiar with you, particularly in the streaming age where listeners seem more likely to try out new artists.
Gil: Yes. I think we consciously kept certain elements similar to offer a kind of unified front soundwise. A song like “When It’s Over” is kind of a sweet, Beach Boys homage whereas “Kate Blanchett” is a more straight-up rocker, but there are sonic similarities that keep it all in the same wheelhouse.

TrunkSpace: What does the album say about who Crystales is creatively at this stage in your development as a band?
Gil: I think the songs were always good, but we’ve finally figured out how to present ourselves well. Adding a layer of synths and calming things down a bit, leaning into what our strengths are as a band, which is more in texture and depth. That said, some of these songs are getting old and we are excited to already record something new! We have about a half an album’s worth of songs in various stages of completion, so hopefully next year we can do another.

TrunkSpace: What would you prefer – writing a single album that the world adores, or writing a lifetime’s worth of music that a select group of people adore?
Gil: Definitely the second option, although there are plenty of bands that made one great album, like Television’s “Marquee Moon,” but that one album had more of an impact than most artists’ entire careers.

TrunkSpace: Did you have any sense of feeling sort of creatively lost when you were officially done with the album because from a headspace perspective, it must be difficult to put so much of yourself into something and then have to step away and leave it to fate?
Gil: We’ve been really grateful for the support it’s gotten so far. I don’t think it left us creatively lost. It’s sort of the opposite: in the studio, we finally figured out how to put together some of the songs we had been kicking around for a while, like “Agrias,” for example, which took on a new life in the studio, or “Seance,” which has a difficult balance to pull off, but we ended up really happy with the final product. Now it’s just left us happy with what we have, but also a little sick of it already at the same time and ready to make new stuff.

TrunkSpace: The band formed in 2012. Why did it take you six years to write and record a full-length album? Was it a conscious choice to put it off or did the path taken thus far just not call for one?
Gil: We’ve actually been playing together longer than that. We grew up together – Nick and I are brothers, Tony’s our cousin, Jason was our neighbor – but we all had school and other bands and things that took priority. I think we’re all very critical as well. It took this long before we were really happy with what we had, where it’s the kind of thing I’d listen to on my own even if I wasn’t in this band and we’re not just pushing something on people that we don’t fully believe in.

TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, the band consists of three family members and one neighbor. Does that closeness allow for a more democratic creative space or one where creative differences are more likely to get personal? What are the Crystales band dynamics like?
Gil: It’s very democratic. It’s kind of a constant brainstorm, although Nick mostly brings in the songs about 2/3 finished and we fill out the rest. I think we’re all good at taking the bare bones of a song and figuring out what the best way to get it across is. We don’t overthink it either. There’s no voting or anything, but if two or more people are on the same page, the rest of us usually trust the others enough to say that’s probably the best course. It’s never personal, I think we all understand we’re just trying to make the songs the best they can be.

TrunkSpace: You guys played together in various projects prior to Crystales, but how long did it take you to find your cohesive groove (and overall sound) in the band’s current form?
Gil: If we’re being honest, probably more than 10 years! Since the other guys were in high school.

TrunkSpace: What do you consider “success” in music?
Gil: Getting to do what we want, make great music, play with friends, make new ones, and play the Hollywood Bowl.

TrunkSpace: And finally, an era or genre of music that deserves a comeback? GO!
Gil: I’ll say jangle pop, space disco and early ’80s style hip hop.

The band’s self-titled debut is available now on Burger Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Joan Of Arc

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Honesty in music is a necessity. It not only helps listeners connect in a way that goes beyond the surface layer, but it also plugs the songwriters into the art on an emotional level, creating a loop of authenticity that circulates throughout the process. When an artist then translates that honesty to the promotion of new music, the result is both refreshing and unexpected, especially in our current social media age where people tend to put their best selves forward.

We recently sat down with Joan of Arc founder Tim Kinsella just days before the release of the band’s latest album “1984” and received a dose of that refreshing honesty. Unfiltered and straightforward, Kinsella talks about stepping away from the microphone, how making records totally dominates his life, and why he never emotionally carries more than he needs to.

TrunkSpace: “1984” is due to drop on June 1st. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new music to the world, especially after spending so much time with it personally? Does it get easier given how many albums you’ve recorded over the life of the band?
Kinsella: Most of the emotional juggling happens long before the thing becomes public. Through the process of making a record there is the constant tension between the guiding principle of what you think the thing might be and gently steering it towards that, while also remaining open to allowing it to guide you. So that is a lot of tension and release and surrender and control. By this point in the process I’m just excited for people to hear it and I’m excited for it to be largely off my mind so I can concentrate better on what’s next.

TrunkSpace: What does “1984” say about Joan of Arc in 2018?
Kinsella: Obviously the big difference on this record is Melina (Ausikaitis) doing all the singing. And hopefully me stepping aside is impactful since my voice is largely the only constant identifier across JOA records up until now. In deference and respect to the cultural shifts gaining traction with the #metoo movement etc., I am happy to publicly step aside from the mic and let our sister do all the talking. So that’s why 2018. But why “1984” in 2018? “1984” is obviously shorthand for dystopian totalitarianism. And “1984” is a long time ago now. As shown on the record artwork, we were little kids then. And now we’re all in our 40s. We are way beyond that shit – and when I say “we” I don’t mean us as a band, I mean humanity in the most inclusive sense.

