opening act

Opening Act

Monica Aben


Artist: Monica Aben

Latest Release: In Your Universe

Hometown: Venice, CA

TrunkSpace: How do you think you will look back on 2019 as it relates to your music? Where did this year impact you most as an artist?
Aben: This year was a wild ride. I think 2019 will go down in history as the year of new beginnings. I can’t help but feel that the last several months set me up for the rest of my life. It was a big year for songwriting and meeting new collaborators who I now consider great friends. I traveled a lot (NYC, Nashville and London) and was reminded that songwriting is forever my favorite part of all of this. Realizing that allowed me to see the doorways that were previously hidden by my indecision. When you are trying to write, book shows, be an artist, create content of all forms, and have a life without going broke you miss half of the opportunities in front of you because you’re just trying to stay afloat. I have a gut feeling that in 10 years, wherever I am, I’ll look back at 2019 and see how the events of this past year helped get me there.

TrunkSpace: You released your album, In Your Universe, in November. As a listener, the release of that album becomes a part of our present, but those songs have been with you for some time and in a way, also represent your past. As an artist, do you feel like you have emotionally moved on from a song – at least in the way you first found a connection with it when writing – by the time it reaches the masses? How do you stay present with songs from your past, particularly in a live setting?
Aben: I don’t know that I’ll ever outgrow any of these songs, emotionally, mostly because of what they mean to me. Every time I sing them live, I get to relive the most beautiful years of my life to date. Everything still feels fresh. Even the sad ones make me feel good because the experiences that inspired them still matter. This record is the chronological story of me falling in love with my now fiancé, so playing these songs live just feels like my dramatic answer to someone asking me, “So how’d you two meet?”

TrunkSpace: If someone listened to In Your Universe front to back, what would they learn about you, both as an artist and as a person?
Aben: They would learn that as an artist, I put the most weight in my lyrics. I’m a big fan of keeping the production as simple as possible, then adding in other melodies and harmonies that help, but not overpower the story. I love poetry because it’s evidence that a string of words placed in a certain order can be poignant, powerful and important. I want my songs to mean something and tell a story. They would see how passionate I am about preserving highly emotional and important moments, and that I adore the piano. If they are into astrology, they would likely guess that I’m a Libra and they would be 200 percent right.

TrunkSpace: We read that you grew up on your father’s vinyl collection. Did that appreciation for front-to-back albums – a collective musical experience – inspire your own writing, because for us, In Your Universe feels like a collection of songs that belong together?
Aben: YES. Absolutely. The vinyl we played the most ranged from the ‘50s-‘70s and they weren’t just timeless pieces of work, they were stories I loved trying to decipher. Back then, I feel like albums were released with purpose. The goal was to make music lovers smile, to be the soundtrack to someone’s life, to make someone feel seen and understood. I know some music still does that today, but it just doesn’t feel the same to me. You see, these songs were written (almost) in the exact order they appear on the album. The first few tracks are about me letting go of an almost lover, but as the album goes on, the songs get happier because I met someone new, then we fell in love, and now we’re getting married. This album is the literal documentation of me falling in the greatest kind of love. I know I sound like a sappy romantic, but these songs were my way of processing everything that was happening and it will forever be my most personal timeless masterpiece based on the content alone.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Aben: I’m proud that it sounds exactly the way I wanted it to sound in my head. So many people told me to make it more “current” – I’m still not sure what that means. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted me to make it sound like everyone else. These songs were written as ballads. I wanted them to make the listener feel the way I felt when I wrote them. It doesn’t matter if these songs don’t get on a playlist or get thousands of streams, because every now and then, a stranger sends me a message about one of the songs, and every single time, the way it made them feel is exactly how I felt when I wrote it. That means I did it right.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take you to discover your songwriter voice and can you recall the moment when, creatively, it all clicked?
Aben: I feel like I found my voice as a songwriter when I was working on an EP called Sweet Dreaming that I impulsively released in 2017. I had these three songs that didn’t feel like anything else I had written before, and sort of came out of nowhere. I don’t really remember writing them. I just sat down with an instrument and let out my feelings. I wasn’t trying to choose certain words or make everything rhyme. I just wrote what I felt, and to this day that’s exactly what I do. I think it’s the only way I can actually stay true to my voice. I write by myself 90 percent of the time, so no one’s there to reel me in. It forced me to learn how to let everything out, but still be able to edit, and I think that’s made me a stronger writer. However, when I can’t do it myself, I’ve got some wonderful collaborators that help me dig my way out of very wordy verses.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Aben: I really beat myself up about being in the music industry and not being edgy or cool. In a world of “no labels” The music industry seems to have a handful of them. My aesthetic is that I don’t really have one. I love ‘50s & ‘60s vintage dresses, I host dinner parties for my friends, wear big curlers, and have been called “too wholesome.” I say this from a place of love, really. But it’s hard when people take the things that make you who you are and phrase them as negatives. So, I try to tune it out, live my life, write and sing my truth because I’ve known who I am since I was 16. If I tried to be anyone other than me, my music wouldn’t be honest, and neither would I.

TrunkSpace: Tell us about The Sweatpants Series and how bringing this experience into existence has impacted you as an artist?
Aben: The Sweatpants Series is my passion project and really the only way I perform. We raise funds and awareness for Safe Place For Youth (S.P.Y.), where I am also a member of their Next Generation Committee. Everyone comes in sweatpants and we have performances from a S.P.Y. youth member, myself, and other local singer-songwriters. We share our songs and the stories behind them in an effort to reiterate that we’re all in this together. Growing up in Venice, and seeing it explode with wealth and poverty at the same time really haunted me. This was my way of not only giving back to my community, but also preserving the culture of Venice. I think when you are gifted with a talent and a voice, you should give back to the people and place that raised you and inspired you. With a voice, a platform, and a whole lot of determination you can create change. I actually have a song coming out in 2020 called “Last Local in Venice” and it might be my greatest love song yet.

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?
Aben: Ten-year-old me would definitely be upset that I haven’t been on Broadway yet. I was a very theatrical child. I don’t think she ever would have expected herself to be a songwriter. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know that career existed. Ten-year-old me wanted to be a singer first, archaeologist second. But at 26 I’m totally still a science nerd.

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?
Aben: Nope! I know the highs of this career are unlike any other joy known to humankind, but the lows are where you learn the most about yourself, and personally, where I wind up writing the most songs. I am here for the ride and I like to be surprised. This entire YEAR was a surprise. I also think that people who go looking for answers about the future end up living their lives differently. I like the twist and turns and the unexpected mishaps that sometimes change your life for the better. I’ve always said that I want to feel every moment that I’m given no matter what… how else would I know I’m alive?!

In Your Universe is available now.

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Opening Act

Holy Pinto


Artist: Holy Pinto (Aymen Saleh)

Latest Release: Three new singles, Holy Trinity Singles Club, located here.

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

TrunkSpace: You recently dropped three new singles. What was it about these songs that you felt would work better as singles instead of holding them for a future EP or album?
Saleh: I think this singles series is a (pretty fun!) identity-crisis project. In the last year or so this band has really opened up to being solely me doing all the writing/recording and I wanted to mess around with what I could do musically and try figure out what feels right, for right now at least. The songs are really different in style, subject matter, mood and delivery and I took that opportunity to dress them up in their own ways.

I feel a requirement for a full-length album is to be really coherent both lyrically and musically, and I didn’t think any one of these songs/ideas/statements could be expanded into a full album if I kept pulling at the string and unraveling it. So I kept them alone and bundled them together as a little collection of misfits. Holy Pinto’s album #3 is yet to reveal itself to me… BUT I’m gonna try to force it to soon!

TrunkSpace: What are some of the benefits to releasing tracks independently of an album in 2019? Does it give more focus to the individual songs when they aren’t part of a collection?
Saleh: Honestly – I think it’s an absolute disaster of an idea for a band in the position I’m in. Releasing singles as a small artist (at least for me) hasn’t worked that well – I’ve always needed a full album campaign to move forward. I actually reckon the songs are getting far less focus because of it, but that’s okay and I kind of knew it going in.

I guess the benefits that some people find are that it could potentially give you more shots at having a single song ‘break through’ and gather steam, rather than releasing an entire album of songs and watching it sink or swim. Someone recently referred to this approach as “Spotify Roulette” to me.

