Sylvan Esso interview: non stop beautiful answers

It’s the first time at the Berghain for me, after roughly 3 ½ years I finally succumbed to the suction of this hotspot of Berlin nightlife and can marvel at the interior, a rather beautiful and large-scale wall painting and the admittedly great acoustics of the place that I boycotted for having face-controll at their weekly parties. I don’t do that. Elitism at the club entrance is gross.

The reason for my first visit had to be a good one to abandon my standpoint on these sorts of clubs and it sure was – Sylvan Esso were playing and if you want to dance till you melt into the ground, get a little nostalgic and enjoy a very energetic live act then this is your jam.

Sylvan Esso, aka Amelia and Nick, met at a show where both of their previous bands Mountain Man and Megafaun played and hit it off immediately. After a long email-exchange, they suddenly had their own song in their hands – “Play it Right”.

Amelia is one of my favourite onstage-dancers.There’s no self-consciousness just moving to the music.

They continued their mailing but soon realized that it would probably save a lot of time to live in the same city, so they both decided on Durham, USA, an apparently growing second coming of Portland – watch out Portlanders!

If you want to describe Sylvan Esso – named after the game “Swords and Sworcery” (that’s not a typo) – with very broad strokes, you could go along with a somewhat 90s inspired dance-pop. But if you have a few more seconds left, you could also add that they dabble with 40s folk-music and harmonies (mainly because Mountain Man were all about all the beautiful lady-harmonies). The first song on their self-titled debut therefore doesn’t start with any beat, just Amelia’s voice layered slowly easing us into the band’s knack for creating rhythm purely through vocals and then suddenly throwing in a heavy bassline and turning this beautiful a cappella song into a glimmering disco-miracle.

Oh, and there is so much beauty in this and all the following songs that are either right in your face (‘HSKT’ sweeps you off) or slowly reel you in like this super cool dancemove from the 90s. Do you know what I mean? The lasso and catch-dance-move. Classic.

Where was I? Ah yes, before I ventured into the Berghain that night, I met with the band for an interview and had a blast which I want to share. So let’s do this! Continue reading

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10 things I learned from music interviews

I can celebrate this month because I did my 100th interview (I might have done more but officially, let’s just say it was the 100th) and figured that since I am working as a music journalist since roughly 6 years, I could share some of my infinite wisdom on the subject.

Before I start, I should say that I never worked for a big music magazine, label or radio station. However, I have written reviews, columns and informative pieces, I did interviews, have a network of labels and PR agencies, I worked on festival radios, live reports and talked with indie, rock, punk, metal, hip hop and pop-artists. So, while I might not know how it is to do an interview with the Rolling Stones (or for the Rolling Stone), I have learned a few tricks of the trade and know my way around the beautiful work of music journalism.

Continue reading

Midlake Interview with Eric Pulido: On ‘Antiphon’ and Proggin’ the Night away

Midlake was yet another band I only discovered due to the awesome John Hubner, who hooked me on “Roscoe” (the first one is always free) and then led me straight to “Antiphon” which is perfect timing because as much as I enjoy Midlake’s previous album, it might have lacked the rock a little to really stick in my mind. But the first album without former singer Tim Smith – who left with a lot of Daily Soap-drama that nowadays, hopefully, seems to have been resolved – is a great, gutsy record that reminds me of Menomena’s first album without Brent Knopf and equally surprised with a more energetic feel than the previous album, much like the ‘Well, then let’s do it’-fist of a 60s movie Go-Getter slamming on a table full of cigarettes, whiskey and sexism.

“Antiphon” is British folk with harmonies pumped up with a big load of Prog and therefore very big songs (even though the song-length – very unproggishly – seldom ventures over the 5-minute-mark).

The title – a Greek choir that was used in theater back in the days of coliseum-fights and togas – implies a somewhat brooding experience that is enforced with the album cover that shows a graph of the financially most influential world powers and how they are connected. The album therefore can be seen as a swan-song for human society but – according to Eric Pulido – also should send some hope towards the listener, so look out for that while the epic instrumentals and choirs wash over your frail hearts.

There is a timeless quality to the album, something which Midlake are known for and which always fits for any music that has prog-elements in its DNA. Eric easily skips from background-singer to main-vocalist and pretty much annihilates all worries of old Midlake-fans that the change from Tim’s rather unique voice would somehow diminish the sound of the band.

The biggest accomplishment of this album is this constant foreboding, melancholic mood that permeates through songs like “Provider”, “It’s going down” or “Corruption”. It’s never depressing but rather creates a flux, like watching the sun go down or rain clouds cover the skies. Creating an album that doesn’t really have a common theme but instead a common mood is a beautiful thing.

