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Musical Mondaze

Kevin Krauter

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With his second solo album, Full Hand, out today on Bayonet, Kevin Krauter is not the type of artist who consciously calculates where his creative endeavors take him.

I don’t really try to plan out big themes or sounds before I make an album, I just try my best to write and record music that makes me happy and I think what makes this release different is that I’m better at it now,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Krauter to discuss why he isn’t a “cool musician,” the four-letter word he’s as chill as, and the reason you may want to reconsider emailing him.

TrunkSpace: Your new album, Full Hand, drops February 28. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new music to the masses?
Krauter: I don’t know, it’s hard to say ‘cause nothing really sticks out among the myriad of emotions that accumulate anytime you work on a huge project. But mostly at this point I’m just excited for people to finally hear all of it ‘cause there’s definitely a lot of it that I’m stoked on outside of the singles.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who has a hard time letting go of what you create? Can it be difficult putting so much of yourself into something and then leaving it up to the universe to decide how it is perceived and accepted?
Krauter: Not really. I mean, I’ve heard it so much at this point that I feel a bit numb to it. But I pay very close attention to what people say about every release. I know it sounds weird – and cool musicians are supposed to say they don’t care and don’t pay attention – but I’m way too curious about what people say about me. (Laughter) I don’t really get too offended when people shit on my music honestly, but I simply have to know – like, I really can’t help it.

TrunkSpace: Full Hand is your second solo album. No one is closer to the music than you, so we wonder what you view as the biggest differences – both thematically and sonically – when lined up against your 2018 debut, Toss Up?
Krauter: That’s kind of hard to answer ‘cause I just see it all as a progression of what I’ve done before. I don’t really try to plan out big themes or sounds before I make an album, I just try my best to write and record music that makes me happy and I think what makes this release different is that I’m better at it now.

TrunkSpace: If someone sat down to listen to Full Hand front to back, what would they learn about you both as an artist and as a person?
Krauter: They would learn that I’m chill as fuck.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Krauter: The lyrics.

TrunkSpace: What do you get out of creating music that you can’t achieve as a listener alone? Is it therapeutic to feed your emotions through songs?
Krauter: Yeah, for sure. I mean, if that element of catharsis wasn’t present I wouldn’t be doing it at all. It’s hard to say what I get out of it really – it’s more that I need to make it. Like someone who draws or paints is compelled to do both. I’m lucky I’ve had the privilege in my life to have those impulses encouraged and supported. Many people do not.

TrunkSpace: Would you rather create one album that sells millions of copies worldwide, or a lifetime of music that a small audience connects with?
Krauter: I don’t know. I haven’t had either happen to me yet so it’s hard to say.

TrunkSpace: In terms of the business side of music, what is the most difficult aspect of being an artist in 2020?
Krauter: Responding to emails.

Photo By: Rachel Cabitt

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Krauter: Yeah. Honestly, I think he’d be stoked as fuck. (Laughter) I wanted to be in a band for as long as I can remember and now I’m doing it. I would say maybe I’d be bummed about how broke I am, but I probably wouldn’t care.

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?
Krauter: No way, man. I think seeing my future would either make me really depressed or just straight up go insane. Time travel is very freaky to me.

Full Hand is available now on Bayonet.

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Musical Mondaze

Brother Moses

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New York, the city so nice they named it twice, has inspired many artists over the years, but for indie rockers and recent Arkansas transplants Brother Moses, the Big Apple served as the culture shocked-springboard for their latest album, the beautifully-crafted masterpiece of chill, Destination Pop.

You can hear the struggle but you can hear also the excitement and the persistence of it,” said guitarist John-Lewis Anderson in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

The band’s latest single, “What Does It Take?”, is available now.

We recently sat down with Anderson and guitarist Moses Gomez to discuss the pop of pop culture, getting Goldblum, and why the album is a perfect combination of their past and present.