I just really liked the context for the release of these songs and believed in them as a mini-misfit collection, so kinda went with that, for better or for worse!

TrunkSpace: Let’s go back to that first single, “Acquaintances, Friends – Love Ends.” What could someone learn about you as both an artist and as a person in sitting down to listen to that song, had they never been exposed to your music before?
Saleh: (Laughter) Maybe quite a bit?! All the silly metaphors come from a very real place. I don’t think there’s a moment where I’m telling a lie or exaggerating something… I did wanna drive tractors as a kid. I guess objectively you could learn about some of my upbringing and likes/dislikes. There’s strong allusions to my current life in America – not sure whether it lands as strongly outside of the context of knowing the band/me/our story, but it’s in there!

TrunkSpace: Creatively, is “Acquaintances, Friends – Love Ends” coming from a different place than those songs that appeared on your recent full-length, Adult? Would this track – and the two singles to come – have been at home on that album or would they have felt out of place for you as an artist?
Saleh: Yeah, a different place from the full-length, for sure. I think it’s a lyrical, beat poetry type song. I heard this song called “Presumably Dead Arm” by Sidney Gish and it seemed like a very quirky, fun, stream of consciousness type ramble that seems to have nuggets of true pain in it. It really inspired me to want to write a stream of consciousness or super word-y song again, which is something I don’t think I’ve done since maybe 2015’s “Best Pals.” It’s something that’s definitely within the scope of what I’ve done in the past, but not on a full-length record, which have always felt more ‘serious’. Maybe that’s the wrong approach, I’d probably be okay with an album full of those kinda tracks, maybe the next record should be ‘anti-serious’!

TrunkSpace: We read that a big portion of these three new singles involved you taking on an experimentation in sound. How important is it for you as an artist to continue to grow and adapt your sound? If we were flash forward three albums from now, would you hope that you’d be creating in different way sonically than you are today?
Saleh: I just hope whatever I’m creating feels right, is enjoyable and inspires me. I did “Malady” and was like ‘this is an awesome new direction! This is what LP3 will sound like’. Now, two months on from it’s recording, I’m like… ‘that was fun for what it was, I got to throw a cloth over a snare drum so it sounded muffled and make a cool sound,’ but there’s something right now in me that makes that approach feel sterile and I would hate to move forward with sounding like that full-time. My opinion could easily change again in two weeks time. This is quite a pivotal time for me in that retrospect, I have no idea what I want or what’s going to come out the other side. I’ve promised myself (as of today) to just focus on the songs and after they’re finished, the songs usually tell me what they want. I’m trying hard not to overthink it. Maybe these singles were a way of playfully interacting with and distancing myself from the overthinking.

Photo By: Kelly Bolter

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the three new singles?
Saleh: Upon reflection – I love the song “Acquaintances, Friends.” It made me cringe for so long, but it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time, I find it kind of funny (in a good way) and there’s a couple of lyrics in there that are some of those that I’m most proud of. Whenever I have a lyric pop into my head that distills exactly what’s on my mind into one easily digestible sentence, that’s where I’m super proud of the writing. The drum sound, style and groove of “Malady” I’m very proud of too, it was a cool thing that I wasn’t sure I could do or pull off. Taking that approach with “Malady” on the drums came as a direct response to being deeply disappointed with how I played ‘Bully’ – its reckless intensity shaped the song in a way I didn’t originally envisage. So, I switched it up in a big way for “Malady,” which was recorded afterwards. I’m truly figuring out what I do and don’t want to sound like – in real time, even – it’s a tough process but hopefully rewarding.

TrunkSpace: You had Adult out earlier this year, and now three new songs on top of that. Do you envision that 2020 will be just as prolific for you as a songwriter?
Saleh: I really, really hope so. I’m dropping an EP in February 2020 that contains songs about my adopted hometown Milwaukee – that’s already recorded and finished. Next year, I want to write a record I feel really passionate about. It wouldn’t come out ‘til 2021, but I’d want to see it taking shape and bloom.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Saleh: I struggle with feelings about my voice a lot. That can be daily, both in live performances and listening back to recordings. I honestly can’t say I’ve been able to overcome it, but having just sung in this band for a few years, because I’ve had to, means that it’s objectively become a bit better to the outside observer and sounds a little bit better to me. That expression about comparison being the killer of all happiness – how if we look to our peers, social media, etc all the time we’ll never be happy in ourselves – rings true right now, in all of life, creativity and career. So for that, I guess I just switch off social media as much as I can and try be present with my own friends, environment + endeavors.

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?
Saleh: (Laughter) Definitely yes, but on a scale of evaluation that would take far more than an interview question to delve into!! I’ll say – I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever be singing, in any way at any level, and I wouldn’t have thought I’d be living in America.

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?
Saleh: This is an awesome question. I wouldn’t, because it’d inform my life choices, and it’s those choices or random tangents that have always proved to have made life more colorful. My life has been weird, and I’m happy for it to keep being so. I reckon the certainty would get rid of the meandering nature of the journey. I’ll embrace the adventure and stomach its difficulties along the way!

Check out all three of Holy Pinto’s latest singles here.

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Opening Act

Jordan Sommerlad


Artist: Jordan Sommerlad

Latest Album: Your Favorite Palindrome (Stream/Purchase HERE)

Hometown: New York, NY

TrunkSpace: You have said that music helps you separate from “the worries of the day.” As an artist, is it your hope that an audience can do the same by listening to your music? Is your creative escapism meant to be passed on to the end user?
Sommerlad: I definitely get that feeling of escape when I’m working on music, but I don’t know if that applies as a listener so much. I turn to music when I want to explore whatever I’m feeling or thinking about, not so much to escape from it. I think movies, books and other art forms might be better for that. For me, music provides a unique kind of clarity to what’s going on in your life. The best kind of musical experience is when you’re listening to a song that feels like it was written just for you in that moment you’re going through right then.

TrunkSpace: You released your debut solo album, Your Favorite Palindrome, on October 4. What did it mean to you to achieve this creative accomplishment given how long music has been a part of your life?
Sommerlad: This was definitely the most work I’ve put into any musical project. I’ve released lots of music under different names and bands over the years, but I think the idea to release this under my own name was in part because the music spanned a big chunk of my life. I also think this is the most personal my music has been, so that played into it as well. There’s certainly a feeling of catharsis now that it’s out because it had been in the works for so long, but I’m mostly just excited to get back to the writing process.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you as both an artist and as a person in sitting down to listen to Your Favorite Palindrome, front to back?
Sommerlad: I hope they would be surprised. Something I try to do is create a different sound for every song. I don’t start with templates of other songs I’ve written, I try to use different tones and styles for everything new. I don’t want someone to hear one song of mine and feel like they’ve heard them all.

TrunkSpace: There are nine songs on the album. Are those songs a snapshot of who you are now, or do some of them go back years and have only now seen the light of day?
Sommerlad: All in all there’s a span of three years of songs on this album. The first track “Shake Me” was written shortly after I moved to New York, so that one has been hidden for a very long time. That being said, everything that went into these songs was recorded at the earliest over a year ago, it’s been a lot of mixing, mastering scheduling releases, etc, so in some sense I feel like I let these go a while ago, but still not nearly long enough to have a good sense of perspective. I’m excited to revisit these in a few years and see how much of it still resonates.

TrunkSpace: When you set out to record this album, what were the creative expectations you placed on yourself, and now that it is out into the world and you have some separation with it, do you feel like you achieved everything you set out to?
Sommerlad: I really just wanted to make something that I liked more than the last thing I made. I think that’s always a good goal to have, and might be more achievable than making something that is “better” than the last thing you made since that’s kind of up to other people to decide. I also wanted to make this one a more collaborative process than previous projects, so I outsourced the mixing and mastering to someone who actually knows what they’re doing, as well as recruiting a drummer for all of the tracks. So in both of those senses, I think I did what I wanted to.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Sommerlad: At the end of the track “Another Tomorrow” there’s a string-based outro. I worry that I have a tendency to take shortcuts in the writing process and once a song is structured I don’t explore to see if it can develop further, but on this one I think I pulled off an unexpected turn that I’m really happy with. I also had a violinist come in and record the parts, instead of just using synthesizers. That outro is probably my favorite part of the album, and I could have easily just let that song end after the last build, which would have worked, but wouldn’t have been nearly as good.

