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Wingman Wednesday

Bandits on the Run

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Photo By: David Katzinger

Self-described misfits, the members of Bandits on the Run – Regina Strayhorn, Adrian Blake Enscoe and Sydney Shepherd – have found creative kinship as a trio. From busking in the New York City subways to traveling the world, they’re now bringing their three-part harmonies to the digital space with their new EP, Bandits Live at the Power Station, available now.

If you’re listening to the EP while waiting for the train, you may actually get a glimmer of what it’s like to encounter us alone one fall night on a deserted G train platform,” they said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “And that’s exactly what we want.”

We recently sat down with the band to discuss the energy of live invention, mutual understandings, and creating a shared moment with their listeners.

TrunkSpace: Your recent EP, Bandits Live at the Power Station, seems like the best possible way to enjoy the band, which is, in as live of a setting as possible. Does going into the studio require a different approach creatively to the music the group makes, because again, it seems like you’re all most at home on the stage?
Bandits: We are definitely most at home on the stage. The three of us are actors as well as musicians/writers, so performance comes naturally for us. When recording in studio as opposed to a live performance, it’s sort of like film acting vs. stage acting. Everything is under a microscope in the studio, every creak and breath is captured, which is delicious and exciting, but also challenges us to be more specific about what we are doing and the sounds we want to make. With something like the Power Station EP, we feel we found a bit of a middle ground. Because we are performing everything live, playing/singing together all at once, that energy of live creation is there, but captured in a very intentional way.

TrunkSpace: We read in a previous interview where you referred to yourselves as misfits by nature. Outside of finding a connection between yourselves as individuals, does music give you an outlet to channel that misfit energy through?
Bandits: Bandits is the primary outlet for our misfit-ness. We are so lucky to have found in each other a small family of creators who are hungry to make our true voices be heard. Everyone is used to being put in a box, but sometimes performers even moreso. There’s so much people assume about you based on the way you look or the energy they perceive from you, and we love inviting folks in for a closer look, encouraging them to dig deeper beneath the surface. We’re inspired by so many genres and so many of our collective and individual experiences, and we refuse to adhere to one sound. We have yet to find someone who can really nail us down into a genre, so we feel like we’re succeeding quite a bit in breaking down boundaries. We also understand each other’s voices to a point where we can really lift each other up and support each other, and celebrate our uniqueness not only as a band but as characters within the whole.

TrunkSpace: There are amazing three-part harmonies throughout your music that just seem to fit together in a way that transcends chance. Do you believe in creative love at first sight, and when you three first came together, was the creative connection – and the ability to blend them together seamlessly – apparent right away?
Bandits: In a word, yes. We do believe in creative love at first sight. Sydney and Regina began creating together many years before bandits – it started as a project where Regina would write a poem and Sydney would set it to music, and quickly escalated to both of them writing words and music seamlessly flowing one to the other. When Adrian and Sydney met years later – listen to “Love in the Underground” if you want the story of how – the energy was much the same, vibrant and symbiotic. When Regina moved to New York City and we tried our hand at singing all together, there was an undeniable and electric alchemy stronger than any of us had felt before. We were instantly a band. It was the weirdest thing. We’ve only grown stronger in our ability to collaborate and gel with each other. Even though our voices are so unique on their own, they somehow fit together in a way that defies logic. There are some recordings where we truly can’t tell each other’s voices apart, and we love it.

TrunkSpace: As a group, you seem to write from the perspective of outside storytellers… watchers of humanity. How have the journeys of others inspired you to turn their uniquely-taken paths into songs? Is it as simple as witnessing someone on the street and giving them a narrative?
Bandits: It’s so interesting that you say that, because many of our songs are actually deeply personal. Or if they’re told from an outside perspective, it’s usually an imaginary person we are infusing with our own stories and personalities. Sure, Regina’s never watched her cowboy lover ride off into the sunset like in “Cowboy on the Run,” Adrian’s never haunted the walls of a gal’s house like in “Funky Ghost,” and Sydney’s never turned her lover into a crow like in “Bonnie Jean,” but these stories are tales that are based, whether loosely or closely, on similar feelings and experiences, even if those experiences are daydreams.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about Bandits on the Run, both as artists and as individuals, in sitting down to listen to Bandits Live at the Power Station front to back?
Bandits: We’ve always been about synergy when we perform live, amongst ourselves and our audience, but also within whatever space we’re holding up. We actually began our journey busking on the NYC subways – always playing unplugged, and just soaking in the majestic acoustics of this space that most people think of as solely utilitarian. Our mission was to break up a mundane commute with a little spark of color and soul. When we snuck into the Power Station that night, we actually found ourselves in a familiar vibe to our late-night busking days… in this beautiful, cavernous acoustic environment with only ourselves and our instruments, there to make our own tiny mark on this space where the history is palpable. We played our hearts out to the room in what felt like an echo of our origins. If you’re listening to the EP while waiting for the train, you may actually get a glimmer of what it’s like to encounter us alone one fall night on a deserted G train platform. And that’s exactly what we want.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the EP?
Bandits: Honestly for us the best part of the whole thing is having a recording that sounds exactly like us playing live and unplugged. There’s always the temptation when you get in the studio to embellish, polish, and elaborate, but we’re really proud that at our core we’ve got a very full and detailed sound – which we can make completely organically and acoustically. This process taught us not to shy away from that. We were recording on some amazing analog equipment with a really incredible team (producer William Garrett and engineer Ian Kagey) which really set the scene for us to be at our most natural. It’s a 100 percent accurate recording of the moment, the room, and of the song in the room. Neil Young says that when he plays a song he is the song, and we want to use our songs to be present right next to you and share a moment with you, even through all the technology and 1s and 0s in between us. With this EP we found trust.

TrunkSpace: What do you get out of being in a band, particularly this trio, that you can’t achieve in a solo capacity? Creatively, what keeps you writing and performing as a unit?
Bandits: It’s very difficult to three-part-harmonize as one person. We jest we jest! But really. It’s hard. Truly, we’ve made our own rules for Bandits. There are some tunes that are so heavily written by one person that they could almost be solo numbers, and some written by all of us in the room building something brick by brick all at the same time. When you’re writing by yourself you don’t have that option, you’re all on your own.

Another wonderful thing about writing together: accidents. Sydney may hear a melody a certain way in her head, then while singing it Adrian may play a different chord on the guitar that she never thought of but somehow makes the song blossom, Regina may change a few words in lyric offhandedly that turns out to hold the key to a song’s true meaning, the list goes on. And of course it isn’t always magic, we’ll experiment and fight and change things and work on a line a million times, but that process is a trial by fire that often ends up in a song exceeding what we thought we were capable of.