TrunkSpace: The new album, Desperation Pop, drops on March 6. What is the period leading up to a release like for the band? Are you in a bit of a creative lull?
Anderson: We have definitely not been in a lull. It’s been a very crazy period. We are just getting everything ready for the rollout and we’ll have one more single coming out before the album drops. So yeah, we’re keeping pretty busy.
Gomez: I would say that, as far as music-wise, each one of us has things cooking. But creatively though, we’re taking up a lot of space with different ideas for ways that we can present the album.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about the band as a whole in sitting down to listen to Desperation Pop front to back?
Anderson: Well, I think it’s a very New York-centric album. We moved up here about two years ago now and I think you hear a lot of that in the music. You have a song like “What Does It Take” that just focuses a lot on the things that you have to do to not just survive but to try to do something special out here. There are a lot of little things like that, which I think you hear. You can hear the struggle but you can hear also the excitement and the persistence of it.

TrunkSpace: So would you say that the city itself, New York City, was one of the biggest influences on the album?
Anderson: Yeah, I think that’d be accurate.

TrunkSpace: One of the other things we noticed was the connection to pop culture that was present. Is that a conscious decision when it comes to writing or is it more of an influence by osmosis thing?
Gomez: I mean, I think it’s definitely a little bit of both. I think it just happens to go with what is happening at that time in our lives – where and what we’re into at that time. The lead singer, James, just for an example, in Sam & Diane, he wrote about that show because there was a time where we stayed up and we’d just sit there on the couch watching Cheers over and over again. And so it definitely has to do with a little bit about what’s going on in our lives and then we’re pulling from other places just to fit the specific tone of the song.

TrunkSpace: But… even Jeff Goldblum appears?
Anderson: (Laughter) Yeah, that’s something that we’ve been sitting on for a while. When we recorded our EP, Legends, we are out in Los Angeles, and he had a residency at this jazz club. And so we went to see him one night and it was a really cool experience. Afterwards he was just kinda walking around, talking to some of the audience, and we went up to him and we just kind of told him what we were doing there and asked him if he would be interested in saying a few words for the EP. Well, we happened to be on a small label at the time and they kind of got freaked out by that and didn’t want us to put it on there. So, we were just kind of waiting for the right time. We knew that was something fun and special and we felt like it really went hand in hand with what we were trying to do here.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned your EP, which leads us to our next question. No one knows your music better than you, so where do you hear the biggest differences between Legends and where you are now creatively with Desperation Pop?
Gomez: Creatively, I think we’re at our highest point yet. I think we’ve just gone so far into not limiting ourselves on what we can do. I think what we’ve tried on Desperation Pop, we would have never thought to do any of that stuff on Legends. I feel like Legends lives in a box while Desperation Pop is more worldly overall.
Anderson: And I think thematically, on Legends, you would hear a lot of us striving for kind of the more pop influence – bright sound. And then, with Magnolia, we kind of dove into the more desperate side of things and a kind of raw energy. I feel like we’ve really been able to meld them and bring them together with this new record.

TrunkSpace: There’s also a great production quality to Desperation Pop. How does that carry over into a live setting in terms of what you’re able to do with those songs on stage?
Anderson: That’s a good question.
Gomez: Yeah, and that is a good question.
Anderson: It’s a constantly evolving process, but I think the main difference you’d hear is there is so much energy when you come to a Brother Moses show and each one is a little bit different. We like to feed off of the crowd and try to make it a special experience. But I think the main thing you’re going to see is so much energy and excitement. We also try push ourselves to have all these interesting sounds and create just a sonically rich atmosphere for that energy to live in.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Anderson: Ooh, that’s a tough one. Oh man. Moses, do you have anything that pops out immediately?
Gomez: I think the sound, specifically, I think the record sounds better than anything that we’ve ever done before. What helps that is the specific composition or the specific arrangement that we landed on with these songs. I think that’s what I’m most proud of, is just how they specifically sound whenever it’s coming out of your car speakers or wherever.
Anderson: I already kind of touched on it before, but I think we were able to get a balance of emotional impact with a polished product that we’ve been trying to make for a while. A lot of these songs we ended up reworking several times and even rerecording, and when I listen to it I’m just really, really proud that we were able to do that and have that patience for it because I think it really, really paid off.

Desperation Pop is available March 6. Their latest single, “What Does It Take?”, is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Kyle Forester

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Photo By: Michael Stasiak

Edibles for the ears?

That’s what Kyle Forester hopes people will discover when sitting down to listen to his latest album Hearts in Gardens when it’s released on February 21.