Photo By: Lizzy Miller

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and did that manifest during the creation and recording of this album?
Sommerlad: I think the hardest thing to overcome is the idea that sometimes the good stuff is in the imperfections. Especially in the music I love, it’s the human elements that keep a song alive after many listens. Stuff that’s set perfectly to a metronome and 100 percent pitch perfect can be catchy and fun at first but I find those songs don’t stick around. But songs where you can hear the little mistakes have a much longer shelf life. But when you’re making something it’s hard to get past the fact that other people won’t hear those little mistakes the same way you do.

TrunkSpace: You’re based in New York City. Artistically, there’s always something going on in the Big Apple. How does that melting pot of creativity impact or inspire you as an artist?
Sommerlad: It’s definitely a sensory overload pretty much every day. With so much going on there’s never a shortage of humanity for inspiration. I also stay up late – I like going on night walks reviewing recordings I’ve been working on – so it’s a perfect place for 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?
Sommerlad: Yes. At 10 I had just taken piano lessons for a few years, never played guitar, definitely couldn’t even pretend to sing. At that point I had just started writing music, but just little things on the piano. Not to mention back then it was a lot harder to record anything at all. I got my first 4-track recorder from my Aunt a couple years later after I started playing guitar and that really opened things up.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of whatyour career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Sommerlad: No, I don’t think so. There’s nothing more exciting to me than hearing a recording when it’s first starting to take shape, so I don’t think I’d want to spoil that. I also just might want different things 10 years from now than I do now, but keeping the dream alive in your imagination is important. You have to be a little delusional to think your music might ever make it past your immediate social circles – I’d hate to ruin that fantasy.

Your Favorite Palindrome is available now.

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Opening Act


Photo By: Marta Olive

Artist: Marinho

Latest Album: ~ (Stream/Purchase Here!)

Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal

TrunkSpace: Your debut album drops on October 18. What kind of emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to release new material into the world? Is it difficult letting something go that you’ve spent so much time and energy on?
Marinho: Not difficult at all, in fact, it’s a relief to finally share it with the world! It’s another completed chapter and that feels great. I’m very proud of what I have to present.

TrunkSpace: Your music is very personal and you reveal a lot about yourself and your journey through your lyrics. As an artist, do you ever worry about giving too much of yourself to your music and in the process, revealing too much to the world?
Marinho: That’s funny, ’cause here I was thinking I was actually being cryptic on my lyrics. I guess not! And that’s a good thing because I believe candour is an essential ingredient in music.

Not necessarily having very explicit lyrics but the message should be genuine – from the heart. My favorite artists are the ones that aren’t afraid to show their true colors and don’t make music to please anyone but themselves — because there will always be someone somewhere who has felt the same way they have and will connect to the music because of that.

So no, I try not to worry about giving too much of myself.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you as both an artist and a person in sitting down to listen to the album front to back?
Marinho: They’d learn that I like to question everything, even myself, in order to make sense of life and always evolve into something better.

TrunkSpace: When you dreamed of one day putting out an album, is this the album you envisioned? Are you the same artist today as you always intended to be or did it take you some time to find your creative POV?
Marinho: The decision to go to the studio came without expectations. I took a few songs, some unfinished riffs, and a loose idea of what each could sound like. But I remember saying, “If I come out of this with one good single, I’ll be happy.” And before I knew it, I was making an album. It wasn’t the goal and I didn’t envision it per se, but I’m proud of how it happened.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, many of the songs that make up “~” have been with you for a while now. As you went into the studio to record the album, did some of those songs take on different creative directions than you originally intended, and if so, can you share an instance with us?
Marinho: For sure, and that’s the beauty of going into the studio. Tracks like “I Give Up and It’s Ok” were creatively carved in the studio. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but while recording it took a life of its own, like the bpm increasing and such.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Marinho: I’m proud of having made something that people resonate with, knowing it was born out of a new found confidence in myself. It feels like I’m on the right track.

TrunkSpace: We’re big fans of great, memorable lyrical snippets here, so we have to ask, what is your favorite piece of writing off of the album and why?
Marinho: I can’t pick a favorite per se… I guess the lyrics on “Freckles” are the most vulnerable on the record – and I love it for that.

TrunkSpace: Born in Portugal, we read that you were raised on American cartoons and films, which impacted your views on a great many things, but did that exposure to States-based pop culture directly impact your future art?
Marinho: Most definitely. In many ways, American TV and music are responsible for how my brain processes emotions since a very young age. And I’m sure that is felt in all my creative output.

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?
Marinho: I love this question. I think 10-year-old Marinho would’ve appreciated a bit more Spice Girls-like tunes, but would’ve still shared the excitement for having walked down the creative path instead of just sitting behind a desk for the rest of her life. She would’ve enjoyed meeting her interesting older self, as much as she enjoyed meeting and talking to other older interesting artists 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?
Marinho: I’m sure whatever glimpse I’d get now would eventually change because life is full of unforeseen events. So I don’t see the point of predicting the future. I’d rather imagine one and work towards it.

~” is available today.

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Opening Act

Billie Gale


Artist: Billie Gale

Latest Album: Imprint

Hometown: Oakland, CA

Members: Beth Garber, Adam Wayne, Eric Shawn, Justin Wayne

TrunkSpace: You released your debut album, “Imprint,” on September 20. What was it like to see that work – your art – spread its wings and fly off into the universe, where ultimately, you no longer had any control over it?
Garber: Putting the music out was a huge relief. The release of “Imprint” has been a long time coming and we went through many iterations of each song. By the time we finished mixing, we’d spent so much time editing and revamping, we were ready to start in on the next round.

It was harder for me to let go of the visual aspects. I collaborated with my friend Laura Elayne Miller on the artwork, and it took me a long time to feel done, with the art, with the title or with any part of the release that would influence people’s first impressions. The album is sad and serious, and pretty, and I had some insecurity about listeners dismissing the record before they had a chance to sit with it long enough to love it like I do. I like things and people that you have to spend some time with to love, and I wasn’t sure what I would need to do to make sure people would give this record that kind of time. That’s where I fear losing control. I feel inundated with the idea that all people want in this age is to be entertained, and it can seem as though the artists with the most success are those that push out content at an inhuman pace that does just that. So, I guess sending this super personal and sincere, raw collection out in to that world did feel like an exercise in faith. I think my greatest fear wasn’t rejection, but just indifference, getting lost in the noise. But the beauty of making something so authentic and personal is that you take so much joy in the work itself, you can lose sight of those kinds of fears. I’m working on that, getting sustenance from the work and not from the response. And people really do surprise you, and I’m really happy so far that so many people really love the record.

TrunkSpace: The album is so personal to you on so many different levels. At any point in the process did you feel like you were putting too much of yourself – and in the process, too much of yourself out into the world – in giving “Imprint” life?
Garber: Yeah, all my writing is deeply personal. I envy great songwriters who can take on another character, or create characters in their writing. For this album, I played with the idea of never even telling people a lot of the backstory; that so much of it is about the loss of my mom. I didn’t want sympathy to be the motivation for listening to the record. And people don’t often talk about how loss and grief can be so embarrassing. It’s inherently alienating. Everyone who knows you before and after a loss witnesses the readjustment, and it’s easier just not to address it most of the time. So, the nature of the writing being so personal was familiar for me, but talking about the writing was more of a challenge.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you in sitting down to listen to “Imprint” front to back? What does it say about who you are, both as an artist and as a person, in 2019?
Garber: As a person, people might get a sense that I take everything a little too seriously. I do! I feel everything so keenly. It’s why I write. I have to dislodge all of that emotion, or else it kind of rots; gets heavy. It’s not comfortable for me to let feelings go uncharted. So there’s a therapeutic element to the way we write as a band. We’ve gravitated to each other because we all feel deeply, and I think that’s evident on the record.

