Saturday, November 28, 2009

Interview: CLAPS

The new CLAPS EP is slated for January; this will be your first release through the Guilt Ridden Pop label. I have been listening to the A-side track Fold – which carries on the minimal wave, electronic music movement. You must be excited about the new synthpop track – what kind of response have you been getting from fans? And could you give us some background on Fold? Also, could you tell us more about the whole EP? You informed me that additional mixes will be included for fans like me – more bang for our bucks. :)

We've been sitting on a lot of our songs and are excited to finally have them recorded. We've gotten a pretty good response, most people seem pretty excited about it.

Fold was one of the first songs we wrote, its changed a lot over the last six months and I'm happy to see where it finally ended up. It was one of the songs we always had liked and had fun playing but we never felt it was where it was meant to be. When we were recording it, it finally came together and clicked. The EP is called New Science. It has three tracks, Fold, Fireworks and Gruzzles. We think all three have their own characteristics that represent us, to some extent. We also are including a couple of remixes. At this point, we are still working out them out, but we have a couple of talented people who have said they are interested.

It's also cool that a lot of fans are people who really don't listen to this type of music, and some fans are like major minimal synth lovers. We get compared to a large kinda weird variety of bands because of this..

I just learned about Veronica Vasicka, the founder of the Minimal Wave label, and the work she has been doing for the genre since she started the label in 2005. Being based in New York, I imagine she cultivates some interest in order to draw more fans. Are there any radio stations, record stores, fan clubs, etc. in the band's home city of Minneapolis that are devoted to, or supportive of, minimal wave? How did you get involved with the genre? Did you basically get hooked on New Order and such, to then take that enthusiasm a step further – because just being a fan was not enough? :)

In Minneapolis, there isn't a direct club or store for minimal wave. There are only a handful of people who are interested in the genre, that we know of. I guess, our band got into the genre with more popular bands like New Order, early Depeche Mode, early OMD, and John Foxx. From there, I don't know, speaking for myself, I got into more obscure minimal synth stuff. I found the minimal synth site and I listen to a lot of the bands on there and from other sources.

I probably got hooked on synth pop from living with you two...

We do have more influences beyond that, but minimal synth is a huge one. In a lot of ways, growing up we were into punk music to an extent, which years ago lead me to post-punk music and I suppose I've always seen synth music as a sibling of post-punk.

People can say its happier stuff, but its still inspired by the same ideas and still comes from punk rock.

On your MySpace profile, you cite Joy Division/New Order as a musical influence. The hit Love Will Tear Us Apart makes it evident that punk rock influenced and energized the post-punk genre. Along with the jangly guitar and punkish drums, the listener can hear the texture of the emergence of synthpop. Can you talk about bands that have helped shape CLAPS' sound? I also see OMD, John Foxx and Suicide on the list. Can you talk about your favorite songs and/or band members of your musical influences – who else might you add to that list? What other people in the scene have been a help – any particular producers, etc.?

For me, I pull a lot of influence form obscure minimal synth bands. Most I've found online. That and synth music from the late 70's until 1983. Other than that, I've listened to punk rock since I was kid. And well, maybe some video game stuff, like Megaman.

If I'm thinking about anything when writing its probably OMD and newer stuff like Grizzly Bear, Lil Wayne and Beach House. Its a mix of older and newer stuff.

I got really into pop music in the last year. The CD player in my car broke and half of the time all I have is mainstream radio. I'd love to say that doesn't really influence me. But it made me rethink a lot of what I was writing. It made me appreciate hooks. So much pop music today is not focused and not very substantive, where good pop has some merit to it. I love songs that stick with you for more than one reason. More than just a concept or a catchy line, but some instrumentally or something more than that sticks in your head. I can't necessarily name that's hard to explain. But on top of that, I love synth pop and post punk music.

When we were looking for someone to record with we decided to work with Ryan Olcott. He's produced some other electronic acts and has done other electronic music himself. Working with him has been really helpful in directing our sound and has been a good asset for bouncing ideas off of. That and Guilt Ridden Pop has been good for us.

CLAPS Links:
Guilt Ridden Pop
Fold on YouTube

New Science

1. Fold 03:20
2. Gruzzles 03:08
3. Fireworks 03:52
4. Fold (Chic Portier Remix) 03:37
5. Fold (Busy Signals Remix) 04:10
6. Fold (Soviet Panda Remix) 06:12

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Interview: Eleonora Cutaia

Eleonora Cutaia founded AheadPR - a digital music promotion service.