I met with Eric in Berlin while he was trying to have Lunch (I think he had to eat it cold because he was too polite to let me wait while he ate something) and we talked a little about “Antiphon”, John Grant and being a musician nowadays. So, let’s head right in!

Me: I’ve read that before Tim left the band you worked on the album for two years and after he left you scrapped all that and it took six months…

Eric: Yeah, from start to finish it was approximately six months to write and record it which was pretty quick.

Me: Was that the plan, did you feel rushed?

Eric: There was no plan, really, especially at first. We started and we didn’t know exactly what would happen. We just tried and it was about half-way through the process at the beginning of that year when the label said ‘Look, if you can have the record done by June or July we can put it out this year’ and we said ‘Ok’. We had half of it done and kept pushing because we really couldn’t afford to stop.

Me: Was there ever the consideration to add a new singer or were you the immediate choice?

Eric: There was for a second. We thought, ‘What would that look like, what would that be, what would it be called.’ Just so that we wouldn’t have to move things, especially me, from the position I was in. I was singing a lot but I was obviously more of a background-singer. But we thought if we did that we wouldn’t really be Midlake. We just bonded together and everybody stepped up more, trying to fill that gap – Tim was obviously a very strong figure.

Me: How is the position in the spotlight?

Eric: It’s good. But to be honest, even if it is different now that Tim is not there, it didn’t change too much. I was always the one that would talk or be in the middle of the stage or even do a lot of interviews. He didn’t like it. He didn’t enjoy the touring or being in that role and I could understand.

Sometimes when you’re on tour people have an image of how a band operates but in reality it’s a job and you’re trying to have positive attitudes and stay healthy. I feel that now that Tim’s not here anymore, I am more managing that to some degree but I think that everybody does, we’re all adults and we all have our little ways to get into a good headspace and have strong shows and enjoy it. And that’s the biggest thing to enjoy the season of life that we have together.

Me: One of the biggest complaints about touring I’ve heard from bands is the boredom. Do you have something to fight that?

Eric: A lot of us go running. We run around town, it gets the heart rate going but you also get to see that city a little bit more, sometimes you get lost which can be good or bad. Also, I don’t want to look back and feel that I didn’t enjoy the opportunity. As much as I can say that it’s a job like every other job somebody else can say ‘Fuck you, you’re traveling around, seeing different places that I could only dream to see’. The grass is always greener on the other side. The reality is, no matter where I am – on tour or at home – I should enjoy the opportunity and I think that’s what we do here.

Me: You sound very optimistic and then when I think of the lyrics of the album, it’s a little bit bleaker.

Midlake, 'Antiphon'-CoverEric: Lyrically, it was a little bit of a new thing to write. I had written some lyrics and was actually writing some solo-material at the time when we were still making the record with Tim. When we started on ‘Antiphon’, lyrically – or even musically -, we didn’t have an agenda like, ‘We’re going to do this and this’. For me that transition was a poignant thing that inspired me and also the world in general. If you see the album-cover, you see this fantastical, beautiful thing that looks almost like a firework and it actually is a graph of the world-powers that control the money in the world and how they are connected and that it’s actually an evil thing and that juxtaposition, I embraced that with the lyrics.

“Aurora Gone” is basically about divorce, it’s not the most pretty thing in the world and I am happily married and love my wife and am happy but some of us have experienced that and it’s something to play with. And it has a desolate type of angle but at the same time there is hopefully some hope in it.

Me: I also think that there is a lot of room for interpretation which I like. There’s a vagueness to the lyrics and they seem timeless. Because of the Greek title of the album and the lyrics I thought that they could also play in ancient Rome or something like that.

Eric: I had hoped so. Tim was always good at not placing it in a certain time and it could be a hundred years ago or now.

Me: Reading a lot of reviews, it seems as if no one expected this kind of direction. Especially in comparison to the previous album it’s a lot more forward, louder and energetic.

Eric: To be honest, the record we were making with Tim – although it ultimately might not have become that big sounding or energetic in that way – the beginnings of that writing process did have a lot of energy and much more psychedelia. It kind of rolled over into what we were doing and we amped it up even more. It wasn’t some agenda; it was maybe just where we were at. It was expressive of where we were musically in our head and we have been down a lot of different roads with this band and I think for us it just compounds that you’re not forgetting your past, you just bring it along. There are folk elements and harmonies and the psychedelia and rock. It would be different if you would only know us from our last record which is British folk melancholia and all of a sudden it’s bigger and lush.