TrunkSpace: “Imprint” pays tribute to your mother, who the band is also named after. Has this project and the songwriting associated with it helped you throughout the grieving process in ways that you may have not been able to tackle had you not had this creative outlet to fall back on?
Garber: Absolutely. Grief has a way of robbing you of your memory. Memory is shared, and someone like a parent holds memories on your behalf, remembers things about you that you’ll never be able to remember for yourself. Death is a division from that person, and the part of yourself they carry. The day after we had finished recording, it was like I’d woken up from a coma. I felt a surge of reconnection that was really in line with the concept of “Imprint,” the way connection continues in spite of that great death divide. I didn’t really set out to write a record about my grief, it just happened to be what I was thinking about most during the time that we were writing.

TrunkSpace: As the band now goes out into the clubs and supports the album, does it feel like you’re able to pass on your mother’s memory and legacy through these songs, and personally, does that give you comfort or can it be difficult to revisit them in a live setting?
Garber: Yes! The amount of work I have to do in order to book shows and to get people out, get all the gear loaded and make sure everyone is in good spirits, get the sound right, just all the details that go into getting this record in front of people can be so soul crushingly stressful, that once we get up to play I have to draw from something deep to make the performance real, worth all the work. Live music is so powerful because it’s never the same twice, you’re recalling something that you can’t really hold onto, and getting to know it in new ways all the time. So there’s new depth to these songs every time we play them, and I do feel really close to my mom’s memory because of that.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Garber: I love the extremes in this album, the interplay between the sort of beautiful, nurturing melodic elements and the errant, gritty, overpowering qualities. There are a couple songs like “Where Are You Now” that start with a whisper and get so big and gritty and scary, and raw. I feel really lucky that we were able to produce it in exactly the way we wanted, because in the moments of self-doubt, where I questioned a part being too long, or too sad, or too much, I could just look to the band and be like “it feels right, right?” We had nothing to lose in making this record, so we could really trust our gut, and I’m so glad about it.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who is always creating, or can you turn off that part of your brain and step away from your songwriting self?
Garber: I have a harder time turning off the mathematical, logical part of my brain, so I usually write in two phases. First is a stream of consciousness, reckless, nonsensical time to get everything out. I don’t think in terms of chords, or rules, I search my guitar for what feels right. I have to give myself permission to let everything be sort of a mess. Then I sift through the voice memos and journal pages and edit. I love the refining as much as the expression. And it’s seasonal, I’ll have weeks or even months when I’m just writing, and then months when I’m just sorting through and putting the pieces together.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
Garber: Self-promotion is really difficult for me, and so much of being an artist is about commercializing what you do enough to get people in the door. I never wanted to sell anything, it’s not natural for me to sell what I make, but I recognize that it’s part of the deal. That being said, I’m waiting for the day when I can post up in the woods, write some more great records, and forget social media exists.

TrunkSpace: Can you pinpoint the moment where you sort of found your songwriter’s voice and understood what kind of artist you wanted to be?
Garber: Writing this record was that experience for me. I had been primarily a solo artist before starting this band, and over the course of writing the songs for this record and solidifying the band, I had the opportunity to write with a lot of great players and thinkers. I think collaboration, in whatever capacity is the only way to really find your voice. You have to get feedback, and you have people who will tell you to kill your most precious ideas. You don’t do that kind of self-sacrifice on your own. You get stuck in patterns of creating that aren’t even necessarily you, even if you’re used to them. I’ve found myself as a writer through conversation. I think it’s pretty cool that the content of the album is really about this too, the way we imprint on one another in some deep mystical ways.

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?
Garber: A long career, no question, there’s no way of knowing what you’re capable of creating otherwise, and over time, hopefully, that select group diversifies as you evolve. Besides, I think the only real safeguard against the delusion of self-grandeur is to continue producing work and putting it out. Success to me is access to the critical eye of artists I admire. I just want to know if what we’re making is good, and, if not, how to make it better. But then, there’s a part of me that knows I’ll keep writing and putting out music whether it’s good or not. I can’t help it.

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?
Garber: Absolutely. I’m so curious what we’ll sound like in 10 years!

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Opening Act

Driftwood Soldier


Artist: Driftwood Soldier

Latest Album: Stay Ahead of the Wolf

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Members: Owen Lyman-Schmidt, Bobby Szafranski

TrunkSpace: Your album Stay Ahead of the Wolf is due to drop on October 18. What kind of emotions do you guys juggle with as you gear up to release new material into the world? Is it difficult letting something go that you’ve spent so much time and energy on?
Lyman-Schmidt: Sure, there’s always a little anxiety, but at this point it would be a lot harder to NOT release it. It’s like we’ve been pulling an enormous rubber band back further and further. Letting it go is going to be such a relief!

TrunkSpace: As you prepare to share the entirety of the album with the world, you’ve recently released your latest single, “Marietta.” How do you guys approach what songs you’ll put out prior to an album’s release in order to best represent the album as a whole?
Lyman-Schmidt: We call this music gutterfolk. It lurks around the edges of a whole bunch of more reputable genres and gives the purists headaches. For the singles leading up to the release we tried to pull out a few songs that helped articulate that peculiar space we occupy between country, blues, punk, folk and good old rock ‘n’ roll.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you guys in sitting down to listen to Stay Ahead of the Wolf front to back? What does it say about Driftwood Soldier today in 2019?
Lyman-Schmidt: Look around. Most everyone you see is just trying to get by, or if they’re lucky, crawl ahead a little in a game that’s stacked against them. A game rigged so that the color of your skin, the people you love, or your family’s assets determine which rules you get to play by. This predatory economy is all around us. We’re fighting it, and each other. We’re complicit in our own exploitation, while making huge sacrifices to help others out. This album is about the life that happens in that chaos. It’s about trying to be some kind of human while staying ahead of the wolf.

TrunkSpace: There’s some great storytelling on Stay Ahead of the Wolf. What is your approach to songwriting? Do you write from experience or as an observer of the world?
Lyman-Schmidt: Thank you! Storytelling is definitely the business we’re in. I write a song, lyrics, tune, chords, etc., then Bobby adds bass and we work on the arrangement together. I like to say that my job is to tell the stories and Bobby makes people give a damn.

As far as what stories get told, the only limitation I set is that it has to be true. By that I don’t mean that I personally crashed a Ford in Wyoming and fell in love with a woman named Marietta. What I mean is that I’ve experienced the intense ambivalence of a relationship that didn’t conform to the prefabricated version of love we’re all sold from a young age. I’ve known the dull pain of being unable to adjust my expectations, and losing something beautiful. “Marietta” is a song that uses a different set of circumstances to tell that underlying story, which I know to be true.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Lyman-Schmidt: I’m proud that it exists. We dragged a whole lot of disparate pieces together to make this happen in the very particular way it did. All the different people who were part of the creative process, the producer, guest musicians, recording engineers, mixing engineers, mastering engineer, etc., come from very different musical backgrounds and none of them had ever worked together, or even met each other. We spent nine months demoing the music before we even went into the studio, raised the money, put the whole team of people together, and ended up with the best music we’ve ever recorded, which feels like a well-earned reward.

TrunkSpace: Obviously Driftwood Soldier is a duo. Do you think the democratic approach to songwriting is easier in a unit of two as opposed to a band of five or six, or is it less about the numbers and more about the connections formed, both creative and personal?
Lyman-Schmidt: Well, as described above, our songwriting isn’t democratic exactly. Maybe more like syndicalist. But being a duo is still very much an intentional choice for us. We have our core sound that everything is built around, and a corresponding shared understanding of what music means to us, and beyond that, how we should be living in the world. In my experience, it’s hard to find all those things in one other person, and the odds continue to drop the more people you try to add. So we learned how to play drums with our feet, and we still tour in a cheap hatchback that gets 37 mpg.

That being said, one of the real pleasures of recording Stay Ahead of the Wolf was getting to hear other musicians we admire adding their creative touch to a few of these songs. The talented Katy Otto joined us for a few tracks on a real honest-to-God drum kit. Eric Sherman magically multiplied himself into a whole horn section on a couple of songs. Matt Heckler joined us remotely from whatever tour he was on with a little fiddle and banjo. Jacob Brunner brought his intense musicality to one track on piano. And Caitlin Quigley sang some gorgeous harmonies. Studio time always tempts us to buy a bigger touring vehicle.

TrunkSpace: We discussed your songwriting already, but we wanted to break it down further. We’re big fans of great, memorable lyrical snippets here, so we have to ask, what is your favorite piece of writing off of Stay Ahead of the Wolf and why?
Lyman-Schmidt: There are a lot of words on this album! It’s the first time we’ve included a lyric booklet with the CD. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever written my lyrics down at all, and I’m excited for people to be able to follow along more closely if they want to pick favorites for themselves.