In a interview, you talked about how you keep your ears open for artists who do not necessarily fit into a specific genre, and are not afraid to experiment with new sounds. Considering how dynamic the many subgenres of electronic music have been, how does your business philosophy reflect the dynamic nature of digital music?

[eleonora cutaia]
At AheadPR indeed we receive the most diverse submissions and it is important to be 'objective' when evaluating the products. Even if I have a personal taste in music, thankfully I am able to go beyond the taste or genre factor, and rate music for the way it's produced, and for the potential it can have with the media and public.

As it is essential for AheadPR to remain on top of current music trends, what are a few of the main media sources that you have come to rely upon in order to keep informed? What are other ways that you keep informed?

[eleonora cutaia]
When it comes to new music trends, I do not make it an obsession but I definitely try to allow myself to be exposed to different channels and outlets. Most of the times it's the music that finds me!

AheadPR helps a great deal as it allows me to regularly discover some extremely talented artists via the site submissions.

Running the label is another great asset as again, some great artists come to me through recommendation or word of mouth.

There is just so much music out there that it's literally impossible not to miss out. I guess this is one of the reasons why AheadPR is becoming increasingly popular: journalists and DJs can be a bit more lazy and rely on a trusted source to filter up quality content for them!

Recording artists have emailed me MP3s that they produced with home recording equipment. They have their own web pages, blogs, MySpace profiles, etc. But few artists get the kind exposure that would take their sound to the next level. How can AheadPR help such independent recording artists and labels?

[eleonora cutaia]
The most important thing is the music to be produced to good standards. These days thanks to some great software, it has become so easy to reach professional standards even from the comfort of your home. You are right saying there are tons of artists who are trying to do everything themselves, but only a few ones get solid exposure.

With so much choice out there it is becoming even more difficult, so it definitely requires some budget to actually make some waves.

I am happy to have created AheadPR with these types of artists in mind, and it's great seeing the difference the campaigns make to them.

From magazine reviews, international radio airplay, licensing to labels, bookings: I have seen it all happen and I really do share in the artists' achievement.

I have seen some of my American clients coming to the UK for gigs, and they were over the moon, thinking it would have never happened so fast. It is unbelievable what an email to the right person can do!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


k, singer/songwriter for her band kgmr, gives us some background on her latest project This Happened.

This Happened is something of a variety show. Songs were written by Bob, David, or myself, or we co-wrote songs. Jon Mendez is playing drums to our guitars and Rhodes piano. It is also something of a clearinghouse of songs that were on the recorder that didn't fit the themes of Migrate to Carnivora or the Half Ass Family Band's self-titled album. There are instrumental songs and songs with words, songs with samples of other random things like tapes of vintage film strip narration, heavy guitars and noise sometimes and sometimes a very clean sparse sound. It just kind of happened and was big fun in the making.

Mall Song started out as a song with words, and it was very catchy to jump around to. I decided the words got in the way of that and took them out. But the lyrics were about hating the mall, essentially, and had lines like
they like the lipstick Ripe Cherry Pinprick.

According to Wikipedia, slowcore is a subgenre of "alternative rock that developed from the downbeat melodies and slower tempos of late 1980s indie rock." The subgenre can also be referred to as sadcore, which is known particularly for songs with melancholy lyrics that are based on minor keys. In a review of the album Long Division by the band Low, the reviewer referred to slowcore music when stating that each sound reminds you of the silence it replaces. For example, that statement could refer to the extra space between notes in the melody, which could also be a function of the tempo, I suppose.

Your album Migrate to Carnivora could be categorized as slowcore music by the presence of negative sonic space. As a classically trained pianist, you have gained a composer's sense of sonic space. Considering how musically dense classical music compositions can become, did you go through a process of musical deconstruction for the development of kgmr's minimalized compositions? What steps led to the development of your current sound?