I hope they’d have at least a few moments on the album where they’d hear an instrument play something and they’d be, like, ‘Ooh, tasty playing,’” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Forester to discuss vulnerable explorations, album to album growth, and why he’d like to find himself an outlet other than music.

TrunkSpace: Your new album, Hearts in Gardens, drops February 21. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new music to the masses?
Forester: Ha, well, I’m not positive this music is gonna reach the MASSES, but I’m excited for people who like this kinda music to hear it. It’s always a bit vulnerable to put your stuff out there, so there’s a little bit of that kind of nervousness, but, yeah, mostly just excited, relieved to have made it to this point, that kinda thing.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who has a hard time letting go of what you create? Can it be difficult putting so much of yourself into something and then leaving it up to the universe to decide how it is perceived and accepted?
Forester: Hmmm, not really? I actually prefer to work kinda quickly, once I have the ideas together. I’m not someone who, for instance, goes back and forth forever in the mixing process. I have a few people whose opinions I trust who I’ll play things for and if no one says it’s terrible I’m pretty much ready to let go of it.

TrunkSpace: Hearts in Gardens is your second solo album. No one is closer to the music than you, so we wonder what you view as the biggest differences – both thematically and sonically – when lined up against your 2016 self-titled debut?
Forester: Kind of a lot! The songs on the first album go back to some really old ideas. It’s also mostly stuff I worked on at home with no idea of what form it would eventually take, and I sorta pieced it together from home recordings and stuff I did at a friend’s studio, etc. This one was written with the band I play with now in mind and recorded in a nice studio with the band playing. And, yeah, thematically, I don’t know if my lyric writing has changed so so much, but my life is way different than it was four years ago, so I’m sure there’s some different themes in there!

TrunkSpace: If someone sat down to listen to Hearts in Gardens front to back, what would they learn about you both as an artist and as a person?
Forester: I hope they’d have at least a few moments on the album where they’d hear an instrument play something and they’d be, like, “Ooh, tasty playing!” And I guess I hope my singing makes me sound like a nice and mellow guy to hang out with?

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Forester: Well, I guess, back to the last answer, I think it’s a nice album musically, there’s some good playing on there.

TrunkSpace: What is your main objective as a songwriter? Is your creative output for you? Is it for us, the listener? Is it for a combination of the two?
Forester: I always just say I try to make the kind of music I like to listen to and that I wish there were at least a little more of in the world? A lot of parts of the songwriting process, especially “finishing” things, are kind of painful for me, but I do find it pretty enjoyable and satisfying in a way that not that many other things are.

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day where music is not a part of your life? If you weren’t writing, would you need another outlet to find an internal balance within yourself?
Forester: I always sort of fantasize about having a totally different path at some point in my life and getting really involved with something other than music, but that seems unlikely at this point, and it’s probably true that I like playing music more than just about anything else. And, yeah, I would need something for internal balance cause I am a wreck.

Photo By: Michael Stasiak

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?
Forester: Yeah, totally. “Strange Vision” on the new album is probably the best recent example of something I wrote that ended up, you know, exceeding my expectations.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Forester: Ha, I would! I was already pretty into music at that age, but I don’t think I had any idea what kind of life you could lead revolving around it. At that age, I believe my ambition was to be a sports writer for the Bergen Record newspaper.

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?
Forester: In the words of Doc Brown, knowledge of the future can be very dangerous, Marty, you must not tell me anything!

Hearts in Gardens is available February 21.

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Musical Mondaze

Taylor Ashton

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Photo By: Jonno Rattman

Yes, THE Vanilla Ice sang, “All right stop, collaborate and listen,” but it’s singer-songwriter Taylor Ashton who is doing all of the real-life collaborating and we’re the ones doing the listening, especially as it relates to his upcoming debut solo album, The Romantic, due to drop February 28 from Signature Sounds.

I call The Romantic a solo album but in a big way it’s actually the most collaborative thing I’ve ever made,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “It has 17 other musicians on it and they all bring something of themselves to it.”

We recently sat down with Ashton to discuss going solo(ish), tunnel reverb, and practicing the art of being non self-judgmental – or, at least, finding art in it.