That being said, I think Katy Otto agreed to play drums on the record because of a line from “Put Me Down”:

I’ve always been an easy mark,
for razor-tongued women with good tattoos.
They pick me up after dark,
they put me down whenever they choose.

So I’m grateful for that line bringing us Katy, and for Erin McKeown, who did pre-production on the album, convincing us to add “Put Me Down” in the first place. She rescued it from the cutting room floor and I think it turned out being one of the best tracks on the album.

TrunkSpace: Beyond the songs themselves, what is something about creating music that you enjoy? Is it choosing the album art? Planning a tour? Something else entirely?
Lyman-Schmidt: It is very certainly NOT planning a tour.

We’ve always been a DIY band, which means we do most aspects of this ourselves, down to spray-painting thrift store T-shirts with the stencils I draw to sell at the merch table. So many of the jobs I’ve had to learn and do for this project have nothing to do with why I play music. In fact, many of them are jobs I wouldn’t take a good salary to do professionally if it were offered to me. It’s performing for people that makes it worth it in the end. It’s seeing the music have an impact on another human in ways that I can’t anticipate, that has me out here sleeping on couches, sending logistical emails at 3 AM, and reading up on intellectual property law.

TrunkSpace: Which would you prefer… writing one album that the world adores, or writing a career’s worth that a select group of people connect with?
Lyman-Schmidt: I’d take the career. I’m impressed when I see an artist play live a few times and they manage to stick closely to their ‘greatest hits’ set list. That takes discipline I don’t have, and honestly don’t particularly aspire to. For that reason alone I imagine if I wrote one incredible album I would constantly be disappointing people by playing all sorts of new material I was more excited about. I’d rather have an audience trust me to keep making new art, whatever form that may take.

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?
Lyman-Schmidt: No thank you. We’re all going to be underwater in just a few years. I won’t risk jumping ahead until I’ve grown out my gills.

Stay Ahead of the Wolf is available October 18.

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Opening Act

The Berries


Artist: The Berries

Latest Album: Berryland

Label: Run For Cover Records

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

TrunkSpace: Your sophomore album “Berryland” is set to drop on September 20. Did the band feel pressure going into bringing this particular record to life given that you sort of set your own bar with “Start All Over Again?” Did it feel like there were expectations, both external and internal?
Matt Berry: I felt some pressure making this record but not too much. The primary source of pressure was making sure the quality of the recording was at least slightly better than “Start All Over Again.” I recorded both records almost entirely by myself so I had a lot of personal incentive to show some growth in my technical ability to make a record. Other than that it was a very relaxed process. I knew the songs were great; that this record would be a better indication of where the band was headed. I felt pretty confident and excited in the process of making it.

TrunkSpace: No one knows The Berries’ music better than The Berries. Where do you hear the biggest growth in the songwriting when you listen to “Berryland” and compare it against your debut?
Matt Berry: The debut was, more than anything, an exercise of what I was capable of with regards to making an album all by myself. I set a lot of rules and boundaries for myself while making “Start All Over Again” and although I think it’s a great record, I don’t think it exemplifies what I’m trying to do with this band like the new record does. My approach on the new album was to just have fun and see what happens. That whimsical approach found me being more experimental and free with what I could do with a song.

TrunkSpace: The tracks on “Berryland” feel very modern, but at the same time, there’s a nostalgic quality about them. Where do you hear your influences seeping to the surface most in this batch of songs?
Matt Berry: The current world of rock music, is often too enamored with the past and I’m as guilty of that as anybody else. My interest in bands like Primal Scream or Spacemen 3 led to songs like “Makes Me Sick” and “DYWIB.” My love for styles of music from the ‘60s and ‘70s led to songs like “Fruit,” “Lowest Form of Life” or “Pedestal.” The influence is all there quite heavily, but I think there are qualities to this record that only I could have produced and that feels special. Cosplaying as your favorite bands is fun for a time but I’ve moved my focus towards making something unique and special to me; my own voice. I don’t think I quite got there on this record, but I’m getting close.

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about the band in sitting down to listen to “Berryland” as a whole? What does it say about The Berries right now in 2019?
Matt Berry: If you listen to the record, you’ll mostly hear a young man’s admiration of the guitar. It’s an album that’s almost entirely dedicated to that instrument and its power. Aside from that, there are political themes, dark themes, happy themes, etc. within the lyrics. whatever one chooses to take from that, and this record as a whole, is their prerogative.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Matt Berry: I see improvement in every aspect of my musicianship on this record. I’ve become a better drummer, guitar player, singer… across the board, my understanding of music grew a lot deeper between this album and the last and I’m quite proud of that. The songs are more interesting, too.

TrunkSpace: You spent day and night recording nearly every instrument heard on the album out of his home. Did it get to a point where you felt like you could over-tinker with a song, and in doing so, lose some of the magic and energy that first gave it life?
Matt Berry: Yes and no. The process of making a Berries record is a long and arduous process but not because I’m over-tinkering, it’s because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. A simple fix that might take a trained recording engineer 30 minutes can sometimes take me a whole day. The tinkering process is important for me to make it sound the way it does in my head, but I do wish I could accomplish what I’m trying to do a bit faster.

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?
Matt Berry: For the recording process, yes. On the songwriting and arranging side, absolutely not. A song could go in a million different directions structurally or dynamically. Should it be loud and fuzzy? Should it just be an acoustic guitar and vocals? Should there be a bridge? Is it too long? Is it too short? These questions never end and they don’t necessarily have to. There are endless variations on how a song can exist in the music-sphere. It’s important to explore as many possibilities and give a song it’s due diligence, but also for the sake of a live band and recording, picking one way that works and sticking with it is necessary. You can always re-record it in a new light later on, or change the way you play it live. We do that all the time.

TrunkSpace: The world seems to have ADD when it comes to focusing on any one thing these days. We have become a short attention span society. How do you cut through all of the noise and bring eyes and ears to your music in 2019?
Matt Berry: I am steadfast in making the music I want to make and will not cater to the short attention span of my generation. If people come around to it and enjoy it, great. If not, so be it. Trying to write music to appease such things is for the people looking to get on the radio, not me. I’m in a rock band in 2019 for Christ’s sake, you think I’m after a Grammy? (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Which would you prefer… writing one album that the world adores, or writing a career’s worth that a select group of people connect with?
Matt Berry: I definitely lean towards the latter. I’m going to keep making records for the foreseeable future and there are definitely some people who have been checking out my records since I was doing Happy Diving, and I’m happy to keep making records, if only for those people. However, if the world came to adore one record I’ve made, that would be spectacular. As far as I’m concerned, my records are worthy of such praise.

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?
Matt Berry: Hell no… that’s cheating.

“Berryland” is available September 20 from Run For Cover Records.

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Opening Act

Jessi McNeal


Artist: Jessi McNeal

Socials: Facebook/Instagram

Hometown: Seattle, WA

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “The Driveway” dropped in August. 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 good-bye to it?
McNeal: I never really feel like the music I create is mine to keep. In fact, one of my deepest joys as an artist is having the opportunity to share my work, and getting to hear how my songs speak to people. And thankfully, I don’t feel like I really have to say good-bye. As I share my songs live I feel like I get to continue to hold them, and watch them take on a life of their own. I love watching a song find its way in the world!

TrunkSpace: You were raised in a very musical family. As you listen back to “The Driveway,” can you hear where your roots – particularly those early influences from your mom and dad – have directly impacted your songwriting?
McNeal: My parents had artists like Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill on repeat on the record player in my house growing up. And most evenings my dad had a guitar in his hands. Stories, melody and old-school country were the soundtrack of my youth. It just feels like home, and as I found my voice as a songwriter, I think it was just a natural outpouring – something I never really thought too hard about. Emmylou remains a huge inspiration to this day, and I can absolutely hear that influence on a song like “When the Fire Came.” When I was sending early mixes to my dad and he heard “Radio Station,” he said, “Finally! A country song!”

“The Driveway” has a bit darker color palette, but those country roots are absolutely still there, and it’s so much fun to get to share that process with my parents.