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day where music is not a part of your day to day life or will it always be present in what you do, even if the method changes?
Bandits: Music will always be with us. No matter what. We can’t fathom a day where we won’t play music together. It’s part of our identities and our love for each other and the way we interact with each other and with the greater world around us. We truly don’t think that will ever change. We’ll always be open to experimentation and growth of course, but so far we’ve always been on similar wavelengths, and we’re really digging this ride together.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Bandits: Travel! Adventure! Serendipity! In the past few years, through equal parts gritty determination and dumb luck, we’ve been afforded the chance to travel beyond NYC, from the west coast to Western Europe. Every time we find ourselves in a new city, we’re given the chance to introduce ourselves with our music, playing in the street, at bars, in bookstores and coffee shops, outside of cathedrals, on boats, on beaches, on mountaintops and rooftops. We’ve encountered so many interesting people and experienced so many unique places, we could spend a whole night telling you only our favorite stories (and trust us, we will one day), but getting to explore the world this way is the real highlight of what we do.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Bandits: Oh, no. The great unknown is far too exciting and inspiring. We trust that wherever we’ll be in 10 years, it’ll be full of beauty and madness and creation and adventure in even greater capacities than we could ever imagine. How we get there will be the fun part.

Bandits Live at the Power Station is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Kelly Hoppenjans

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Photo By: Bridgette Aikens

Had it not been for an unfortunate rollerskating accident that left Kelly Hoppenjans with a broken arm, her latest album, OK, I Feel Better Now, may have been a different record when all was said and done.

I discovered that my health – physical, mental, and emotional – is crucial to my ability to make music, and that my goal isn’t to hit these deadlines I set for myself, but to reach people with my music, make them feel something,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

That connection she was hoping to build with audiences is apparent upon first listen to OK, I Feel Better Now, which was released on October 18.

We recently sat down with Hoppenjans to discuss owning who she is, exposing her negative self-talk, and why the Nashville scene continues to influence her songwriting.

TrunkSpace: Your debut album, OK, I Feel Better Now, is officially out into the world. Does being able to say “I have an album…” check off one of your creative bucket list items? Is this the dream or is it part of the dream?
Hoppenjans: It’s a big bucket list item! I’ve released a few singles and two EPs prior to this, but creating a full length album that was a cohesive work has been a major goal of mine. It’s the dream, but it’s only the beginning!

TrunkSpace: There’s a great genre blend on the album, and really, today it seems like musical labels are as meaningless as ever. That being said, when someone you meet asks, “What kind of music do you write?” what do you say? What is your definition of who Kelly Hoppenjans is as an artist?
Hoppenjans: I’d say, in terms of genre, that my music is a blend of riot grrrl rock and introspective singer-songwriter. But I agree that labels don’t mean a lot to me as an artist – I strive to make my music empowering, raw, innovative and true to me. Whatever that ends up being, that’s my genre.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you as both an artist and a person in sitting down to listen to OK, I Feel Better Now, front to back?
Hoppenjans: They could learn that I’ve been on quite the journey to come into my own, as both an artist and a person! It’s taken me a long time fully own who I am, be comfortable with raising my voice and taking up space, and these songs were written at various stages through that journey.

TrunkSpace: Could this album have existed, say, even five years ago, or is the you represented on the 10 tracks an ever-changing Kelly who would not have been present in herself – creatively and personally – five years ago?
Hoppenjans: This album couldn’t have existed even two years ago! I’ve always been a type A, perfectionist, goal-oriented person who puts a lot of pressure on herself – I had a timeline for this album and how I wanted it to unfold. And then I broke my arm rollerskating and had to push everything back, and through that I had this perspective shift. I discovered that my health – physical, mental, and emotional – is crucial to my ability to make music, and that my goal isn’t to hit these deadlines I set for myself, but to reach people with my music, make them feel something. As long as I’m doing that, there’s no need to put pressure on myself to stick to deadlines I’ve set myself.

TrunkSpace: In writing the songs for the album, did you pull any punches when it came to how much of yourself you put into them from storytelling standpoint? Did anything in the lyrics leave you feeling exposed and wondering how an audience would interpret what you were trying to say?
Hoppenjans: “Band-Aid Girl” is the song that I felt most vulnerable sharing, because it’s a window into some of my most negative self-talk. I always assume things that happen in my life are my fault, even when they’re definitely not, and berate myself in my head for making those “mistakes.” So every time I sing the line, “and if you burn me, it’s a little bit my fault for thinking I could touch a glowing ember” I’m right back in that space where I’m feeling that shame, and I’ve always wondered how audiences feel about that line.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Hoppenjans: I’m easily the most proud of “Band-Aid Girl.” It’s the song where I feel the most immediate connection with audiences when I sing it, where I know I’m tapping in to something universal. It’s likely because of the vulnerability I was talking about earlier, and I’m gearing my songwriting towards accepting no less than that level of vulnerability.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and did that manifest during the creation and recording of this album?
Hoppenjans: I think I struggle most with how to represent empowerment when I don’t always feel powerful. I knew I wanted to write songs that make people feel seen and encourage them to be their best, confident, powerful selves, but empowerment is more than just kick-ass anthems. It’s a complex, daily effort, and I resisted the nuance and the vulnerability of it at first. Finding strength in that has been really revelatory to me.

TrunkSpace: You’re based in Nashville. Does the creative energy in that city inspire you to be a better artist? With so many songwriters around you at any given time, does it force you to continuously up your game?
Hoppenjans: How could it not! I’m so inspired by the artists around me. I don’t necessarily think of it as upping my game, and I’m loath to compare myself to other artists, tempting as it is. The way I see it, no one else can tell my story as well as I can, and when I see other artists telling their own stories well, I soak it up and learn from it, and I’m inspired to tell my own story in a new, different way.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave her a glimpse of her future, would she be surprised by where her musical journey has taken her thus far?
Hoppenjans: My 10-year-old self had just gotten her first guitar for Christmas and was attempting to teach herself “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” so I’d say she’d be pretty shocked! If I could go back, I’d tell her to listen to some Hole, Bikini Kill, and PJ Harvey, and to stop caring whether other people had even heard of their music or not.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Hoppenjans: Ooh, that’s tough. Not to get too sci-fi, but couldn’t I potentially mess with my own future by knowing what happens, like in Back to the Future II? How horrible would it be to know what your future could have been and miss out on it because you knew it was going to happen! I’ll stick with not knowing.

OK, I Feel Better Now is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Samantha Fish

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Photo By: Kaelan Barowsky

Artist: Samantha Fish

Latest Album: Kill Or Be Kind

Label: Rounder Records

TrunkSpace: “Kill Or Be Kind” dropped on September 20. As you gear up to release new music into the world – and ultimately relinquish control over it – how do you prepare? Is it easy to let the universe have the art you have created or can it be difficult to say goodbye to it?
Fish: Once I finish an album and it’s out, it’s not really mine anymore. I honestly welcome it. It’s something you work so hard on, it’s nice to let the world receive it. Once it’s out, I can start being creative, and the process begins again. The live show is a good way to adjust things and expand upon the music. If you ever feel restless about how a song turned out, the stage is the place to work it out.

TrunkSpace: This is your sixth solo album. As you look back, is each one a bit like a chapter of your life, and if so, what does “Kill Or Be Kind” say about your current chapter?
Fish: This album signifies change in my life. Saying goodbye but also new beginnings. I feel that even on some of the more melancholy songs, there is this sense of empowerment and change.