When I was a young kid I wrote soundtracks for imaginary horror movies on my portable Magnus organ and Casio keyboard. I was into minor keys and dissonance even then. I also had a lot of strict, intense Classical training. More recently, in the late nineties, I acquired a Fender Rhodes piano. It basically presented itself to me, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. The Rhodes, because it's a mechanical instrument, naturally deconstructed things. Playing the Rhodes opened up a whole new sound and new techniques, which I explored on my previous album, instant confidante. That album is mostly instrumental, except for two songs, creepy and strange and monsters and robots. Those were the first two songs I ever sang in my life, and Migrate to Carnivora evolved out of those songs, basically. Because of the lyrical content and singing on this album, I wanted it to sound washed out, spaced out, and somewhat surreal. So this album is not nearly as minimalist as instant confidante.

In terms of the idea of sonic space, for me, a single chord can go a long way. I tend to play chords that I have to later figure out what kind of chords they are, because they're not your straight up C or G chord. Although I do play simple chords too. But the more muddy chords can sound very dense and complex, which makes their sound go a long way and forces space to follow. Just like in a conversation, if you're not saying much, you can babble on indefinitely, but if you really have something to say, something that's going to hang there, it takes sonic space.

Slowcore is well represented by bands such as Low, Codeine and Red House Painters. Are there any particular slowcore artists who may have influenced your sound? Are there any such bands that you like?

Oh no! I have to admit now that I've never listened to any of those bands. I probably need to now, right? Lyrically I've been influenced by Ed Vedder. Getting back to chord structure and space in the melody, Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk have been influential. I can't think of any particular rock bands that I've been influenced by. Some things in rotation at my house these days are Mum, Deerhoof, Cleo Brown, Trans Am, The Sea and Cake, and one of my all-time favorite albums called, Moorish Music of Mauritania.

Has any particular classical music influenced your sound? Who is your favorite classical period composer?

I like the 20th century composers, particularly Bartok, Satie, Debussy. I would say a lot of Chopin[mp3: Prelude No.4] is Classical sadcore! He wrote a lot of his music while he was sick, and that definitely comes through in his sound.

The musical style of Migrate to Carnivora could also be categorized as minimalist - a category that can extend beyond music, to art in general. Current minimalist music clearly breaks down the complexity of today's popular music by default. Did you decide to develop a minimalist style of composition as a statement against popular music complexity?

My style is what it is, for better or worse. Most popular music is boring to me, and actually hurts my ears the way noise and dissonance hurt some people's ears. I love noise and dissonance. I don't really think much about what my music will sound like, or what it should sound like. But if I succeed at making some music that isn't boring, I will have reacted to popular music in a way that I would like to.

In the lyrics to the song titled Joy, on your latest album, the chorus repeats the line "deep disturbing joy". In a sense, there is a dissonance between the connotations of "joy" and what might be considered "deeply disturbing". As a result, that line feels like a stronger hook. Was that the effect you originally intended to achieve? Could you explain the general meaning of the song, and the chorus? What does Migrate to Carnivora mean?

The chorus from Joy comes from a poem by Colorado poet/environmentalist/eccentricist Rita Clagett. The poem goes like this:
Subtle Things

Some such subtle things
 can't be captured
Anything on sagebrush -
 drops of melted snow before they drop to snow,
 morning shadow of a cat, grey on silver green,
  purring, chin rolling in my shadow hand
And others -
 mountains making clouds,
 the deep disturbing joy of owning all my troubles.
"Deep disturbing joy" is definitely dissonant for me, but like most dissonance, it sounds good and true to me. Most of my songs are amalgamations of many things, and they usually also come together musically in pieces, too. But the song is basically about knowing and accepting yourself, "owning your troubles", and realizing that you may be the only person in your lifetime who truly understands you. Depending on how deep your troubles run, finding joy in that can seem disturbing to some.

As for the album's title, at first I was going to name the album Carnivora, but then I found out a metal band from Norway has an album with that name. Migrate is the first song and Carnivora is that last song, so the album is that journey from beginning to end. Carnivora is a scientific term referring to a certain grouping of animals that eat meat, like lions and bears. The song Carnivora has a lot of meat references and analogies. But I first came across the word in Out of Africa, where Isak Dinesen used it to glowingly refer to the young native women at a dance on her farm. I can't do justice to Dinesen's words, but she's expressing a lot of power, freedom, and beauty. And I mean the word in that way, too. For an album about love and loss, Carnivora in Dinesen's usage is especially meaningful to me.