TrunkSpace: You have said that, as a teenager, you moved away from the genres of music that your parents listened to and performed in, and now you have found your way back home, so to speak. Do you feel like, as a songwriter, it was important for you to experience everything else that you experienced musically before you could fully invest in the sound you’re currently writing and performing in?
McNeal: For sure. My biggest musical hero as a teen was Prince (and honestly, he still is!), and while most people would consider his genre to be the complete opposite of where I landed, I see it differently. He was probably one of the most prolific writers of our time – he took risks in every aspect of songwriting, and I learned a lot about melody, improvisation, and storytelling from his work. Beyond Prince, some of my favorite artists in my late teen and college years were Edie Brickell, Sarah McLachlan and Sting. So I while I wasn’t listening to Americana or country, I don’t feel like I wandered too far. All of those artists were at their core, storytellers, and regardless of genre, I think that’s what I’ve always been drawn to.

TrunkSpace: If someone unfamiliar with your music sat down and listened to “The Driveway” front to back, what would they learn about you as an artist and person?
McNeal: I think they would hear someone who’s not afraid to sit with grief and hardship, and hopefully within some of that melancholy they would also hear someone who is bent toward hope. As an artist I definitely love songs that have an achy, moody feel both sonically and thematically. However, as a person, I’m actually pretty light-heated and upbeat – hopefully that comes through on a song like “Little Log House.” Overall, I hope that people will hear a bit of themselves in these songs, and feel less alone in what they might be going through.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
McNeal: I’m really proud of the process with the team, especially with my producer Ryan McAllister. When I write a song, just voice and guitar, I quickly hear all of the sonic possibilities in my head. I often have a pretty good idea of where I’d want to go with it in the studio, but because I only play one instrument it can be hard to articulate exactly what I want. I feel like Ryan hears the same things I do, and he knows exactly how to make it happen. Same thing for the players – they all connected with these songs right away and seemed to know instinctively what to play. I’m just really proud of what we all created together.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Jessi think of your musical journey thus far? Would she be surprised by the path you have taken?
McNeal: Oh, I think she would be giddy, and so would 20-year-old Jessi! I’m a late bloomer for sure, but this has always been a deep-seated dream. I think the younger version of myself never thought I’d actually make it happen. I was always a strong student and became much more career-minded during college and the years after. Being a musician just never seemed practical, but with age comes boldness, and a whole lot less to lose. If not now, when? I’m so glad I took the leap.

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?
McNeal: I think my favorite lyric from this album is “Now you’re a shadow up against a pink sky” from the title track. I just love lyrics that have visual beauty, and there’s just something about the imagery of an airplane in a sunset sky. To me it’s a symbol of both adventure and loss, hello and goodbye. That’s a big part of what this album is about – the in-between, and that particular song is about the hope of reunion and reconciliation. I love that this lyric holds both beauty and ache – it just feels very true to me.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who can shut off the creative brain or is the porch light always on? Are you constantly processing melodies and lyrical snippets?
McNeal: I am almost always in a creative mode of some sort. In fact, in one of my past jobs my boss called me “the singing bookkeeper” because I was always humming or singing! And even if I’m in a stretch of time where I’m not actively songwriting, I’m always taking in ideas and mental notes. I’m a painter as well, so in addition to stories and melodies, I love gathering visual inspiration. I’m grateful to be in a season where I can do both full-time. It’s such a gift to have the time and space to just grab my guitar or head to the easel when inspiration strikes.

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?
McNeal: I was still experimenting quite a bit on my first album in 2013, but by my second album in 2015 I had developed a clearer sense of my genre and style as a writer. I definitely still evolving, and I don’t want to box myself in, but I think it’s safe to stay that you’ll find me in the folk/Americana vein for as long as I’m a musician. I love this genre because I feel like there’s a lot of room for me to experiment and grow, but there’s something about roots music that keeps me grounded. I love poetic language, but I also think there is a pure and relatable beauty in plain-spoken lyrics. I feel like I’ve found a sweet spot there, at least for 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?
McNeal: Absolutely! I recently told my producer that I plan to make records with him until I’m 80, and I feel like I am only just getting started. I am so grateful for artists like Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin who just seem to get better with age. They’ve paved a way female singer-songwriters to keep at it for decades, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

The Driveway” is available now.

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Opening Act

Tony Harrah


Artist: Tony Harrah

Social: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram

Hometown: Nitro, WV

TrunkSpace: As someone who writes and performs in the thick of the Americana/country music world, what are your thoughts on it in 2019? For those who follow mainstream country radio, they don’t seem to have an understanding of what is going on in the clubs at the ground level, so how would you describe that scene to them?
Harrah: I guess my thoughts on the Americana/country scene is that it’s become a nine-lane highway for anything that’s either, not club country, or not easily classifiable. I found myself relating myself more as a folk artist, which in its essence, is what I am. I guess when I try to describe Americana music to someone who is a mainstream radio listener, I usually say, “It’s really good music made by people you’ve never heard of.” They instinctually always try to relate the artist to some pop country artist that they know, so I’m not sure if anybody listening to mainstream pop country has a grasp on the Americana/folk/country music scene. I guess it’s like trying to relate R&B to someone who loves metal.

TrunkSpace: You’re a single father of three. How has that role as father – nurturer – impacted your songwriting? Would the Tony who first picked up a guitar recognize the voice current Tony is writing from?
Harrah: I don’t think it influences my songwriting as much as it has the way I approach my music career in general. I’ve had to go back and really take a hard look at what shows were good for my career and what shows I did just to be out there. My songwriting, to me at least, hasn’t changed a lot. As far as Old Tony versus New Tony, I don’t think he would have a clue who this guy is. In the wake of becoming a widower, my songwriting, which already was very retrospective, has pushed into that realm even further. I have found my voice for now, but I have a feeling Tony Harrah in 10 years won’t recognize the Tony Harrah now.

TrunkSpace: You wrote that you thrive on tears when it comes to finding inspiration as a songwriter. Is part of that because, as humans, we have to understand the darkness – experience it – to appreciate the light?
Harrah: I couldn’t have stated that question any better than you did. I’ve always found that happiness has never changed as a grown-up person. Happiness is easy to me. It’s only in our moments of strife and turmoil does the rubber meet the road, so to speak. I am the person I am today because of all the turmoil and strife I’ve experienced. My strength comes from my moments of weakness. And also… I just love sad music. Nothing in the world makes me happier than listening to “Heartbreaker” by Ryan Adams, or “In the Throes” by John Moreland.

TrunkSpace: As a songwriter, are you someone who can shut off the creative brain or is it always churning and burning?
Harrah: No, it’s pretty much always running. I’d love to say I’ll clock in and out, but my day is filled with small melodies, thru-line rhymes, and hair-raising emotions that make me want to grab my guitar or a pen wherever I’m at. Most of the time those moments are fleeting and they were lost in my brain forever, but sometimes it happens when I’m at the right place to sit down and write. And sometimes I just sit down with the ambition to write. I used to say that I wrote songs when God gave them to me, which always made me listen to the world a little closer – listening for the songs and the rhythms in the quietness of the world. I found that the more I listened, the louder it got. And now I can’t shut off the noises in my head. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You released your latest album “Unicorns” in July. What would someone learn about you – both as a person and as an artist – in sitting down to list to the album in its entirety?
Harrah: I’m not really sure how to answer this honestly. I usually write the songs from the perspective of how someone else will perceive them – how they will relate to them. Sometimes, like in the case of “Mississippi Wildfire,” I wrote that song for a loved one from my perspective. “Aviator” was an example of me writing a song as a comfort to someone else. So I guess maybe the answer is I’m just a guy here in the world experiencing life just like everyone else; some adventures high, some adventures low. But we gotta smile when we can, and learn something when we can’t.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Harrah: I think I’m most proud of how the album became a lot of orchestrations different from one another. Travis Egnor produced the record, and I couldn’t be happier with his vision. I’m kind of a control freak, and letting him take the helm was very hard for me. I would’ve never taken some of those songs the direction he did, but I’m glad he did.

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?
Harrah: As far as this album goes, I think my favorite line is in “Aviator.”