TrunkSpace: No one knows your music better than you do. With that said, where do you hear the biggest differences between the songs present on your debut and where you are today as a songwriter with “Kill Or Be Kind?”
Fish: I feel like I’m more confident today. I’m a little braver. I’m not scared to write about difficult topics, where I think early on, I played it somewhat safe. When you allow yourself to lose the filter, you can become a better artist.

TrunkSpace: If someone unfamiliar with your music sat down and listened to “Kill Or Be Kind” front to back, what would they learn about you as an artist and person?
Fish: What a loaded question! I’m not sure. Maybe that I have a terrible love life. (Laughter) That’s the cool thing about being a songwriter, you live in it, but you also get to be a story teller. I do sing from my heart, so all I care about is that they feel it. Back to the first question, once it’s out in the world, it ceases to be about me. It’s about the listener and what it means to them.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Fish: That I am the sole guitarist on the album! Believe it or not, that’s never happened. By design, I wanted the opportunity to showcase that. I’m proud of the production, I feel like there is a lot of nuance and subtle instrumentation that makes these songs stick in your head.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Samantha think of your musical journey thus far? Would she be surprised by the path you have taken?
Fish: Twelve-year-old Samantha was going to be a vet, movie star and an astronaut all before 30. Honestly, I’d probably be surprised. I was a really shy kid. The idea of performing in front of crowds would have scared the hell out of me. I found my sense of self in music. I found my personality and confidence.

TrunkSpace: We love great lyrics… the kind that stick with us well after the song comes to end. What’s a favorite lyric of yours that you have written and why?
Fish: I really like the lyrics in “Dream Girl” right now. I wrote this song with Jim McCormick. The hook is:

If I could give up, a happy ever after, I’d be gone. If you could live up, to the dreams that I’ve been having, I’d hold on.

It’s melancholy, but weirdly hopeful. I love juxtaposition in art, it’s so prevalent in all life and matters of the heart. We’re all constantly at some type of crossroads, and that lyric touches on that.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist, and, have you gotten less self-critical over your work as you have gotten deeper into your career?
Fish: I think the first time you hear your voice on tape, it’s jarring. I’ve worked really hard on my singing over the years. If you don’t like something, you can change it. I’ve become less frustrated because I can do more now, but I’m still pretty critical of my performances. I strive for the best, so if I feel like I could or should have done better, I work at it.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take you to discover your voice as a songwriter, and do you think that creative point of view is constantly evolving?
Fish: Absolutely. It’s always evolving and changing. Life changes you naturally, so your perspective will change and become more mature. I started writing at 19, and thank God I don’t still think the same way I did back then.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Fish: I’d love to say, hell yes, who wouldn’t? I really like knowing where I’m going. But what if you weren’t there in the future? That would really freak me out.

Kill Or Be Kind” is available now on Rounder Records.

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Musical Mondaze

John Calvin Abney

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Photo By: Rambo

Curious Box Of Wayward Songs” would make a great title for a future John Calvin Abney record even if it doesn’t accurately describe the way the singer/songwriter makes art. Meticulous in not only the way he creates music but also in how he delivers it and packages the individual songs together, the multi-instrumentalist has crafted a delicious 10-course meal for the soul with his latest album, “Safe Passage.”

Perfectly positioned so that each song takes you on a continuously looping journey, the new album is a front-to-back artistic assemblage that is a callback to classic albums that Abney himself has worn out on the turntable such as Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks.” And while there were some 20 other songs that ultimately didn’t make the record and instead ended up in his curious box of wayward songs, the Norman, Oklahoma native is never sorry to see them go.

Sometimes, I’ll write a song and no one will ever, ever hear it, no damn person in the world, but then maybe six months later, a year later, two years later, I’ll hear that song and it’ll push me in the direction of writing a new song, he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Abney to discuss evolving with his music, the short-attention span culture, and our lost connection to physical media.

TrunkSpace: “Safe Passage” is the kind of album that you can put on and just let roll. It takes you out of your day and delivers you to a completely different place.
Abney: Oh, that is just the best news, man. That’s what I try to aim for.

TrunkSpace: How do you deal with taking something that you’ve spent so much time, energy, and have so much personal stake in, and then release it into the world where you have to relinquish control?
Abney: That is the funniest question because I remember hearing it the first time I ever made a record. I released a bunch of EPs when I was younger that, I hope will never ever see the light of day again, but one of the very first things I heard about studio work is that you never really finish a record. You abandon it, and you just honestly have to give up – give up what the album was to you and what it is to you – in order to evolve with it. In order to move on with it. In order to allow people to graph to it – to you. They graph their own experiences onto what your creation is or however you channeled the songs or album.

TrunkSpace: And then as listeners, you graph your own memories to those songs as well. They become a part of your life.
Abney: Exactly, and the more you try to force, push and pull, and try to keep the album under your own thumb – trying to keep the album under your roof – the less that people can find themselves in whatever you’re putting forth.

TrunkSpace: Your last album “Coyote” was released in 2018. That’s not a lot of time between albums, but for you, what was the creative time in-between the two like?
Abney: “Coyote” came to me in a different way than “Safe Passage” did. I wrote “Coyote” nearly, I’d say, 75 percent of that record was written in hotel rooms, or in a van. A lot of “Safe Passage” was written on long walks and on visits to family. I probably wrote 30 songs for “Safe Passage,” but “Coyote” just feels like a totally different beast to me. “Coyote” came to me pretty damn fast. It took me longer to get “Safe Passage” together. We went into the studio for one session, and recorded about 13 songs, and when I was done, all I could think to myself was, “You know what? This isn’t done.” I felt an incompleteness to what I wanted to convey, or encapsulate, within the piece of work which hadn’t been achieved yet. I went back into the studio about a month later and, during the month period leading up to that, I wrote “Kind Days,” “Soft Rain After All,” “Typeface In Bold” and four other songs, and that’s when it felt done. I finished that session, and I knew we had the songs.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned writing about 30 songs for “Safe Passage.” Will those songs that didn’t make the record live on or as an artist, can you walk away from a song and leave it behind?
Abney: I have walked away from many songs. It’s like anything. It’s a place or a person, or a routine in your life that sometimes something happens, or there’s a place or a person that maybe you don’t understand at the time that you can’t fully grasp. It helps you move in a direction towards maybe a new song, or a new place or a new direction, or a new person or a new event in your life that’s going to keep you moving forward. Sometimes, I’ll write a song and no one will ever, ever hear it, no damn person in the world, but then maybe six months later, a year later, two years later, I’ll hear that song and it’ll push me in the direction of writing a new song.

Or it will stay hidden in the trunk of oddities. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: But there’s got to be something kind of cool about that. In a world where so many people are sampling and tasting content in smaller doses…
Abney: It’s driving me crazy, man.