Me:I was listening to Beck’s new album and thought that this is probably what people expected from you. And it also reminded me a little bit of John Grant.

Eric: Yeah, and I love that stuff, it’s actually fun now to play it live and try to balance between the eras of Midlake because we play stuff from every album and try to put that into a show-format.

Me: So how do you work on the setlist?

Eric: It was interesting first of because now that Tim’s not there it’s like, ‘Ok, what songs of those do we play and how exactly do we play them?’ It was fun to go back to those records because you get so used to playing those songs that you have been playing for years and they kind of change – for better or worse – from the album. We thought, ‘Let’s just go back to the source, go back to the record and see what we did there and how we can do that together live.’ Not to change it or interpret it in a weird way. Just going back to the source and maybe putting some harmonies there that weren’t there live anymore and also trying to make the transition between these songs and the new songs.

Me: When you are in the studio, do you think how the music would translate on stage or do you do that later when the album is already out?

Eric: I don’t think we’re dictated by it but you definitely think of it and I think with this record it was really easy to go, ‘Well, this might sound really cool and big live’. Tim always used to say – because he wasn’t inclined to write that way – ‘I gotta think about what songs to write when we’re playing a festival’ With this record it was easier because we knew there were a lot of bigger-sounding songs that would translate live and this band has hit different styles and influences and we’re wondering what the people out there are into and try to touch all the bases but obviously right now we’re focusing more on the new stuff.

Me: I love the prog-elements. It’s one of those things that rarely happen in popular indie music. And it reminded me of the time I discovered John Grant and listened to “I wanna go to Marz” and just thought, ‘Man, that’s a prog-song, that’s Genesis’ and it was so great to hear that on ‘Antiphon’ because you worked on Grant’s album as well, right?

Eric: Yeah. At that time we were making ‘The Courage of Others’ while we were making John’s record, so by day we would work on the Midlake-thing and by night we would work on John’s and it was great because it was just more fun than the record we were making to be honest. There was no real pressure or expectation it was just making music with our friend and that’s how it should be. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to always have that mindset but with him it was great because we were trying to facilitate his thing. Obviously our album at that time was influenced by British folk but there were elements of prog as well and because his voice lent itself to it, we explored that more with him. It was fun.

We talked the other day, we did a song at the BBC6-festival and he’s kinda thinking towards his next album and said, ‘Come to Iceland and play and sing’, so we’ll see. That would be a lot of fun.

Me: I read that you did this cool compilation (“Late Night Tales”). Do you as a band have certain favourite bands or is everyone listening to different music?

Eric: There’s a lot that overlaps and there’s probably some that doesn’t as much but not in a bad way. Of course we all love classics like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, they are influences that we had but for each of us we have other roads that we would go down more, whether it’s classical or modern music. It’s just a matter of channeling those influences when you’re trying to create with people because it’s not like you’re a solo artist. You’re trying to create something that you all feel passionate about but you’re being honest in the way you’re playing because you’re not just being told how to play. It’s interesting and that’s what makes a band a band.

One of my favourite bands of all time is The Band. Each individually brought something to the table that made them better than what any individual would be and I think the sum of its parts is ultimately what you hope to have as a superior thing.

Me: Are you all in the studio working on ideas or are you individually working things out?

Eric: It differed and it even differed with Tim but it definitely revolved more around Tim and not in a bad way. It was just more centered and how we would complement or facilitate that. With the new record we obviously had to reinvent the wheel for us and tried a lot of different things. Getting into small groups and working on that, someone has a progression and I would sing over it, maybe I would just bring in a song or Paul would bring in a song. Ultimately, everyone’s ideas and songs would be made better by the band. If I had a song, someone would make the harmony or the instrumental section cooler or bigger and that inherently made us have more ownership for it.

Me: Is that a harmonious process?

Eric: It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s just how it goes. You have great days and great victories and on other days you just want to rip each other’s heads off. It’s good to have perspective, you’re older now and take things not too seriously but at the same time we’re all humans and we’re flawed and selfish and we get angry and narrow-minded and we have to keep each other in check but for whatever reason, when you’re in a band, you’re in a marriage with some other people and ultimately, you create that child (laughs).

Me: If you could do a soundtrack for a contemporary HBO-series, what would it be?

Eric: I am actually trying to do more stuff like that because it’s too hard making money just by making records and touring, so you gotta do other things. We actually have a bar in Denton, so that helps. I really love the Paris/Texas-vibe, simple, acoustic, cinematic but stripped down-music like in “True Detective” – that’s really good. So, HBO, give me a call.