I’m up there in the sky mama
I’m up there in that sky
I’m with the rock of ages
And I finally learned to fly

The song “Aviator” was about a young boy who died early and who had aspirations of being a pilot. Bringing that story full circle to his death and learning how to fly in the angelic sense, seems to me, to give restitution to the situation – some sort of comfort to the early departure of this young man. The line grew on me more and more as I played it live, to the point sometimes that I don’t know how I came about it.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Tony think of your musical journey thus far? Would he be surprised by the path you have taken?
Harrah: I think 12-year-old Tony would be very shocked at my path. I always want to be a rock and roller. I’ve played lead guitar and drums in rock ‘n’ roll bands and made a good run at it. I never saw myself as a folk singer. I never saw myself as a singer, period, actually. I always wrote – poetry, philosophy, prose – but I never saw myself as a lyricist. I think that’s the biggest surprise to me, and probably for 12-year-old me, too.

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?
Harrah: Hell no! I don’t want to know where I’m going to be in 10 years, it would ruin the surprise. You don’t work very hard at something when you know what the outcome is going to be. I relay this to the same idea when I say that I don’t want to win the lottery. If I won the lottery I could afford to do everything financially to make sure my music is heard on a larger scale and played in the biggest venues, but that wouldn’t really be the same as writing music that really stirs people’s souls. So the outcome would be predictable, but it wouldn’t be real. I guess that’s kind of the same thing to me.

Unicorns” is available now.

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Opening Act

Dirty Mae

Photo By: Shaun Mader

Artist: Dirty Mae

Socials: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram

Hometown: New York, NY

Members: Ben Curtis, Cassie Fireman, Robbie Frost

TrunkSpace: The band is set to release its debut full-length “Holy Mama” on September 13. As you gear up to its release, what emotions are you juggling with?
Curtis: I’m dealing with lots of excitement to share this with the world, fear that people won’t listen to it or respond the way I’d hope, and both excitement and nervousness as we get to go on the road for five weeks to play it all over the Eastern United States. I’m excited for the tour. And it’s been a LOT of work. So there’s stress, too, but mostly excitement. We’ve worked on this for two years and people are going to finally get to hear it. I can’t wait to hear the response!
Fireman: Right now I’m juggling with my feelings of being so physically far away from my band and out in the wilderness for the next three weeks. Tomorrow I embark on the most challenging three week backpacking trip of my life At the moment trails are flooded with snow, rivers are high and we’ll be hiking 10 miles a day in silence with very little phone reception. A woman fell on a mossy rock the other day and broke her jaw so I’m just gonna do my best to come back in one piece so I go on our “Holy Mama” tour! I’ll go from hiking 10 miles on a mountain to driving 10 hours a day in a car with a bunch of boys. I don’t think I could be in a car with anyone other than my band for 10 hours. (Wow, I can’t believe I just said that.) I’m so proud of this album and of how hard we worked to create it and just wanna go out there and share it with everyone! I think being in nature will give me some time to reflect and look back at all we’ve done and how far we’ve come. I tend to just “go, go, go” and I really wanna breath it all in. Maybe nature will inspire some new tunes for our next album… as long as I’m not eaten alive by a bear. (But what a fun story that would be!)
Frost: Excitement, joy, nerves, but mainly, I’m just excited to share this album with people. I think it’s a really unique and dynamic album and part of who I am is in this album. I feel like it needed to come out of us, like it were secret stories we were waiting to tell and finally got a chance.

TrunkSpace: Harmonies are a big part of “Holy Mama” and the overall sound of the band. How does that collective singing impact the songwriting itself? Is the birth of a track just as collaborative as what we hear on the album?
Fireman: I’m gonna let Ben answer this one. He thinks every band is better with harmonies and I think he’s right. Plus when we nail our harmonies it feels like we float off into this magical land and it’s really cool how it connects us. When we don’t nail our harmonies… well, it’s a very different experience. (Laughter) Also, singing “Holy Mama” together on the chorus was a choice to create a feeling of kind of looking up to the gods or something bigger than yourself for guidance. The harmonies represent a sense of surrender and we wanted all of our voices to paint that image together.
Frost: Harmonies are a big part of Dirty Mae’s sound. So much so, that we take vocal lessons together every other week at the Krowne Vocal school. Collective singing is one of my favorite parts of our band but to be honest, there are only a few songs where it has really changed the songwriting itself. Sometimes one of us will start a song and describe the story to the others, then have the other two write verses over the same chord changes. This way we all get to participate in the story, it changes the melody a bit and gives the story different perspectives. We don’t have any one way we write songs. Sometimes we will just jam and a song comes out of that and other times one of us has a whole song written and brings it to the group to help arrange.
Curtis: I’m so glad you noticed and pointed that out. I’ve always wanted a band who can harmonize. Harmonies are in my blood. With Dirty Mae, that dream has come true. And we work for it. We go to voice lessons as a band twice a month. There’s always work to be done there with ear training and tuning. It definitely adds another challenge. However, for me, growing up listening to and loving bands who harmonize (Indigo Girls, Crosby Stills Nash, country music, Alice in Chains, The Rolling Stones) it has always come naturally to me. I’m just thrilled that my bandmates let me harmonize and are willing to work on harmonies with me. It is work! However, I think harmonies take our music to another level. That’s why I love to play with them and strip away the music, so that you can really hear and feel them.

As for the birth of a track, most of our songs are super collaborative. That’s why we say they’re by “Dirty Mae” versus saying, “lyrics by ___” and “arranged by…” Cassie writes most of the lyrics. Robbie and I work a lot on arrangements, but Cassie helps with those too. Every song, each of us brings to the table is a conversation, and one that almost always evolves. There are songs we all write lyrics together (like “Brown Water”) and songs that each of us sing and write individually. For example, Robbie wrote and arranged “Face in the Moon.” I wrote and arranged “Enchante” and “Overcome.” I love that about our band. It makes anything possible and it’s what makes us so unique. I love bands with different voices, like Fleetwood Mac, where there’s a lead singer, but everyone writes and sings.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, Ben and Cassie were writing together long before the birth of Dirty Mae. Do you believe in creative love at first sight, and if so, did that connection exist immediately upon the two of you bringing your two minds together?
Frost: This one I can’t answer.
Curtis: Absolutely I believe in creative love at first sight. The universe brought our band together. No doubt. Cassie and I met on the dance floor. I had been going through an intense transition in my life and had writer’s block for over a year. Then she shared one song with me and the flood gates opened. We must have written 10 songs back and forth to each other in the first month of us dating.
With Robbie, we were playing in another band (Danny Fingers and the Thumbs) and Robbie showed up as this awesome, super sweet, humble guy who was an incredible bass player. Then one day we got to jam. He pulled out a guitar and started singing and I was blown away. This guy has such innate talent and soul. We started making music right there on the spot and the rest was history.
Fireman: Yes, for sure! I never sang in my life before this band (except in the shower and in my car when I had a car in high school). Out of nowhere… I just started writing songs obsessively and recording them on GarageBand in my bedroom. When I met Ben, he told me all about his background in music and I started sending him my songs on voice memos via text – I was WAY too embarrassed to sing them in front of him. He would send me little songs back and it was just an explosion from there on. So yes, I definitely believe in creative love at first sight. It was like that when I met Robbie, too… it all just sorta worked and there was a sense of ease and love when we were together. I think we sometimes forget that falling in love can be easy when it’s right and all we gotta do is let ourselves fall. Three years in the infatuation stage may have faded but I’m definitely still head over heels.