TrunkSpace: No one sits down and enjoys an album in how it was supposed to be made, so that process of picking what’s right and leaving behind what’s not is a lost art form.
Abney: Without a doubt. Without a doubt, and it’s already driving me crazy. It’s something that I vehemently despise, the fact that no one can sit down and listen to a record all the way through anymore.

TrunkSpace: Which is why it’s great to see vinyl continuing its renaissance because, those who are listing to a record in that format are listing to THE RECORD, and that’s what we felt “Safe Passage” was made for – a front-to-back experience.
Abney: See, that’s it. That’s it, and that is the art form that I want to preserve. “Coyote” was the exact same way. I felt “Coyote” was the same way for me, in that you could sit down and listen to “Coyote” and finish it, and it would start over again, and you wouldn’t even know it started over again.

TrunkSpace: That has happened for us with “Safe Passage,” and it’s a seamless transition. It’s almost as if it was made to come back around again, the way the first and last songs bookend the collection as a whole.
Abney: There’s a true art to that, man. There’s an art to the sequence. There’s an art to the arrangement. When you listen to “Maybe Happy,” and it starts over again, there’s little things that most people don’t know like, “Maybe Happy” and “I Just Want to Feel Good” are in the same key. All of a sudden it resolves at the end of “Maybe Happy” and if you’ve got repeat on, or your vinyl kicks, you know you have to flip your record. “I Just Want to Feel Good” just sounds like a continuation and vice versa. You listen to the center and to “Backwards Spring,” it ends on a big E major chord, and then all of a sudden you flip your record, and “Honest Liar” kicks in with the drum machine, and all of a sudden the song has an E chord too. It’s musical, but it’s also emotional. There’s feelings in it that link.

It’s a journey, man. If you could get all your friends to just sit down and listen to an album all the way through, it’s a success. If you can get a group of people to sit down, and have a beverage or without talking, or you’re just being able to comment on any record. “Blood On The Tracks” is one of my favorite records of all time, and I can listen to that record front to back every single day on my life, because it really is front to back. It encapsulates that part of Dylan’s life. All the classics. “Harvest” by Neil Young. I mean, that is front to back! You’re like, “Fuck, man!” Those are all records that you really can just get through. I really especially like that new The War on Drugs record, “Deeper Understanding.” That record… Oh my God! It’s like you get all the good feelings of Dylan and all of the while, beautiful sounds and crazy explorative stuff, but at the core of it all, it’s this emotion that carries through that entire record, and you can listen to it front to back, and by the end of it, it’s one single unit. It could be 30 songs, but it’s one single thing.

TrunkSpace: And a lot of that has sort of been lost. We’re in a singles culture right now, and while those singles might work individually, you could put them all on a Greatest Hits album and they just wouldn’t feel like they belong together.
Abney: Exactly, and that’s another thing. The whole Spotify… the paradigm shift into just streaming. I don’t think physical media is going to die, but I feel like we’re going to lose interest in what physical media once stood for, and that was a book that you can’t tear one chapter out of, and immediately get the full flavor of the book. I can’t open my copy of “A Moveable Feast,” and then rip out the final chapter and say, “I get this book.” Oh gosh, my brain is just mush.

TrunkSpace: And with music, yes, you don’t need a physical product to hear it, but sometimes you need to hold the album to feel it… to cement yourself in that moment of listening to it.
Abney: Oh, without a doubt, and that’s the kind of stuff that sticks with you. If you have a playlist, or a song on Spotify, amazing, but that one song is among a bunch of other, real great songs, but everything seems so disparate. It seems scattered. It seems like you can’t fully understand the emotion of a whole body of work by taking one song. Spotify is a great discovery tool, but to have an album, to look at the photos and watch the cover get beat up and then slide in the warping vinyl… or a CD, or a tape… it’s the little things that make that one piece of art. It just grows with you, man.

TrunkSpace: Is this why you chose to self-produce “Safe Passage,” to put this kind of care into the exploration of the songs beyond the songs themselves?
Abney: Yes. With my past three full lengths, I’ve produced all three. John Moreland has been a friend of mine for a long time, and when I was doing my first LP, which is going to stay out of print, but we did it in 2014 or 2013 at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. We were all just younger then, so we could make 24 hour drives in one day, and John Moreland and I, and my buddy Kyle, we all just drove to San Francisco. We all just packed up our trucks, and just drove to San Francisco and made a record, and John helped me produce it because I didn’t have a lot of experience doing anything outside of my bedroom tape machine. At that point in my life, I had worked on probably 20 records, but I didn’t have enough experience producing a record. Now I’ve been in a situation where I’ve worked with so many producers, and so many artists on so many records, that I’ve developed my own way of going about working on the arrangements of songs, and the placement of songs, and the way a song should or shouldn’t breathe, where it should be.

TrunkSpace: Does songwriter John ever butt heads with producer John in terms of what you want creatively and what you want technically?
Abney: Oh hell yeah. I’ve been in the studio before, and I’ve been arranging the tune – I like to do full band live recording – and I’ll be sitting there and I’ll look at the lyrics sheet and I will just cross out an entire verse that I love right off the page and say, “All right, you guys after the second verse, we’re going to do a chorus, and then instead of a third verse, we’re just going to do half a solo, and then we’re going to go right into a double chorus.” And that verse will disappear into my books, and maybe I’ll use it for something else, if there’s an emotion or a feeling that I want to convey in another song or in a piece of prose or something, and I’ll save that for later in my curious box of wayward songs.

Safe Passage” is available now on Black Mesa Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Dudley Taft

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Artist: Dudley Taft

Latest Album: Simple Life

Hometown: Cincinnati, OH

TrunkSpace: What would first-time listeners learn about you in sitting down and going through your latest album, “Simple Life,” front to back?
Taft: I think they would probably find me to be a rocker that has a lot of blues influence. I‘ve sort of straddled the blues/rock line to the point where all the blues guys are like, “Well, you’re way too rock,” and hardcore rockers are like, “Well, that’s too bluesy for me.” So I’m right in that zone right in there. And I think it’s probably apparent, although this is definitely more of a rock record.

TrunkSpace: “Simple Life” is your sixth full-length solo album. Has the process changed for you at all in terms of bringing songs to life?
Taft: Oh, I think my songwriting has evolved a little bit, but it’s not that much different. I don’t really set out with a purpose, like, “I want to write a song about death or sex.” It just sort of ends up that way. I record ideas on my iPhone, so if I have just a little idea, I might be driving and it might sound like (mimics a beat). I just try to capture all these little ideas. They’re like little plants and then I water them. I play them and I see them grow a little bit and I’m like, “Well, this is kind of cool. And what kind of vibe is this?” I try to follow the vibe for each song, maybe more than I did at the beginning.