Lucius Interview: Where the Wildewomen are

It all started with a seemingly simple song that breathed 60s pop and had enough pep to pretty much kick start my winterly depressed heart into a springful joy. “Turn it around” is the kind of song that you want to have on a 7 inch just so you can put it on one of those tiny kid’s record players like the one in that gorgeous scene in “Ghost World” (both Graphic Novel and movie). And then you notice the lyrics and it’s even better because these fantastic melodies hide a rather cautious tale – smart pop? Awesomesauce!

So, who is this mysterious band? Are they time-travelers from the 60s, sent to us to bring us joy and wisdom? No, they are present people that bring joy and wisdom! It’s Jess and Holly, two besties since college who discovered one day that their two voices harmoniously combined create a magical sound that makes people go all crazy for them and creates a fuzzy warmth in everyone’s heart. They moved to Brooklyn and lived in a big house and somewhere along the way met Dan, who is not only an awesome drummer and beard-wearer but also can produce and engineer music like no tomorrow. And after a while – so the story goes – Andrew and Pete were picked amongst dozens of musicians to complete the quintet that from now on shall be named “Lucius”!

“Wildewoman” (you see, the misspelling in the title was deliberate cause references) is kind of the debut of Lucius who have previous releases but this album is the first true form of their sound and boy/girl, it’s a major sound. Now, to the surprise of none of my regular readers, a smart pop album of course wins my heart but Lucius have so many tricks up their sleeve (and on the album) that it can make your head spin. They not only win my heart but also turn my head into a carousel, that’s a double-whammy!

Look, so the album starts with two songs ripped straight from the 60s, you might think, there is at least one Ronette in the mix but no. And then suddenly, the record gives way to a beautiful 40s-inspired love song that reminds me of the sirens in “O’Brother Where Art Thou” and therefore – even without any lyrical connotation – has some spiritual vibe for me. It’s being followed by a few songs that could make 80s-band Bananarama super-jealous because they are THAT 80s inspired and awesome and then…

…oh, you guys, then they present us “Nothing Ordinary” which is nearly tribal in its percussive aggressiveness. It’s a big bold monster amidst those previously established beautiful pop-songs. Yes, this band easily ballets between genres, musical decades, tones and stylistic choices because nope, that’s not even the end of the whirlwind this album has to offer. “Two of us on the Run” is a striking song about taking chances (which pretty much struck me right in the feels) and it is one of the greatest songs to sing at the campfire without ever being able to sound tired (hear that, “Wonderwall”?), so acoustic-guitar dudes who want to impress girls need to get this on their performance sheets (acoustic-guitar dudettes may as well).

So, vinyl-wise, I think (I only have the CD, so I can only guess) the second side is being opened with the otherworldly “Two of us on the run” which the band usually performs amidst the crowd at their concerts which makes for a warm, cozy, spiritual (there it is again) feeling of togetherness.

After this, and after you wiped away your (happy) tears, they throw some more insanely well written pop-songs at you and by now, you probably also have noticed that not only the harmonious voices of Jess and Holly make this band pure gold but also the amazing band – the percussion comes especially through in a live-setting, it’s like a thunderstorm but also carries the songs on the album right onto the dance floor and there is some guitar-work on the songs (specifically my new favourite song to put on a soundtrack, “How Loud Your Heart Gets”) that is just fingerpicking good (really, after roughly 5-10 times through this album, I still find beautifully woven guitar-parts I didn’t notice before). Oh, and it’s a very nice touch that the guys do the background vocals. Let’s just leave that here without the essay about reversed gender-roles in modern pop music, alright?

The vinyl ends with the aforementioned awesomeness that is “How Loud Your Heart Gets” which seriously, I want to write a whole movie for but CD-buyers like me (the scum of the earth for every vinyl-lover) also get “Genevieve” which is an incredibly fun song that is cheeky as hell. It fits the whole mood of the album which can be really emotional but also has a lot of joy to offer, like a childhood-memory running down a hill with open arms. The songwriting on “Wildewoman” is crazy good and I’ll be damned if this album won’t be at least in the Top5 of my Top10 this year (right now, I would even place it in my Top3, fighting with Elbow for the 1st place).