TrunkSpace: What is your main objective as a songwriter? Is your creative output for you? Is it for us, the listener? Is it for a combination of the two?
Ashton: It’s a combination! My favorite feeling in the world is listening to a song that speaks to me, and that’s the feeling I hope people will have when they listen to the songs I write. So it’s for you, the listener, but it’s also for me, imagining myself in your shoes.

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day where music is not a part of your life? If you weren’t writing, would you need another outlet to find an internal balance within yourself?
Ashton: I don’t think music will ever not be a part of my life. That said, I’m a visual artist as well, and I’ve always had to juggle that with music – so I guess I need both those outlets to balance myself anyway.

TrunkSpace: Your debut solo album, The Romantic, is set to be released on February 28th. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you prepare to release new material into the world?
Ashton: This will be the 7th album I’ve sung my songs on, after four albums with Fish & Bird and two duo records with other songwriters, but it’s my first “solo” album so to speak. For a long time I didn’t like the idea of putting out a solo album, because it felt egotistical. I’m glad it’s taken me this long to get comfortable with it, because I’ve learned a lot from collaborating in different ways with different musicians over the years. It feels vulnerable! But good!

TrunkSpace: How much of your personal timeline is present on The Romantic? How far back do these songs go, and is it odd to revisit the emotions that spark particular tracks days, months or even years later?
Ashton: The initial sessions for the album took place in 2015, which was shortly after I moved to New York, and around that time, things were slowing down with my old band and I was processing the end of a relationship too. So listening to it now I see that it’s sort of the chronicle of leaving behind old support systems and discovering myself in a different context. When I first moved here, I didn’t have many friends and had no job. I survived for the first couple months off a check from a medical study I participated in just before moving, and when that ran out I made my living as a subway busker for a year or so. That was a really new way of making music and relating to an audience. It was really lonely and bleak sometimes, but on a good day it was pretty spiritual – the reverb in those tunnels is gorgeous and it can be amazing to connect with people in that direct way.

TrunkSpace: If someone sat down to listen to The Romantic front to back, what would they learn about you both as an artist and as a person?
Ashton: I hope they learn more about themselves!

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Ashton: I’m really happy that it sounds cohesive, even though there were some pretty big gaps in the recording of the album. Other projects and life things took my energy for certain periods of time – I made a duo record with my pal Courtney Hartman, for example – so when I put my attention back to the solo album, I had a half-finished bunch of sessions and thought I would have to scrap everything and start over. Alec Spiegelman rescued me from that place last year – we took the 2015 sessions and recorded new songs and did overdubs on the new and old sessions to the point where I started to forget what was old and what was new. Jacob Blumberg recorded the first sessions, and then he came back to mix the whole album, so that helped too.

Short answer is that I am proud to know Alec Spiegelman and Jacob Blumberg (who share co-production credit on the album), and the rest of the musicians on the album who let me borrow their talents to make my songs sound great.

TrunkSpace: We love music here, but even more than that, we love really great lyrics – the kind that make you delve deeper as a listener. We think there is a wonderful smorgasbord of words and emotions on this album, but for you, what is a particular line that stands out that you’re happy with and why?
Ashton: I came up with the chorus to “If You Can Hear Me” one time when I was really lonely and really sleep-deprived, and I love singing it because it’s got a healing message and it’s also abstract. Sometimes I don’t know right away if I like something I’ve written, but this chorus struck me as finished the second it plopped out of my brain:

If you can hear me, give me a sign
there’s a receiver in your heart of mine
If you’ve got a problem, that’s what I’m here for,
Wrap yourself up in my arms of yours”

Photo By: Jonno Rattman

 

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Ashton: I have a Mount Rushmore of songwriters in my brain: Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Bjork, Randy Newman, Bill Withers, Thom Yorke etc, etc, etc… and I have had a bad habit sometimes of judging every melody and every lyric as it comes out of my brain, imagining if one of these idols of mine would have written it or liked it. I’m still learning and re-learning that it’s mostly debilitating to be that judgmental in the creative process. So I do an exercise where I try to write something with the explicit intent of never playing it for anybody, so I can practice being non-judgmental. Every so often in that exercise I trick myself into writing something I like, and that’s honestly where most of my finished songs come from.

TrunkSpace: We were first introduced to your music after hearing you mentioned during a performance by The Brother Brothers. Creatively, how important are collaborations to you? Does the creativity of others spark your own creativity?
Ashton: Oh that is sweet! I love those guys. David and I actually just finished a co-write that I think is going to be on their next album.