Regarding its history, and how it mechanically produces sound, The Rhodes piano is interesting - certainly a different breed of piano. Along with your Rhodes piano, what other musical instruments do you use to flesh out your sound? Are there any particular electronic effects that you like to use? guitar pedals?

Most of the songs on this album started at the acoustic piano. I start some things on the Fender Rhodes, and I also have a Kurzweil keyboard. I'd like to write some songs in the future starting on my bass. I'm definitely not scared to use effects, both on the piano sounds and on the vocals. Especially for this album, when I wanted the whole thing to feel thick, dreamy, and foggy. The guitar was a huge part of accomplishing that. I can't say enough about Bob Read's guitar style and how intuitive and multi-talented he is at helping to achieve the sounds I want. This is what he has to say about his guitar effects:
All the guitar effects were recorded real time, and were created by a Gretsch Super Axe run through a RAT pedal, crybaby, volume and DOD dual delay that after twenty years has begun to give up the ghost. The amp is a Fender Quad Reverb.

At some point, the singer-songwriter decided to replace her band name with an anagram based on the four initials of her full name - kgmr. You may also refer to her as k. She impressed the brevity of her band name.
All four names are important to me, but to use all of them would be way too long.
I also asked k if the existing URI hyperlink referenced the correct Cleo Brown.
Yes, that's her. I used to live in Colorado and I wish I had known of Cleo Brown then. I would have figured out what church she played organ for and sat in the back of the church to listen to her. I doubt she's around anymore.


This Happened

1. Xyron Boggs Homemade Motorcycle 02:58
2. TheProcess 02:29
3. Mall Song 01:02
4. Xyron Boggs 02:03
5. Now I'm Flying High Like a Birdie 00:43

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nick Howard

In an exclusive interview, singer/songwriter Nick Howard talks about New York City, songwriting and success.

You are definitely having a successful run in recent years, starting with your freshman EP 6-pack Contradicted which received kudos from critics. I read your bio; what a big year 2008 became, being featured on "MTV, Fox, Comcast, TLC, CBS, ABC, the BBC, Vogue Magazine, Bloomingdale's and Lifetime"! Did this all hit like a ton of bricks - leaving you a bit mesmerized? Even early on, I imagine the world got bigger and brighter after you hopped from Brighton to New York City. A long leap across the pond can affect an artist's mode of living in a big way, where everyday habits, overall attitude - even their tastes in music, food, etc. can be affected. Can you share how your lifestyle has changed after taking a bite of the Big Apple? Are there any food and entertainment discoveries you've made that you really liked?

[nick howard]
Well it sounds very glamorous when you list it like that but between the lines there is so much work that has gone into landing these achievements that it definitely doesn't feel like a ton of bricks...more like one brick at a time :) Sometimes you work so hard to nail these things that you forget to take a minute and actually reflect on what you've done. When I read it in a sentence like that it is a bit mesmerizing so thank you for pointing them've made my day :)

Moving to New York was definitely a massive change in pace, I had eased my way here by having smaller stints here and there leading up to 2004, so that helped a bit...but living this city is a lot different from visiting it. I can't stress how important this city has been and continues to be for me and this life/musical journey. It is an incredible place that picks you up when you are down and gives you a kick in the balls when you are lazy. There is nowhere else on earth like it, the huge mix of different people, cultures, music/arts, food etc etc has done nothing but educate me and cause me to look at life in a different way as well as to enjoy it more.

I was a complete wimp before I came here as far as food was concerned but soon learned that I wasn't going to have much of a social life if I didn't bite the bullet and try a few crazy dishes here and you can find me eating sea urchin on a regular basis (well maybe not that extreme but definitely more raw fish than I'd consumed prior to moving here - which would be zero). As far as entertainment goes, there aren't many places that you could visit a transgender karaoke bar, a burlesque club, a singer/songwriter club, a jazz club, a rock club, several art galleries and then polish it off with a McDonalds within a two block radius :) To say this place hasn't opened my eyes to a lot of great art would be a lie. I'm blessed to be among a group of fantastic singer/songwriters currently doing the rounds in New York, its inspiring and I feel we're part of something really special.

Some artists talk about the self-indulgent aspect of songwriting, whereas they are writing songs to entertain themselves as well. Are there any particular songs off your latest LP Something to Talk About that you really enjoyed writing, and also enjoy performing more than your other songs? A fan might guess - A Better Man. But sometimes an obscure, seemingly unassuming song can carry a special meaning for the songwriter himself - which the listener does not know anything about. Can you share a deeper - more detailed - look into one of your songs that might enhance its meaning for listeners?