So, obviously, when I got the opportunity, to speak to the two lovely ladies Jess and Holly, I could not contain myself, ran to the Magnet Club in Berlin, asked myself around to find the two Superwomen (thank god that Andrew not only plays a mean guitar but knows his way around the labyrinth that is the Magnet club) and stuttered myself through the interview. I could ease myself into the conversation by being the first person to announce to them that Stephen Colbert will be the new Letterman. Yes, after one and a half years of entertainment news this will probably be the last (and possibly first) news I read about on the job that I could actually use in real life.

So here ya go:

Me: Your album took 3 ½ years. How was the process? Did you change it overtime bit by bit or was there a point where you thought, ‘Ok, we are now trying something completely different’? Because 3 ½ years is a long time.

Jess: When we first started recording it was just the two of us and we had these new songs and wanted to experiment in the studio because we never got that opportunity before. And so we called Danny (Molad) who is an engineer and producer and our drummer and asked him if he was interested. He had just parted ways with another band he was working with and so we got together and we had our whole community of musicians come and play on our record but at that time there wasn’t even a band, we just had everybody come and play. And through the process we met the people who would become our bandmates and so by the end of the recording process we said, ‘let’s tour a little and then re-record everything, so it sounds like the five of us.’ Because the songs were almost like really really good demos at that point.

We got to feel it out live and see how we’d like to play it as the five of us together and then we went back to the studio. We always say that we kind of recorded in three years and kind of recorded in three weeks.

Me: When you write a song, do you think about how it would translate on stage?

Holly: I think for the most part we deal with that later. For all the songs, some of them sound like they are coming from different influences and we will write a song that feels melodically like it would work for our voices and then try to work around what the song is asking for and not think too much ‘let’s write this, so it fits with the record or let’s write this so that we can perform it in a certain way.’ This has – so far – come afterwards.

Me: How do you go about the track listing? Because I found it very interesting. The first song I listened to was “Turn it around” and the album starts with what I expected judging from that song and then by the fifth or sixth song I was completely surprised because it opened up so much.

Jess: We did a couple of track listings and kept playing them, seeing what felt best to us. We just wanted you to feel that you’re traveling with the music, feeling the dynamic intensely but also organically traveling from one song to the next, so that it felt that you were on a ride.

Me: Were there songs that you had to kick off the album because they didn’t fit in?

Holly: No, but one of our songs is a bonus track and we have it as a 7 inch now because it didn’t fit on the vinyl.

Jess: Yeah, we were only allowed eleven songs on the vinyl…

Holly:…so in that sense it literally didn’t fit but we wanted it to be still part of it.

Jess: We have a few other songs that we recorded that just didn’t feel like they fit in – especially after we recorded a second time.

Me: Do you already have ideas in which direction you want to take the second album?

Jess: I think we are interested in furthering this percussive element but it really depends how the songs turn out. We have been writing but we haven’t been given the time. But that’s on our mind right now.

Me: Can you write when you’re on tour?

Holly: Not really. I mean, we think of melodies and lyrics and write them down and record them but we don’t really have time to sit down and really delve into it.

Jess: It’s just not enough privacy and not enough space, there are just too many people around all the time and you need to find that breath but we’re always recording on our iPhones, little melodies or we’re writing in our journals.

Me: Did it take a long time to find this sweet spot where you could harmonize very easily?

Jess: The singing came immediately. The songwriting took years to really find a place where we thought, ‘this is us’ and I am excited to get back into that zone because I think that it’s only gonna progress. But the singing really was instantaneous and when we first were singing and writing together that’s what just clicked and made us feel like this could be something special.

Me: Just like in the movies, where one person starts to sing and the other just sings along and it’s magic…

Jess: It was. Not to toot our own horns but I remember the feeling of being just really happily surprised by the sound we were making together. It was in that moment that I felt possibilities being opened and that’s always a good sign.

Me: And when it comes to the songwriting do you work together or individually?

Holly: Both. A lot of times one of us will have a verse-idea and the other will have a bridge-idea or chorus and we come together with each having a lot of ideas and then piece them together or fill in the blanks. We don’t really have a particular formula.

Jess: Timing-wise we’re not going to have a lot of time off, so whenever we have the time we will get together and see what happens. In the meantime, we both are piecing together the ideas in our heads individually.

Me: And how does the band come into that?

Jess: After the songs are written, it’s very much a collaborative arrangement process because they are such creative people but the songwriting – because we are such strong singers and it’s important for us to feel like we’re in a zone with our voices where it feels comfortable and where we can be truly emotive, it lends itself better if we write for ourselves. But they have a huge part in our sound, no question.

Me: You have a very strong look, obviously. Did it take long to come up with the concept; did you try out other things?