TrunkSpace: Because you were still finding yourself as an artist in those days?
Taft: At the beginning, it was like, “Well, I definitely like to rock, but I want to be a part of this blues world” because I was a guitar player. In the late 2000s, the late night rock ‘n’ roll scene was kind of dead, at least in Seattle. It used to be when I first started playing there in 1990, there would be two or three bands and the place would be absolutely fucking packed. People were going and this was even before Alice in Chains blew up, Pearl Jam, and all that shit. And then, you know, flash forward to 2006 and we’re playing some venue and there’s seven bands and there’s like 50 people there. It was like, “Well, this fucking sucks. So either I’m going to do bluegrass, which I can’t, country… eh, or blues.” So I wrote a few things that I thought were sort of my take on blues, and I guess in a way I still will come up with some rifts but – that was a very longwinded way of saying it has changed a bit. My records are less blues now and more just what I’m doing.

TrunkSpace: As you’re out in the clubs now, do you see rock coming back? Is the scene doing better today than what you were seeing in 2006?
Taft: Oh man, that is hard to say. I think it’s interesting because… here’s an example. I subscribe to Rolling Stone magazine, and I think they were kind of on the skids in the past few years, and then there was somebody else invested and the Jann Wenner guy is executive editor or whatever the fuck, but you look at that and it’s like they’re trying to keep some of the guys like me who have been reading Rolling Stone since we were teenagers. The British invasion heroes and Southern rock heroes and grunge heroes, whatever you want to call them, versus new artists like Billie Eilish, which I’ve only known about through my daughters. But there is some in there. It’s just hard to tell.

Last night I went and saw a really cool band called Bishop Gunn and they opened for the Stones for a few shows. That’s an example to me of younger guys – and I’m going to guess that they’re 28 to 33 or something – playing rock with a blues influence and sort of something for my age group. I’m sort of right in the middle of baby boomers and whatever they call them, generation Xs, but it’s like, “Who is left?” Foo Fighters? Who got through the system before streaming destroyed the record labels? Those are the bands that are still touring now.

TrunkSpace: And in many ways, those bands have had to diversify. Maroon 5 isn’t just a band anymore, they’re a brand that drifts into different areas of media.
Taft: Sure. And you have to do that because the pipelines no longer exist – the old pipelines. I think it makes it harder. I’m excited by guys like Gary Clark Jr. and I like The Raconteur’s new album, The Black Keys. They’re very interesting to me, but I don’t know that I can really tell, at least in the US, that it’s a different ballgame, which is probably why I go play Europe more than any of the US.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned dropping song ideas onto your iPhone as they pop up. Are you someone who can shut off your creative brain or is it always on?
Taft: Well, it’s interesting because my brain is very much a songwriter’s brain. I work on my songs and I finish them and then it’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a tour coming up too. I don’t want to play those songs.” (Laughter) I want to write some new ones.

I don’t listen to a lot of music. I’m kind of always working on something.

TrunkSpace: Which must be one of the areas where technology benefits artists, because who knows how many great songs were lost to the universe before there were devices in all of our pockets to record ideas onto.
Taft: No doubt. I remember seeing some interview with Stevie Wonder – it was a long time ago – and he had one of those micro cassette machines and he just kept it with him all the time. He has an idea, kaboom, play and record and off you go. And I never really thought about it that way. Before the iPhone, when I would write a song, it would be something where I’d sit down and play on the guitar and I’d kind of remember it and come back to it and then kind of keep it going. But I didn’t record it in any way. I mean, I would goof around – I had one of those four track cassette decks – but if you were out and about and you got an idea…

The worst one is jogging.

So I’m out running and I got this fucking great idea and it’s like, “Oh my God, you’ve got to hang on to it until you get home.” A lot of times I would remember what it looked like to play on the guitar, but I would forget the rhythms. So, thank God for the iPhone. When it’s time to work on demos for the new album, I just pull up iTunes with all my voice messages and I just start going through them. I go, “Oh fuck, that’s cool. Let’s learn a drum beat that’ll kind of work with that.” And I just throw a loop up and then just kind of start going that way. It’s cool, and sometimes it will be like, “Whoa, what the fuck was that? That was me?” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: A gem comes back to you. Something kind of cool about that.
Taft: Yeah. Or you know, just some random idea I thought of while I was getting dressed in my closet or something. And Hendrix said it, “I don’t really create anything. I just catch it from the sky.” I think that’s where all the coolest songs come from is letting your mind relax and just letting it be creative.

Catch Taft’s latest creation from the sky, “Simple Life,” available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Skux

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Photo By: Matilda @ Wolfpack Creative

Having worked behind the scenes of the music industry promoting other artists, Ayisha Jaffer, the crux of Skux, has a unique perspective on bringing music to the masses, though she admits that there’s no magical equation in capturing the ears of listeners.

It’s always kind of a guess and check, hit or miss, but I actually have fun with that side, trying new things, trying things differently, and seeing how people react,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

The new Skux EP “Kudis” is available now.

We recently sat down with Jaffer to discuss party punk, chart topping in New Zealand, and why you need to love what you do to keep doing it.

TrunkSpace: As an artist – a creative person – and you gear up to release something into the world, how do you prepare yourself for sending your art out into the world and relinquishing control over it?
Jaffer: How do you prepare yourself for that as far as just letting the world have it? I guess, you kind of can’t. It’s kind of just up to the people if they like it or not. I like it and I’m proud of what I put out, so for me, I’m just excited that other people can hear it. Hopefully they can hear it and have fun with it, because for me, it’s just a fun EP. I think a lot of people take themselves to seriously, so hopefully it lets people relax, chill and have fun, which is why I call it party punk, because I want it to just be enjoyable. I’m just having a good time, and I hope everybody else can feel that and have a good time with what I have.

But yeah, there’s nothing to prepare you, and usually on the day of release, I go out of service somewhere so I don’t see what happens, and just kind of focus on something else and come back. And then, it’s cool to see the reactions people have to what’s out there.

TrunkSpace: That’s got to be a healthy approach to take in the digital age because you aren’t refreshing to see the reactions. You can put some space between yourself and the release and then come back and get a lay of the land.
Jaffer: Absolutely. There’s no normal formula anymore for putting stuff out, and there’s so much stuff out there that it takes a while for people to discover it sometimes. And sometimes they don’t, because there’s so much. So, I honestly think people choose what they like, and I think that’s awesome. Spotify… it’s not curated as much as it used to be, and so, I think that’s pretty cool in itself, so if people hear it and they like it, great.

I used to have a professor, a long time ago, tell us about… because I worked in music on the other side, as a manager… and he was like, “Yeah, okay, so what? You have 20 likes on Facebook.” This is when that was normal. (Laughter) He was like, “Think about that. You have 20 people who have listened to your music, who like your music, who are influenced by your music, who are fans of your music.” And that’s a lot of people, if you think about it. So to think I have 900, or 1000, or more, that’s just crazy. So I think that’s a pretty cool way to look at it.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned being on the other side of the music for a while. Do you think that has given you a unique perspective in how you gear up to a release and put music out into the world?
Jaffer: Yeah, for sure. I’m totally conditioned to the way that I put out music, but every artist that I’ve ever worked with, and every project I’ve ever worked on, we always tried to do something different because we knew there was no formula from the beginning, even when there was a formula. And the music industry is always evolving and changing by the day. That’s why I liked working in it because it kept my days different.