[nick howard]
This is a very good reflection on the songwriting process. The largest part of the writing process is self-indulgent, I know for me its my way of dealing with life's emotions, experiences and observations as well as my own personal thought and feelings. That said, when you are writing a song, particularly a melody, you aren't going to come up with a good hook if it doesn't entertain you. A Better Man is a fun song to play, and I think that a large part of that is the melody however the lyrical aspect is important as well, especially given that I have found that the song has taken on a much larger meaning past its original context (which is about a relationship gone wrong and a guys desperation to make it right) and now just feels like a much bigger and more important statement about how I want to live my is awesome like that.

Another interesting song is The Pressure. I got to a point half way through Something To Talk About where I was completely stuck, I had to re-record all of the track's I had recorded with another producer, was struggling financially to keep the process going and was really struggling to come up with the next song. The Pressure is basically my feelings and emotions through that time period put to music and lyrics and came out of a really low point for ended up being the song that would end up on The Hills and open up so many doors for me...just another ironic notch on this crazy journey.

When it comes to film and television, music plays such an important role when it helps carry the theme of the screenplay, and sets the mood for viewers. You have had tracks featured in the soundtracks for The Hills, Army Wives, [and] LA Ink. Most people seem to spend more time watching TV than they do listening specifically to music. What thoughts were going through your mind the first time you heard one of your tracks playing in a TV show you were watching? Imagining millions of people all watching/listening at the same time, that's a lot of ears! Do you set out to write songs to catch the ears of many listeners, or does your music simply have a natural appeal? What aspects of your music reveal its entertainment power?

[nick howard]
My thoughts surrounding that placement in The Hills was that there had been a mistake and that I was about to suffer a major embarrassment. I had blasted my mailing list and all of the other social networking outfits, told friends and family to tune in to the show, my sister even bought me a 'congratulations' cake but I was prepared for the worst. Fortunately for me, my career and my pride, about five minutes into the show there it was - my song, the background music to Lauren Conrad getting asked out by a model...soon to be ruined by a scene change and the introduction of Spencer whining 'Heiiiiidiiiii'...still, I'd had my moment of glory so was happy for him to ruin it :)

The response from that one placement was immediate, that's the great thing about the information age, I could track the increased mySpace hits (about 10,000 that night) and thousands more over the next few days. The placement was aided by an Entertainment Weekly blog which mentioned the song and drove more people to my website. I don't write songs to appeal to others, they have to appeal to me first. I will write a particular theme or genre, but I need to behind the music, otherwise it just won't sound right. I think you have a choice when it comes to production about the 'sound' you want to get. I want my songs to be produced in the best light, and that's what I did with this album...the fact that the songs are licensable is a bonus and I'm really fortunate to have had some success in that arena. I've had some odd licenses too - for instance two of my songs have appeared in the show LA Ink on TLC, a show about tattoo artists. It's pretty ironic that I don't have any tattoos and probably never's also ironic that one of the two songs used is called My Mistake :)

Songwriters can receive inspiration from a variety of sources. I know of one artist who gets her song ideas from news stories. Perhaps a movie inspires, or a novel. Do you typically come up with a catchy chorus hook first? Or maybe you write a set of lyrics first, and then put that to music. While you are writing songs, can you give us a view into the gears that are turning in your mind and heart? I understand how songwriting can be an esoteric activity, whereas an artist taps into their emotions and pours them out onto a page. And sometimes even the songwriter can be surprised by the creativity that flows off the tips of their fingers.

[nick howard]
The ideas can come from any of those, but I think the catalyst that gels it altogether is the spark. It is an often elusive, never readily available and uncontrollable event that needs to happen at some point during the writing process in order to take music and lyrics and turn them into a song. I find that music sparks (chords, notes etc) come much more easily as they are usually the product of a mistake or accident than the lyrical melody spark, that is something that can take years to happen for a certain song, but can also come out of nowhere and you can end up with your best song in five minutes. I know some people have a better ability to control it and switch it on whenever they feel like it...I wish that were the case for me, that way I wouldn't constantly find myself rummaging for a pen and paper in the darkness at 3am :)

Thanks for having me :)

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