Holly: It was like most other things that just evolved over time. So much we do has always been this way, it’s the two voices together and initially we thought we should coordinate at least, so there was some visual representation and just something fun. A lot of artists we’re looking up to are very eccentric with fashion and present a visual for the audience and that’s always been intriguing. And over time as the sound became clearer the visuals also became clearer and now it’s very clear.

Jess: We were thinking the other day, in the 60s and 70s it was just customary for people to have a visual representation of themselves and of their sound. Some more than others obviously, there is David Bowie and then there’s The Supremes but it was important that everyone came on stage for a show so that they could transport themselves and their audience and that was something that we always were intrigued and inspired by. And Holly was saying the other day that when you’re watching a choir, everybody is wearing the exact same thing because they want you to feel like this is one unit, one voice and for us it’s the same thing. We want you to look at the stage and see a unit, two as one and before we get on stage we feel connected to that and when we go on stage we hope that people see that before they hear it.

Me: Does it help with a stage persona?

Jess: Definitely. We feel like we are being transported even before we go on stage.

Me: I’ve read that you hardly get out of the clothes because you tour a lot and do interviews and all that. So do you feel relieved when you can shed the clothes and get out of that?

Holly: Yeah because when we get out of this we usually get into pajamas because they are incredibly comfortable.

Jess: People are like, ‘So, what are you wearing when you’re not wearing this?’ and I am saying, ‘Pajamas’. Sometimes we even sleep in our clothes because we had shows late at night and had to drive eight hours at night. It’s hard to get out of these clothes.

Me: And the band also wears the same clothes. Was that important as well? Like, ‘You guys can be in our band but only if you all wear the same suit?’

Holly: It was a little bit of a battle there.

Jess: But they get it. They understand why and at first it was maybe not as comfortable to them as it was to us but after they’ve seen the growth and how the sound has developed they understand it more. It’s also less to think about.

Me: Your sound is not exclusively the 60s but with your look and the eyeliner it’s the first thing that comes to mind. So do you like other aspects of the 60s as well or is it just the music?

Holly: It’s all aspects. Not exclusively but it’s definitely something. I was always influenced by it growing up and that’s our parents’ generation something that we always had around.

Jess: It’s so bold and vibrant and it’s the first time that people could speak clear and loudly and that was something that – as a woman in particular – was important to see and feel and hear.

Me: You said in an interview that you’re feminists. Would you say that your band is also feminist?

Holly: I think feminist in saying that we’re pro-women and on the side of women our band absolutely is feminist but not in the sense of the word that it’s like anti-man. Some people use that word in different ways.

Jess: We want to be open to everybody. At least half of our audience is male and I think they get it too and we have such a diverse crowd at our shows, older men and women and young girls and middle-aged guys and it’s not just in the US and so we don’t ever want to abandon those people. Not to say that if we had strong feminist values or view-points that that would happen but we just want to make it clear that any woman – I hope – should feel empowered and strong as a woman. And there’s two of us and a lot of the things that we’ve written about involve femininity and in that respect we’re feminists.

Me: I just ask because in recent years it’s been interesting because due to tv-shows and movies like ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Masters of Sex’ and others you see feminist characters that are not aggressive. They are very feminine but also fight for their own rights and fortunately that opens up the picture because it has become this curse word, like man-hater, even though it doesn’t mean that.

Jess: Yeah and that’s why we want to clarify because that’s not the type of feminist we associate ourselves with. But certainly with the empowering type.

Me: You said that you have a diverse crowd which probably means that you can play wherever you want to. So what was the craziest place you ever played at?

Jess: We played at strange places. We played a festival in the middle of nowhere in Texas. They call it ‘Utopia’ which is perfect. We played a show on the main stage but then we also went to a late-night after-party show in the middle of a dried up waterfall and all these people came to watch. Maybe fifty people came, only people who worked at the festival and it was late night at two AM and the acoustics were amazing and that was strange and beautiful.

Holly: It was really in the middle of nowhere. If it had been at another festival and they had security they probably wouldn’t have allowed that because it was really late, people were drinking, someone fell.

Jess: Yeah, there was this guy that fell and cracked his head open.

Holly: And we were, ‘Oh my God, what do we do, he has to go to the hospital!’, because he was bleeding but his friend was just like [adopts a Texan accent], ‘Nah, he’s alright, we just staple his forehead. This is not the worst thing he’s ever done.'”

Jess: We also played in some amazing churches where the acoustic was almost a spiritual experience. In Europe it’s interesting as well because we never know where we’re gonna play and what to expect. It’s always new and surprising.