So yes, because I’m aware of some of the different, new things happening and things people have tried, and no, because like I said, it’s always evolving and changing. It’s always kind of a guess and check, hit or miss, but I actually have fun with that side, trying new things, trying things differently, and seeing how people react. I actually never intended Skux, the project, to be a serious project. It was always just a fun project. And because it’s punk – at least I know from the industry perspective, punk is not a very sellable music, normally. For me, it’s just a passion. I love punk, and I miss it in the scene. I miss hearing it as much as I used to. It seems to be having a little bit of an emergence, but I was really surprised that it (Skux) did take off as well as it did, especially in New Zealand. One of the two singles I put out was number one for several weeks on radio, and that was nuts to me, because I was like, “What?”

TrunkSpace: And that’s what’s so great about the journey of art, you never really know where it will go when all is said and done. People take from it what they want, and in this case, we’d imagine you’d have never dreamed of having a number one single in New Zealand.
Jaffer: No way. My friends were like, “We’ll pitch it to radio or something.” And I was like, “That’s cool, whatever.” They were like, “Do you want to focus on one track?” and I said, “I don’t care. Give everybody both tracks. I don’t care.” And then, it was number one, and I was like, “That’s stupid. What!?” (Laughter) So you really can’t… you can plan to a point, but you can’t.

My way of planning with this, for the EP, was I just planned the way that I like with old school releases, which was having a concept. I loved a concept when I was younger, so I just kind of did it how I selfishly wanted it to go. If people like it, great, and if not, that’s fine too. I just wanted to selfishly put out a concept EP. And I wanted it to be ridiculous.

TrunkSpace: You never intended Skux to be a serious project, so, now that it has taken on a life of its own, do you feel like that takes the pressure off and allows you to just keep having fun with it?
Jaffer: I’m stoked that it is. Because in my goals with music, anyway, it’s just to tour and be able to do that because that’s my favorite thing to do from the industry side as well. So if that can happen, that’s awesome. And, yeah, it does take some pressure off, but you still get… it’s funny, because I never really felt the…

I hear from artists, on the vulnerable side, be like, “Oh my God, why isn’t it doing well? Why isn’t anyone liking it? Oh my God.” And I kind of get that, in a sense, because once you hit something, you’re like, “Oh, why am I not number one all the time forever?” Because that’s the ridiculous thing for artists to think, but I totally get where they’re coming from because it’s vulnerable. You made this thing. This is your art. This is you putting out your real self, theoretically, or at least your real fun self, or whatever your alter ego is. So I get that. But it does take some pressure off that I’m happy with it because I think that if you’re not happy with it, then, of course, it makes it harder if you’re doubting yourself about your music, and you’re not sure if it’s good, and you care about what other people think. I think punk is inherently… we don’t care. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. That would be against the punk ethos, so for me, it’s just like, “I enjoy it. You enjoy it? Cool, let’s all have fun together.” That’s kind of how I view it.

TrunkSpace: Well, and, as an artist, if you’re working on something that you’re not enjoying, and then, like you said, going out on the road to support it for eight months to a year or more, that’s a miserable year if you’re not in love with what you’re doing.
Jaffer: Oh yeah. I’ve seen it too. It’s the worst. So you’ve got to like it. And you got to not care what other people think. Essentially, I think, the best music is music that is part of your experience, or your outlet, or something you just really enjoy. And if it’s not, and you made if for someone else, and they don’t like it, or whatever, or you just made it for someone else – you made it for only someone else, I should say – because a lot of it is, of course, for the people. They’re relatable, they can go through what you’re going through or whatever, or you’re trying to say a political statement, or you’re trying to just have fun. But if you made it only for someone else, then you’re going to be miserable no matter what, I think.

“Kudis” is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Exclusive Premiere: Dirty Mae’s Brown Water

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TrunkSpace Exclusive Premiere
Dirty Mae’s “Brown Water”

“’Brown Water’ is a song written by the three of us in reaction to the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. The chorus, ‘I told you not to drink that water’ is a play on Pandora’s box. The water is the box. Our curiosity and innovation of dangerous technologies is quenching and comfortable, but eventually makes us sick. 

“Water is our most essential resource. That’s why we chose it for our imagery. We wanted water to be a symbol for something that is most essential to humans. What’s also essential to humans is our desire to defy nature for our own comfort. This essence of humanity is captured through the imagery of brown contaminated water. Water is so essential to humanity but what’s also essential, is contaminating it. Water is a double edge sword. 

‘Brown Water’ has a hopeful funky hook at the beginning with a jazzy sax intro but shifts to a more melancholy place when the verses start. We did this because the content of lyrics are more serious. The lyrics are about what the earth would tell us if it could talk now. The instrumentation and melody at the beginning give you a nostalgic feeling as if the earth misses how things used to be. Then the chorus hits and has a stronger more powerful feeling, less melancholic and more angry. The song builds and builds until it hits a climax with Ben [Curtis’s] screaming vocals and distorted guitar. There’s a pause and then an arpeggiating piano that starts a whole new build through the chorus. Each time through the chorus we add a new vocal harmony until we hit another climax. One can imagine thunder and waves. Then to end it, we go back the funky more uplifting intro because we like happy endings and like to imagine there’s still a chance to take care of this planet.” – Robbie Frost of Dirty Mae

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Musical Mondaze

Dry Cleaning

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Press release embellishment or not, Dry Cleaning’s karaoke moment still played a hand in their inception as a band, though most of the credit belongs to the mutual excitement the group of “best friends” get from writing and creating together.

Certainly I’ve learned a lot from working with these people, the way they are so thoughtful and sensitive and definitely the way they make a positive atmosphere to work in – that’s really inspiring to me,” states founding member Tom Dowse in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Dowse to discuss the future of future recordings, their creative ruthlessness, and opening up a line of communication with the listener.

TrunkSpace: From what we’re told, Dry Cleaning owes much of its existence to karaoke. Can you walk us through how a chance get-together with microphones ultimately lead to where you are today, with a new EP out in the world?
Dowse: Well, that’s a bit of a press release embellishment. Nick (Buxton), Lewis (Maynard) and I were doing karaoke for mine and Nick’s girlfriends and we did Minerva. It was just a lol but we said we should do a band after. To be honest, we had already talked about making music together before for a while, in various iterations.

TrunkSpace: The band wrote and recorded the songs on “Sweet Princess” before ever playing a live show. Because of that, do you feel like these songs are better suited for the studio or did they transfer to the stage seamlessly?
Dowse: The main goal of the band was to be a good live band so they were written with playing them live at the front of all our minds so, yes, was seamless.

TrunkSpace: These songs have been with Dry Cleaning for a while now. Do you feel like, creatively, the band has already moved on from them? Is the songwriting different today than it was when these tracks were being given life?
Dowse: I suppose we do, yes, but still enjoy playing them live a lot. We’ve got a new recording already done and have started writing even more new stuff so mixing those songs with new ones gives them new life. I think the songwriting process is the same, fundamentally. The only differences are that we are looking to throw different things into the mix and see what comes out the other side.