Yeah, collaboration is everything! I call The Romantic a solo album but in a big way it’s actually the most collaborative thing I’ve ever made. It has 17 other musicians on it and they all bring something of themselves to it – almost all of the musicians on the record are songwriters themselves and they’re all people whose writing I’ve been really inspired by. I do really feed off of that.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Ashton: My 10-year-old self would be surprised that I’m playing music at all! As a kid I always thought I would just be drawing and never doing anything else.

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?
Ashton: Oooh, that’s so tempting but it also sounds like it would end in some Time Traveler’s Wife style tragedy. Maybe if my future self could send me a single Morse code message from the 5th dimension, like at the end of Interstellar, that would be cool. Maybe my future self could give me the hook to the song that’s going to get into an apple ad and put my future children through college, something like that. I’d take that.

The Romantic will be available February 28 via Signature Sounds. His latest single, “Nicole, is available now.

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Musical Mondaze

Miss Tess

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Between shifting industry trends and evolving listening experiences, it’s becoming more difficult than ever for artists to reach an audience, even when global connectivity is only a tweet away. For Miss Tess, whose new album, The Moon Is An Ashtray, drops on February 7th, tempering expectations when releasing new music into the world is part of her recipe when cooking in the creative kitchen.

With the sheer amount of stuff out there I think it’s amazing even one person listens to my music or comes to see me live,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Miss Tess to discuss going analog, growth as an artist, and why it’s important to take a break from social media.

TrunkSpace: Your new album, The Moon Is An Ashtray, is set to be released in February. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you prepare to release new material into the world? Is it sometimes hard to let material go and relinquish control over it?
Miss Tess: Actually I can’t wait to get it out there. We started recording a year and a half ago, so it’s been a long time coming. I don’t feel like it’s ever hard to let the material out there. I’ve listened to it so much, it’s time to give other folks a turn.

TrunkSpace: With so much music already under your belt, has the experience of making it changed for you since you first started out? Are there still firsts for you as you go through the process of writing, recording and then supporting an album?
Miss Tess: Every time I go into the studio I learn something new, and I’m always trying to grow and do it better next time. This album was the first time we had ever recorded something completely analog to tape. You only have so much room for recordings on the tape reel, so it forces you to be very decisive in the studio about what takes to keep. Also the recordings were mixed on an analog board, which can be a little stressful. You have no instant recall (like in digital) so if you want to tweak something you have to create a whole new mix. Luckily our producer and engineer, Andrija Tokic, is a whiz with that stuff and made it seem fairly effortless. He even did an actual tape cut to remove a section of a song, then taped it back together. It’s magic to me that music can exist on a piece of tape.

TrunkSpace: As you listen to The Moon Is An Ashtray today and compare it against, say, When Tomorrow Comes, where do you hear the biggest differences in the artist that you were and the artist that you are now?
Miss Tess: I don’t often listen to my older recordings, but sometimes a song pops up. I mostly notice how I’ve grown as a vocalist and a guitarist, and have more composure in the studio. I started recording 15 years ago, so that’s a lot of time for styles and techniques to change and develop. I used to be way more jazz/folk, but now while some of that still lingers, I’ve broadened my scope into country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll to make it perhaps even more eclectic. I like to think my singing has matured and strengthened, and I’m pleased with the fact that I’ve recorded several guitar leads. When I listen back to those, that’s the moment where I’m like, “Hey, that was pretty good.”

TrunkSpace: There are some great layers to peel away on The Moon Is An Ashtray, particularly when it comes to individuals and collective perspectives/expectations. As an artist, how do you manage your own expectations when it comes to your music and how it will be perceived once you release it into the universe?
Miss Tess: I release every album with the lowest possible expectations. That way you are always pleasantly surprised when you get a good review, or someone tells you they enjoy it. You can’t control anything really, even with the best team behind you to help promote. The industry is constantly changing and there is a staggering amount of recordings being released every week. With the sheer amount of stuff out there I think it’s amazing even one person listens to my music or comes to see me live.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Miss Tess: I’m proud of the songwriting – these are good songs and fun to play. I’m also proud of our recording band mates, some of the best in Nashville. Our friend John Pahmer was the MVP doing most of the keyboard and piano stuff, and really helped bring these songs to life. Getting to record with stalwarts such as Dennis Crouch (T-Bone Burnett’s right hand bass playing man) and Jack Lawrence (from the Raconteurs) was a great experience, and I’m really happy with how the recordings came out.