Me: Churches have amazing acoustics and it fits because some of your songs – with other lyrics – sound to me like they would go great with a gospel choir. Like a traveling priest and a tent and stuff.

Jess: Like an evangelist priest. I just watched this documentary.

Holly: She just watches all these religious documentaries.

Jess: It’s just random, I don’t know why. Anyway, there was this one about religion it was about this evangelical preacher – the ones who are in a spell – and he is an evangelical reverend since he was four years old…

Me:…oh, one of those types.

Jess: Yeah. And he grows up and realizes, ‘My parents never saved any money for me and I made them millions’ because he was such a phenomenon and then he decided to turn it into a business. ‘I am going to start preaching again but I don’t believe anything I am saying’, he was a total hippie at that point. And everybody was thinking he was this evangelical reverend. It was intense.

Me: I always have to think of Genesis and “Jesus, he knows me” about those televised preachers where you can call and get absolution.

Holly: Yeah, 1-0-0-save me

Me: Well, back to your music. If you could choose a tv-show for which you could do a soundtrack, what would you pick?

Jess: It depends. We write a lot for jingles and are given these perimeters like, ‘This one needs to be uplifting’ or ‘This needs to be in the pop realm or rock realm’ and then we write based on what we think it could be so we could even do something like ‘Planet Earth’ very percussive, soulful with very padded vocals that almost don’t sound like vocals and that would be awesome. I love David Attenborough so anything of his would be awesome. And then we could go in the more expected directions…

Holly:…like the old ‘Avengers’ with Diana Rigg. That would be fun.

Me: With those jingles, is that a completely different experience than writing your own music?

Jess: Yeah, it’s kind of an exercise. It’s healthy for us. We are given a very concrete amount of time and a very specific aesthetic and then we can do what we want within those perimeters and we just try to navigate and go as far and ‘us’ as possible. It’s cool and I really enjoy it and it’s a good supplement on tour.

Me: I know that SIA wrote a song for Rihanna, so would you do the same for a pop star?

Holly: I know that if we wrote a song that we felt is ours we would keep it but we would also be interested to write a pop song for somebody.

Jess: I think it’s fun to get outside of what you are and trying to have an imprint on something else and it’s a good tool to have and it keeps things interesting. We sang a lot on other people’s records that were completely different and it was such a challenge and enjoyable and it strengthens you as an artist to be able to explore somebody else’s realm.

Hey Ocean! Interview: Music is Magic

One of my more chaotic interviews happened in the cold and dark month of January, a time when I usually don’t go out unless I have to because let’s face it: January and February are the most unpleasant months of the year if you live in the parts of the hemisphere where the sun is mostly absent, the weather is mostly cold and dire (just like your wife, ammiright?) and the flu has the same characteristics like glitter e.g. it sticks to everyone and stays there for weeks.

BUT with an upbeat pop act, you can hardly make a mistake, so I threw on my 12 layers of clothing and fought my way to the Bii Nu in Berlin, waited for a very long time (because of soundcheck – it’s always soundcheck when you have an interview-appointment) and then was led to the creepy backstage-area of the club which resembles every horror movie set based in the basement of a large building.

The band is a very fun bunch and it’s therefore a good thing for you, dear reader, that this is not the audio file because that was messy. Hey Ocean! was founded in 2005 by long-time friends Ashleigh Ball and David Beckingham (henceforth referred to as ‘David’) and David Vertesei (henceforth referred to as ‘Dave’) makes three. The rest of the band is a somewhat ever-changing rag-tag group of musicians (currently being Devon Lougheed and Johnny Andrews who travelled the whole world, if I remember correctly).

Their music is the kind of indie-pop that is sugary sweet that it sticks to your teeth. It’s absolutely adorable and innocent and therefore perfect for the times when you feel really vulnerable and just want something pure and lovely that hugs you like a giant teddy bear or…pony. Ah yes, because Ashleigh might be known to some avid cartoon watchers as several voices on the miraculous cartoon-phenomenon that is “My little Pony – Friendship is Magic” (hence the title, clever, ey?). Although the band and Ashleigh’s work on the show should be treated mostly as unrelated, the tone of both sure fits into a common theme which is a bright smile and a skip in your step. Cuteness Overload!

Their new album is called “Is” and is a lovely fruitbasket full of different instruments and styles just the way I like my pop-album.

They are also a great live band which is something I quite often say when I post an interview but that’s mainly because I really dig good live bands that are not only able to play but actually perform and engage with the audience. Connecting with the audience doesn’t come easy and I am always happy when I find yet another band that really manages to create something special for their live-shows, especially as it can be really exhausting and demanding on a tour when you have to get that kind of energy up every single night in front of strangers.