TrunkSpace: There’s an interesting description in the band’s bio that we found fascinating. “Anything unnecessary was to be left behind.” As you ventured on your path creating what you describe as “simple music,” did it require reminding along the way to not get lost in the process and tinker too much? Is it possible for an artist to tweak a piece of work so much that the original energy that created it is wiped from the final result?
Dowse: Yes, I think there has always been an emphasis on minimalism and making sure nothing superfluous is added. It’s a process of refinement that comes about naturally from playing songs a lot at practice, record them, listen to them at work, play them again, etc. I’m sure it’s very easy to lose the original energy of a thing by tinkering, absolutely, it happens all the time. We’re quite ruthless and don’t worry about that when it happens, just move on and come back to it later.

TrunkSpace: Is there a particular feeling you get – a vibe – when you finish a song and you know that it is as perfect as you could make it?
Dowse: I wouldn’t say we ever strive for perfection and are only really looking for that excitement from each other when we know we’re onto something. It’s a sort of group instinct and we trust it.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about the band in sitting down to listen to “Sweet Princess” as a whole? What does it say about Dry Cleaning right now in 2019?
Dowse: That’s a tricky question, I wouldn’t say we’re trying to teach anything. If anything I hope it says that this is music that is pleasurable to listen to that rewards repeated listens, something you feel you can invest in as a listener and you can be part of. The line of communication between us and the listener is as direct as we can make it.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Dowse: Creating something with my best friends and seeing them be as excited by it as I am.

Photo By: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz

TrunkSpace: What do you get out of being in a band, and Dry Cleaning in particular, that you can’t achieve as a solo artist. Does the creativity of the rest of the group inspire your own creativity?
Dowse: Being in Dry Cleaning has become a really important part of our lives, there is something going on every day at the moment and so we are sharing this moment together, that’s so nice! When you’re solo, I would say that you get everything you’re own way, which is great if you have a strong vision of what you want but you are rarely as surprised as often as you are in a band. Someone will chuck something in or comment on something you’re doing and it’ll really push you further than you might have alone. Both are equally valid ways of working. Certainly I’ve learned a lot from working with these people, the way they are so thoughtful and sensitive and definitely the way they make a positive atmosphere to work in – that’s really inspiring to me!

TrunkSpace: Which would you prefer… writing one album that the world adores, or writer a career’s worth that a select group of people connect with?
Dowse: There is that phrase, “If you can’t please the many, delight the few!” I don’t know if I could make the choice to be honest. You have to just make what’s in you to make, when you get that group vibe that it’s right and make the best creative decisions you can at that moment. How the world responds to it is out of your hands and I’d happily accept both those outcomes.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why
Dowse: No, I wouldn’t. I’ve seen and read too much science fiction to dabble with the dangers inherent in time travel.

Sweet Princess” is available now on It’s OK.

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Musical Mondaze

Jason Hawk Harris

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Photo By: Sean Rosenthal

It’s hard to imagine that completing an album – especially one as visceral and as mesmerizing as “Love & the Dark” – could be both a triumphant celebration and a realization of loss, but for singer-songwriter Jason Hawk Harris, there was a lot of pain in seeing his creative vision come to life. Surrounded by sorrow and haunted by personal demons, the founding member of The Show Ponies put all of himself into his country-influenced solo debut, and he knows there isn’t any looking back.

I’ve had a few moments in the last few months where I’ve thought, ‘Do I really want all these people to know this much about me,’” he says in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just what I do, whether I like it or not.”

We recently sat down with Harris to discuss regulating artistic urges, not becoming a country caricature, and why his baggage will never crush him.

TrunkSpace: You went through a lot personally in seeing “Love & the Dark” become a reality. With everything that you’ve endured throughout the process, are there parts of you that wish this music didn’t have to exist in its current form? As an artist, are there days where you would have preferred there had been more “Love” to write about and less “Dark?”
Jason Hawk Harris: Hindsight is 20/20, so I think I look back on what’s happened now and see this beautiful mess that led to a record that couldn’t have existed without it. But when you’re in the shit, you certainly don’t want that stuff to be happening. So I guess the answer to your question is both yes and no.

TrunkSpace: How has expressing yourself through songwriting changed you as a person? Did the creative journey of “Love & the Dark” alter your way of thinking and how you looked at the world?
Jason Hawk Harris: Songs take on a life of their own after you’ve relinquished your grip on them and send them off into the world. That said, I don’t know if it’s the actual songwriting that changes me, or if my songwriting is just me documenting the changes that have happened as a result of the traumas and triumphs of my life.

TrunkSpace: The album will be released on August 23. With such a personal connection to the songs on “Love & the Dark,” what type of emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to release it into the world?
Jason Hawk Harris: There’s some really personal stuff on this record. I’ve had a few moments in the last few months where I’ve thought, “Do I really want all these people to know this much about me?” I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just what I do, whether I like it or not. I write as honestly as I can, because I’m trying to be honest with myself. My hope is that it helps people be honest with themselves too. That’s what my favorite lyricists do for me.

TrunkSpace: Is there ever a fear as a songwriter and artist that you are putting too much of yourself into a song? Does a part of you ever want to be more guarded in the process?
Jason Hawk Harris: Yes. In fact, I’ve had a number of moments where I go to my wife and say, “Hey, is this too personal?” And sometimes the answer is, in fact, YES. “Yes, Jason, it’s too fucking personal,” she’ll say, except she doesn’t like the F word. I shudder to know what I would’ve put out into the world if I didn’t have her to help regulate some of my more uninhibited artistic urges.

TrunkSpace: What would someone learn about you – both as a person and as an artist – in sitting down to listen to “Love & the Dark” in its entirety?
Jason Hawk Harris: That I’m sad in spite of the fact that I’m almost recklessly hopeful. I’ve got a lot of baggage, but I’m not worried about it crushing me.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Jason Hawk Harris: I don’t think I’ll ever write another song like “The Smoke and the Stars.” I don’t think it will be the song that connects with people the most, but I don’t think I’ve ever combined all my sensibilities into one song like I did with that one.

TrunkSpace: For years country music has had a very slick, pop-influenced spin that has turned it into much more of mainstream genre, but many artists like Sarah Shook, Joshua Hedley and yourself are bringing an old-school feel, which is making it fresh in a totally nostalgic way. Is your overall sound something that you set out to create or was it a natural transition when you ventured into a solo career?
Jason Hawk Harris: It was natural. Traditional country music lines my oldest memories. It’s the sound of my childhood. I’m influenced by a lot more than just country, so a lot more slips in, but I hope I’m respecting the traditions of the genre as best I can. I feel like a lot of mainstream country artists are making a caricature of country music that misses the mark. Even though I’m slipping in and out of country music on this record and in most of my music, I make it a priority not to do that.

TrunkSpace: We love great lyrics… the kind that stick with us well after the song comes to end. What’s a favorite lyric of yours that you have written and why?
Jason Hawk Harris: The second verse of “Phantom Limb.”