TrunkSpace: Since the start of your career, you have released new music at a pretty steady clip. Do you consider yourself to be a prolific artist? What is the longest period of time you have spent away from music?
Miss Tess: I don’t consider myself to be prolific. I don’t write enough to earn that term. I don’t think I’ve ever really spent time away from music. It’s always there. I’ve probably gone about three weeks max between gigs, since I created my first band in Baltimore in 2003 or so.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Miss Tess: It’s easy to be hard on yourself with all the social media stats out there. It’s always been a bit of a popularity contest, and now we have concrete numbers with which to measure ourselves. On top of that everyone only posts their best side, so it can be misleading, distorting our realities and perceptions of how life should be. Also living in such a concentrated musical community as Nashville is, you see other people get really successful in what seems like a very short amount of time. It’s easy to compare yourself to this and think, “Why aren’t I doing better? I’ve worked my ass off for a very long time.” I have to imagine that whatever level a musician is at, they will still have doubts and disappointments.

To overcome these feelings I have to remind myself that I can only do my best, and make sure the art I’m creating is honest and that I am growing and expanding. I tell myself there are plenty of people who wish they could even get on stage and sing one song and I don’t take that ability for granted. Also, taking breaks from social media is important.

Part of the reason I keep doing this, is that I feel I haven’t reached my potential, and ultimately I am happiest having created something new. The challenge is always making art sustainable, and figuring out the business side of things can also be very discouraging, and the lifestyle of a touring musician requires a lot of sacrifices in terms of relationships, family, health and security.

TrunkSpace: Finish this sentence. “I wouldn’t be able to create music if I didn’t have…”
Miss Tess: A brain.

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?
Miss Tess: Yes, she would be very surprised. I wasn’t one of those kids who was infatuated with being a performer or a rockstar, though I did enjoy the piano and I was always mystified by singing into a microphone and hearing my own voice amplified and recorded.

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?
Miss Tess: I wouldn’t. I would be worried it would affect me too much in the current time.

The Moon Is An Ashtray is available February 7th.

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Musical Mondaze

Matt Megrue

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With his first solo album, The Mourner’s Manual, set to drop in February, Matt Megrue is no longer blending into the background of a band. Now front and center with his name the only thing standing between the music and the audience, he knows that he can no longer stay camouflaged, but it’s an experience he is ready to grow from, both as an artist and as a person.

It’s not about commercial success or failure as much as it is continuing to grow, evolve and giving myself the space for creative mistakes and coincidences to shape what I am doing,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Megrue to discuss staying present, looking beyond those bottles of lightning, and why it’s important for people to spread the word (and music!) of their favorite artists.

TrunkSpace: Your new album, The Mourner’s Manual, is set to be released on February 7th. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you prepare to release new material into the world?
Megrue: It’s a weird mix of a lot of different emotions: excitement in that this creation is finally leaving your hands and making its way out into the world, anxiety around making sure everything is planned and you’re doing everything you can to support the lead-up to the release, hope that the songs might resonate with some people, as well as a degree of disconnection, in not putting too much into the inevitable highs and lows that come with releasing a new album.

TrunkSpace: Is there a different vibe with the build up in releasing this album as a solo artist as compared to when you were in projects like The Unusual Suspects and Loners Society? Is there more pressure involved when it’s your name and your name alone above the album title?
Megrue: Absolutely.

I was the primary songwriter in all of my other bands and, if I am being honest with myself, I think that was why I avoided putting records out under my own name for so long: if something were to “fail”, I could always hide behind a band name. Obviously, you don’t get that luxury when you put things out under your own name.

But for me, lately, it has become more about redefining why I continue to create music. It’s not about commercial success or failure as much as it is continuing to grow, evolve and giving myself the space for creative mistakes and coincidences to shape what I am doing.