Photo By: Shaun Mader

TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about the band in sitting down to listen to “Holy Mama” as a whole? What does it say about Dirty Mae right now in 2019?
Curtis: Wow. That’s a great question. I think that’s completely unique to the listener. I’d love to hear what you have to say!
But to answer the question, in my opinion, I think people will learn that we are incredibly diverse, full of soul and spirit. We’re old souls with lots of emotions and our hearts are connected to everything we do. And we like to have fun. What does it say about Dirty Mae right now? Well, I think it says all of the above. And if that’s what we’re doing now, who knows where we’ll be in the future. We’re growing so quickly that I almost can’t imagine.
Fireman: WOW! You guys ask just great and thoughtful questions. Hmmm… this is a good one. I would say that there’s a lot going on… meaning that we might not even sound like the same band on some songs and that this reflects the complexity of who we are as humans – multifaceted, ever-changing beings. It also reflects how we’re moving more toward mood and experience verses music genres and moving away from labels. I understand how classification can be important in helping us understand creations in a greater context but I think we just want the listeners to feel, experience whatever is there for them rather than tell them what they should be prepared to experience.
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything to learn from this album but my personal stories are in there along with all the pain, suffering and joy that inherently comes with being alive and I guess I just hope you can hear that in my voice and recognize some of yourself somehow… and that understanding of, “Hey, we’re all in this crazy world together” really gives me a sense of, “It’s all gonna be ok.” So, I guess that’s why I want when people listen to our album. Or if you just enjoy the sound that’s cool, too. (And extra points if you dance!)
Frost: One thing you’ll learn is that we like to change the groove a lot. You think it’s heading one direction and all of a sudden it goes to a Latin rhythm, or a slow ethereal harmony part. I think that it’s more accurate to real life. One moment you’re calm and the next moment you’re frantic or excited and vice versa. I think that you’d also learn that we all have very different backgrounds. I think we do a good job of showcasing all of those musical tastes. We change styles a lot but every song sounds like “us.” There’s a quality about Dirty Mae that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

TrunkSpace: We’ve heard a number of bands talk about the post-studio doldrums that set in after they finish up a record. Did you experience any of that when you called wrap and how do you channel that creative energy when the recording process is done?
Curtis: I didn’t experience that at all. There’s so much to listen to and work on after recording. Plus we made some amazing connections and friendships with the studio musicians we brought in: Joey Arcuri (bass), Archie Cowen (sax), TJ Schaper (trombone), Chris Ploss (engineer, co-producer, drummer), Rosie Newton (fiddle). I mean everyone we met were so talented and so special. It led to us getting to open for Driftwood, to being in their music video, to being part of the Grassroots Festival family. We feel so moved by what came out of it, and now we’re playing more than ever. I’m excited to record again because we already have so many new songs. Plus it made us all better musicians and brought us closer together.
Fireman: I think I felt even more inspired after finishing our album. I was like, “What’s next?!” So I created Big Red Fest, a festival celebrating women in music and art. That’s definitely kept me busy. We premiered our first music video “Big Red” at the festival. The song is a feminist retelling of the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. Proceeds were donated to survivors of domestic violence and we gave a private concert to women at a local shelter. Since then, we’ve opened up for two of our favorite bands, Driftwood and The Blindspots. Ben and I actually were hired by Driftwood to act in their new music video called “Lay Like You Do” (I played the roll of a cheating wife and Ben played the devastated husband). It’s a beautiful song and a heartbreaking video. In July, we won the Grassroots band contest at The Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg! The winner plays in the festival so I hope you’ll all come see us next year. Grassroots has such a special community and the people we’ve met there (especially fellow musicians) have been so humble and supportive. It blows my mind how much everyone goes out of their way to help each other out. I think one of the best things about creating Dirty Mae has been all the amazing people we keep meeting along the way.
Other than that, we’ve been super busy with the business side of things… being in a band is really a business. We have business meetings every Tuesday, sometimes in our car so we can keep our parking space.
Frost: I never really do because I never really stop working or thinking about music. I just love it that much. Everyday I practice and get more ideas about new songs. I think all of us have more than enough material to make a couple more albums. I think we could have made another album shortly after we made the last one. After the tour, I’m sure we will be talking about making another one soon.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Curtis: I’m proud of how diverse the album is, of the journey that it takes you on, and the overall production value. I’m just so proud of the quality and that it came out so well. Secretly, I love listening to our album and it always makes me feel good, so that’s a good sign. I’m also proud of us for just doing it. It takes a lot of work and faith and patience. It was a huge accomplishment for us.
Fireman: I’m proud that we took our time to really listen to each song and make sure it got whatever it needed to be complete. I remember going back to the studio to record some vocals with Chris specifically because on one song it sounded like I was saying “Larve” instead of “Love” and it bugged Robbie. But what’s even funnier is that when I went back to the studio we got distracted and worked on another thing and totally forgot to fix “Larve,” which is now a little inside joke we have. I won’t tell you which song song it is, but if you can find it, I’ll send you a T-shirt.
Frost: I’m personally most proud of “Face in the Moon.” Just because it’s a song that I’ve had in my head since I was 16. I finally feel like I finished the story and I feel like the instrumentation just totally made it. It’s a song that has piano, vocal harmonies, bass, trombone, saxophone, violin, percussion. All of it just makes it feel complete to me, and it feels really good to let it out.

TrunkSpace: There’s a lot of genre diversity in Dirty Mae’s music, but regardless of the sound, what is always present is that the listener can FEEL it. Is building that connection to the listener something that the band thinks about, especially in the studio where forming a link with the audience is not as easy as it is in a live setting?
Curtis: I love that you spoke about the feel. Can I quote you on that? I think we trust that if we’re feeling the music, other people will too. We have all the instrumentation and arrangement in there because we really feel it, so we’re glad you do too! We are definitely performers and with Cassie and I having an acting background, we’re no strangers to putting feeling into everything we do. We were definitely conscious of making sure we captured the feeling in everything we did in the studio. Anyone can play music, but not everyone can convey emotion through music. You got to have your heart in it.
Fireman: Yes, building that connection with the listener is something I’m always thinking of and care deeply about. Sometimes, I find it easier to get even more intimate in the studio where I’m free of the logistics of performing a live show. I can really hear when we are connected to the heart of our music and when we aren’t. We’ll stop and call each other out if it’s missing. Sometimes it’s challenging to connect with the emotion that sparked the song after doing it so many times, but the place it originated from is always inside of us and we help each other activate that feeling by reminding each other why we wrote it, what it reminds us of… whatever will help stimulate our hearts strings.
Frost: I think that we find something that we connect to. We don’t really talk about what the listener might like. I think that if we’re really feeling it, then someone else might too and that’s what we’re going for.

TrunkSpace: Your music feels built for a smoky club atmosphere. How conscious were you about bringing that vibe into the album, and, how did you go about achieving it because it certainly has the feeling of a classic jazz or soul album in that regard?
Curtis: (Laughter) I love this. And you’re not the first person to tell us that. We used to call ourselves “a speakeasy band for the ages.” Honestly, we didn’t have to think about that much. When we get together, that’s just what happens. It’s who we are as a group. And that smoky vibe is something I can’t get enough of. That’s the blues and jazz in us. Robbie grew up listening to jazz and blues, I’m a blues cat, and Cassie definitely has a naturally jazzy vibe too so I think it’s just who we are.
Fireman: Not conscious at all. But now that you say this you’re right, it definitely has that classic jazz or soul album feel. I guess that’s the sound that wanted to come out of us.
Frost: We were pretty conscious of creating that atmosphere. We are very much a speakeasy band and that goes along with the atmosphere of the album. I always try to have a little element of jazz because it’s one of my favorite things in the world. I’ve always loved sexy soulful jazz and especially gypsy jazz and you can hear some of that on this album.

TrunkSpace: When it comes to what you do, outside of the creative aspect, what is the most important skill set a musician needs to have in order to go on this journey that you’re on?
Curtis: Great question. I think the most important skill a musician can have for this kind of journey is patience, love and a kick ass work ethic. I love making music, but to be in a band these days, there’s so little money, you have to love it and you have to be willing to work your ass off. It’s about 80 percent business and 20 percent actually making music. That’s just the nature of the beast today, and (I hate this saying but…) “It’s what separates the men from the boys.”
Fireman: Having patience, letting a song evolve into its own creature, the ability to work on music alone in addition to the band, showing up and picking your battles wisely. I often ask myself this question, “Cassie, do you want to be right or do you want to keep the band together.” Being in a band is awesome and it’s a complicated and vulnerable relationship that needs to be nourished and respected if expected to grow.
Frost: Networking, management skills. One thing that has helped us tremendously is meeting once a week for a business meeting. We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are now without them.

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?
Curtis: Hell yeah! I’d love to see where that journey goes. It would also be scary to me because it might take me out of the present moment and the fun and excitement of the unknown in our future, but especially if it’s a really good outcome, I want to see it!
Fireman: Yes, for sure! I think I’ll love making music forever and enjoying whatever journey that takes me on.
Frost: Yes, I feel like I have to.

Holy Mama” is available September 13.

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