It’s coming in waves, it’s numb in between
When I’m not crying I can’t feel a thing.
And the air gets so thin, I breathe what I can.
Then blow out the smoke, that laughs as it floats
And waves like a flag. I wish you’d come back.

I like it because I really don’t know what the smoke is doing at the end of the verse, but it manages to be perfectly evocative of the larger theme of the song. This is what I’m always trying to do, but it only comes along every now and then. I just hope I catch it when it does.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Jason think of your musical journey thus far? Would he be surprised by the path you have taken?
Jason Hawk Harris: Well… He’d be surprised I was playing country music or at least country-influenced music. Twelve-year-old Jason really loved Queen, so ultimately I think he’d be disappointed with the fact that there aren’t more contrapuntal harmonized guitar solos than anything.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Jason Hawk Harris: No way. I’m doing this thing where I’m trying to live day-to-day, where I’m kind to myself and I don’t beat me up. Seeing 10 years of mistakes all at once might send me to an early grave. I like today. Today is good. I can handle today. I can’t handle 10 years, five years, one year, one month or even one day from now, but I know I can handle today.

Love & the Dark” is available August 23 from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Nels Andrews

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Nels Andrews has always been chasing stories, but it wasn’t until his early 20s that he began to tell those tales through music. Now on the cusp of releasing his latest album, “Pigeon & the Crow,” he’s reflecting on his own journey with us in ways that he never expected.

Wow, this interview is a therapy session, this is great,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Andrews to discuss releasing a record independently in 2019, the Bruce Springsteen effect, and how his music became married to a comic book.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had an interesting journey as a songwriter, particularly in how you first started traversing your artistic path. Do you feel like music came into your life at the right time for the right reasons? Would you be a different person today if music wasn’t your focus?
Andrews: I’ve always been chasing stories but didn’t have anywhere to put them down. Music had been in my life since elementary school plunking through the Beatles songbook, but creating music started when I was something of an early-20s hermit out in Taos, NM. Moving down to Albuquerque with those songs brought me to interact more with others, pulling on the extrovert in me. As that early 20s guy would point out, I’m a Leo.

If I hadn’t started writing and playing out I probably would’ve gone back to Taos and been a woodworker, which is something else I’d started. Or gone off chasing more stories.

TrunkSpace: How has expressing yourself through songwriting changed you as a person? Did it alter your way of thinking and how you looked at the world?
Andrews: When I was a kid I was diagnosed with all sorts of learning disorders. The stories and words are all floods in me but can be tricky to pull out in clear lines. Songwriting allows me to take the time to do that at my own pace.

I’ve also recently taken up photography, which keeps all the words out of the picture entirely, as it were.

TrunkSpace: You’re set to release your new album “Pigeon & the Crow” on August 9. What type of emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material into the world?
Andrews: Wow, this interview is a therapy session, this is great.

Excitement, curiosity to see how this longstanding project of mine lands with the people who listen to it, also some panic and overwhelm – the giant set of organized and interlocking tasks which is independently releasing a record in 2019 is way more complicated than writing a baker’s dozen songs. Maybe the Dutch or the German have a word for “fear of unsold units” or its cousin, “dusty boxes of merch in the shed.” Or maybe this millennium’s compound word would have something to do with the professional (rather than the social) fear of not getting enough likes to be competitive in your market. That whole part is pretty awful.

The creative songwriting part feels exhilarating, satisfying, toothy.

TrunkSpace: What would someone learn about you – both as a person and as an artist – in sitting down to listen to “Pigeon & the Crow” in its entirety?
Andrews: That I’m a middle-aged guy who has been watching and listening to the glances I’ve gotten of the world for a while, that maybe in another dimension I’m writing short stories. That I love Bruce Springsteen, that I’ve learned the importance of some sway, some rhythm.

TrunkSpace: From what we read, you’ve been working on the songs for this album over the course of the past few years. That’s a long time for someone in terms of personal growth and change. Is that time and how it impacted you reflective in the songwriting? Can you hear the differences between the Nels at the start of this journey and the Nels nearest to where we are today?
Andrews: Nels at the beginning was feeling a little done with the music business (never the music); we can see that in the ‘mid-careers themes’ in some of the songs. Nels nearest to now is somehow refreshed with wistful resolve.

But also the way I write the songs is very long and interwoven – many of the songs I started five years ago and returned to intermittently and finished one or two years ago, before recording them. So my then-self and my now-self all get to show up in the songs.

TrunkSpace: The album was recorded in a studio originally built for Sam Cooke. Can a space and the creative energy that lives within it impact an artist? Does the history of a studio trickle into what you’re doing in the present day?
Andrews: It certainly felt like it there; I felt like I was sleeping amongst the ghosts who had been there before. The bassist on the album, Sebastian Steinberg, knew a little about forensics and was able to determine that a suspicious stain on the wall was almost definitely not evidence of brutal murder. There were all sorts of groovy and mysterious vibes, hopefully some of which imbued into the rhythm section. And also just the folks who’ve recorded there since (Lord Huron, Soul Coughing)… it was just neat to be there where they’d done their thing.

TrunkSpace: There is a lot of wordplay in your songwriting… lines that stand out and stay with the listener. What is a line off of “Pigeon & the Crow” that you are particularly proud of and why?
Andrews: Well, there’s one that’s a double (triple?) reference, in “Memory Compass,” which is a song that takes place at the slow dawn ending of beach bonfire, there’s the line ‘in a baritone whisper, someone sang thunder road, caught your eye on the chorus, we’re all singing for the lonely alone’ – so that’s a reference to Bruce Springsteen who is referencing Roy Orbison. Not unlike a line earlier in that song, about mirrors in other mirrors.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Andrews: The collaborative elements – whether it be with words/song/images that I put together with Mike Bencze (see answer below), or the international words and images ‘libraries and bookshops’ tour I’m looking forward to doing with UK singer-songwriter Jess Morgan, or just all of the collaboration with so many artists from around the world from so many musical backgrounds who played on the album.

TrunkSpace: Can you tell us a little bit about the comic book that you created as a companion piece to the album and how the concept came together?
Andrews: This song is what’s called a supernatural ballad – which is a song that’s telling a specific story involving something magical, a transformation. In this case, of a young girl who fed a crow who brought back small treasures for the girl (this really happened – see the news stories from the early aughts). In the song, the girl shapeshifts, as does the crow; it’s a love story. I was telling the story to my friend Mike, who is an illustrator, and he wanted to draw it. And thus our ‘graphic novella’ became. Also, it was fantastic because the collaboration was supported by the arts council wanting to support local artists, so we were also able to join a new part of the Santa Cruz arts community.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Andrews: First I think there’s a difference between looking at where my career will be, and where my music will be. Those could be two different questions.

I wouldn’t want to look ahead because I want to stay curious and be in the moment. I don’t want to write songs for that future place. I want to be finding my way there, artistically, in the next set of things that present themselves. When you only have the answers to the long division problem… you can’t see the work.

Pigeon & the Crow” is available August 9.

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