TrunkSpace: You started your The Mourner’s Manual journey in 2016. Because it has been a part of your life for a number of years now – and as excited as you are to have it finished – is there a part of you that feels like you have a bit of a creative void now that you have to fill, and if so, what are you filling it with?
Megrue: There definitely is a void once you wrap up a recording, and like most creative people I know, I also have a tendency to say, “Okay, on to the next thing.” without really taking the time to be present in what I just did. It is something that my drummer (Kyle Polk) pointed out to me, and I recently caught myself doing that. I was already moving on, writing for the next record, but have since taken a pause so that I could be present in the process of putting out this record and getting ready to tour it a bit.

TrunkSpace: In a message on your website, you wrote that the album is… “Loss. Love. Anger. Hope. Longing. Vulnerability. Spirit.” In a way, is releasing this album a bit like a therapy session because you’re sharing so much of who you are with those who choose to listen? Does that vulnerability on the album translate to vulnerability for you as an artist on the eve of its launch?
Megrue: It does, somewhat, but I think that’s where the disconnection I mentioned before comes in. For me, it’s not only about disconnecting from press, praise and negative critique, but also the material itself, to a certain degree.

The goal for this record was to leave it all in the studio and on tape, so to speak. The studio is the moment to dive into the raw emotion and vulnerability; but once that is over, I have to disconnect in order to perform certain songs over and over again. Otherwise, without that disconnect, I feel like I’m functioning but completely exposed.

TrunkSpace: If someone sat down to listen to The Mourner’s Manual front to back, what would they learn about you both as an artist and as a person?
Megrue: That is a really difficult question to answer. I think I can answer it best by telling you what I learned about myself in those regards.

As an artist, I learned that maybe I am a little more capable than I wanted to believe. What I saw as “writer’s block” leading up to recording this album, was probably more me not allocating the time to really put in the work. I was waiting for the “lightning in a bottle” moments and kind of forgot the “10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration” rule. Once we got the gears going and got into the rhythm of doing the work, everything started falling into place.

As a person, I think I found a more empathetic lens with which to view the world than I have ever had before. I dug into some fairly heavy topics with this record, but I wanted to balance that with a sense of hope. Beautiful things can be birthed from darker moments if you allow yourself to be open to it. I hope people pick up on that.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Megrue: I’m just proud that I made a record that I am proud of. Granted, I have “new album fatigue” right now from listening to all of the various phases of mixing and mastering, but I am really proud of it as a representation of who I am and where I am at. Again, my hope is that some of that will resonate with people.

TrunkSpace: As an artist, can it be daunting looking out into the musical landscape and seeing how many artists are releasing new material at any given time? How do you cut through that noise and make a real connection to listeners in 2020?
Megrue: That’s a great question and, honestly, one that I wish I had a better answer for. I just try to be as honest as I can in how I write and release material. I believe people are yearning for authenticity more than ever before, and I just try to make music that is a true, authentic representation of who I am.

As far as cutting through the clutter, a lot of that onus is on the listener. If you love a band or an artist, tell your friends, tell the band, blow up social media. I know that I have found most of my favorite bands through the recommendation of a friend or someone whose tastes I really respect.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Megrue: Lyrics. Definitely lyrics. I put a lot of sweat into trying not to say the same things the same way, and it makes it really easy to get lost down a rabbit hole. It’s something that I still work on constantly to overcome, but having people around who you trust and won’t just tell you what you want to hear helps a lot! You can reach the right destination a lot faster that way.

TrunkSpace: Finish this sentence. “I wouldn’t be able to create music if I didn’t have…”
Megrue: “the goosebump moments.” If you’ve ever played music, you know what I’m talking about.

There were so many of those moments making this record where we would just drop a sample in or write a riff and things would fall into place around it. It was almost creepy at times.

Even playing live, you get those moments where everyone is so perfectly in sync that you almost want to play a wrong note just to make sure your amp is still working.

Those moments, and doing it with people you love and respect, is what it’s all about.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Megrue: Probably. When I was 10 I was really deep into that 90’s country music. So, he would probably be quite confused at how he got from there to doing the kind of music that I do now.

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?
Megrue: I don’t think I would. The fun lives in “the not knowing”. Again, for me I love creating the space to let the “mistakes” and “coincidences” happen and allowing that to lead where I go next.

The Mourner’s Manual drops February 7th.

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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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