TrunkSpace: Are albums a bit like chapters of your life? Does it become a situation where it starts to feel like, “Those were my ‘How Memory Works’ years and these are my ‘1984’ years?”
Kinsella: Yeah, for sure. I often surprise my friends by being able to know exactly what year a thing happened (little things like a friend’s divorce or a movie coming out or a specific holiday party) and that ability is 100 percent the result of knowing what record happened what year. The making of the records totally dominates my life, so all the events of any year get sucked into and filed under that process. I only experience and understand my own life through the making of the records. I like my friends but I don’t need them. And I like my family and stuff. And I like having a little money when I can. But honestly, making records comes before everything else in the world in my mind. I don’t think that’s necessarily right or healthy, but it’s who I am and I accept it.

TrunkSpace: The band has been in existence for over 20 years. People change dramatically over the course of two decades. How has your own personal growth impacted the band and the music?
Kinsella: Hmm. I guess the band constantly evolves which helps me remain present, and I constantly evolve which helps the band remain present. There are some exceptions (i.e.: this one Melina does all the singing) and the process is always different every time – like this one is recorded live with no overdubs and this one is pieced together on computers etc. But in terms of content, at any point in the last 20 years I could describe whichever the newest JOA record of that year was to you, in great detail, and you would never be able to tell if I was describing the first record or the latest. It remains motivated by 100 percent the same impulse from my perspective. And it is nothing more than refining the same sensibilities and how they’re executed and expressed.

TrunkSpace: With so much writing and recording already under your belts, how do you approach a record like “1984” and look to keep the process itself fresh? What (if anything) did you do differently with this album that you have yet to try within the Joan of Arc universe?
Kinsella: Man, I’d be happy to never write another record. Thing is that the processes for making a record are infinite and I’m endlessly curious to see what the results will be. JOA would’ve broken up 100 times by now if it wasn’t for finding a new process to generate each record. I have 60-something guitar and vocal demos I like and 30-something synth/programmed songs started that I like. Some of these have been around for five years and I’ve tried to throw them away every six months but they still make the cut. So when a new process for recording is determined, then we dig into that pile and pull from it according to what song seeds will work for that specific process. In the case of “1984” only three of those things made the record. In the case of the previous record, none of them did ‘cause the process was about spontaneously generating material as a group. Bobby (Burg) got slaphappy at practice the other day when we were arranging a new song and he said, “It doesn’t matter what we do or how we do it, we can’t not sound like ourselves.”

 

TrunkSpace: The band has seen over two dozen members come and go through the course of its artistic lifetime. How do those different faces and points of view alter the dynamic of Joan of Arc and how do you view the current lineup and the creative output that exists because of this particular alignment?
Kinsella: That sort of open membership policy was definitely an evolutionary survivalist strategy, but it was already happening from the very first shows and first record. It just took us a little while to recognize that was how we were operating. We have a lot of friends and have always enjoyed what people might contribute. Sometimes that has been a matter of playing on a couple songs or sometimes just learning whatever part needs to be covered for some shows. It really depends on the person. For example, in the case of this record, Melina’s songs were the central force that everything organized around and I love it. But in the big picture this arrangement has its upsides and downsides. It allows us to meander and follow hunches in different directions, but it’d certainly be ideal if we could afford to pay one hotshot that could play everyone’s parts.

TrunkSpace: We’ve talked about the band growing and changing over the course of the last 20+ years, but how has the fan base changed? Are you finding just as many new fans being drawn to Joan of Arc as you are those who have been with you since the early days?
Kinsella: I couldn’t really say. The shows are sometimes a lot smaller than they were in the past. A lot of the past supporters now have kids and full time jobs and might be too tired to go out to shows and I don’t think a ton of teenagers are looking for a new band of 40 year olds to help them make sense of their rage. I imagine our fans are mostly around the same age as us, creative people, weirdos.

TrunkSpace: Fan feedback can often be the fuel that powers the creative brain. What’s a profound/powerful story that you were told by a listener in terms of how your music directly impacted them that you have carried with you throughout the course of your career?
Kinsella: Honestly I talked about this with my therapist just a couple hours ago. It is so hard for me to comprehend that there are listeners that I kinda block people out when they occasionally attempt to tell me that the music has meant something to them. I hope that’s not motivated by arrogance. My therapist says it isn’t. And I am so immensely grateful every day to do what I do. But it’s such a private thing between us, the people making it. It fries my circuits to imagine being responsible for anyone else’s experience in that way. Too much pressure. So I shut down when anyone I don’t know tells me about their experience of the band. Like I can hear them and often it’s mind-boggling, but as soon as we walk away from each other I just gotta get back to my reality and shuttle it from my mind immediately. I am aware of never carrying anything more than I need to carry.

TrunkSpace: What do you consider “success” in music and by that definition, have you achieved it?
Kinsella: Yes! Literally every single day since I was a teenager.

TrunkSpace: When all is said and done and you hang up your instruments for the last time, what do you hope Joan of Arc is remembered for? What do you want your legacy to be?
Kinsella: Honestly, that question seems as likely to me as asking me about when I grow a tail someday, will I tuck it or curl it. I could not survive one day without playing music. Sometimes it almost happens and I become a miserable prick. I like that the records exist as time capsules. We are real people that lived whatever joy or confusion went into the capturing of that moment. And I like that we are a very different band live than on the records. I hope both of those modes shock people awake in some small way. Ultimately I guess I only want what I imagine everyone wants most deeply, just to appear as real to anyone else.

1984” drops June 1st on Joyful Noise Recordings.

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