By the way, when I was young (oh, the 90s) I also had a couple of My Little Pony-ponies and a My Little Pony-bakery that my parents bought me for my birthday, only to tease me endlessly afterwards by saying: “How the hell are ponies supposed to bake anything? They don’t have hands!” My usual (and quite enraged) reply was: “They’re magic, that’s how!” So…you see, I totally got the whole pony-thing right from the beginning.

Anyways, let’s gallop to the interview which was very funny, maybe a little un-coordinated but entertaining. Because everyone in the band at one point had something to say from all corners of the room, I might mix up some answers, but as no one said something horrible, I think we are safe.

The Interview!

By the way, the first words on my audio file are “The Shrimp” because they just got their dinner.

Me: Is this your first European tour?

Ashleigh: We were in Hamburg for the Reeperbahn Festival at the end of September, so technically, we did a European show and then we went to the UK and played a couple of shows and then we all dispersed and did some traveling, it was a nice first taste of Europe. We are happy to be back and do the first official tour of Germany.

Me: So, what was the biggest culture clash when you came to Europe?

Ashleigh: Dealing with the time difference. I never really had to deal with Jet-Lag before and it’s crazy. And then obviously the language. I didn’t know how I felt about the German language before. I always thought it was kind of harsh but being around it now, it’s a really beautiful language and very fluid.

David: All the rules.

Ashleigh: Paying to go to the bathroom on the highway.

Me: But the bathroom is nice at least.

David: It’s super nice, I actually prefer it because really, if you’re buying something at the gas station you’re only spending 20 cents and those cents clean the toilet.

Ashleigh: Sometimes at truckstops in Canada you have the grossest bathrooms.

Me: I only know those bathrooms from horror movies, so my impression of them is not the best.

Me: Is it difficult to keep the connection with your fans – because you have a really good relationship with them – the bigger you get?

David: I don’t know if we’ve gotten that big yet. In terms of knowing how that would work.

Dave: You definitely see a change. At the start, they’re all your best friends.

David: I think you’re just trying to respond to everyone you can…I think we’re pretty good at it.

Dave: Someone once gave us the advice that what people are really wanting in a relationship with us as an artist is to get to know us, to create a personal connection, so you can do that and have fun with it at the same time. The internet provides you with a really cool way to do that. We did the “Make a New Dance Up”-video that had fan-videos of them dancing to our song and we made a whole music video out of that.

Ashleigh: There’s tons of things how you can do that. And we always make a plan to stick around after we played a show, saying ‘Hi’ to people…

David: …making out and stuff….

Ashleigh: I just remember as a kid or even now going to a show and sticking around. Getting to say something to the artist who performed because you were impacted by it. The chance to interact with them is always really special.

Dave: Nowadays you don’t even need to do that you can just write them on Facebook and directly go on their personal page, asking them if they are ticklish…you can ask them whatever you want – I mean, until they block you.

Me: Well, the ticklish-question is a little odd.

Ashleigh: It IS a bit odd. That happened to me. That men kept writing me, asking if my feet are ticklish.

Me: Your feet, that’s even worse.

Ashleigh: Over and over again, twenty different messages…

Me: So, was that the weirdest fan encounter?

Ashleigh: There’s been really weird ones but that was the most recent one that was weird.

Me: I read that you were somewhat involved with My Little Pony. So do you have Bronies as fans?

Editor’s note: “Bronies” – in case you don’t roam the internets as often as I do – are adult, mostly male fans of the cartoon series that are REALLY into it. They are mostly harmless, goofy and fun (just like Whovians and Supernatural-fans) but some are just outright weird.

Ashleigh: Oh yeah. That’s the weird ones. I do two voices of “My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic”, so because of that – and the internet – they figured out that I play in a band and a lot of them really like the music and come for the music. But some of them are really big fans of the show and come with their littly plushy dolls and ponies on their t-shirts. Most of them are fine.

Dave: But then there is always a small group that is a bit weird and another group that make you actually feel pretty uncomfortable. But pretty much all of them are there because they like the music.

Ashleigh: Some are just really into it and are like, ‘Do the voice’ after the show and that’s not really why I am here for.

Me: Do you write your music on tour?

Dave: We have. It always depends on the kind of tour. Sometimes you’re on a tour that is really inspiring and sometimes it’s exhausting. There are times when we take breaks on the road and stop somewhere for a weekend. Dave (David) actually, he just hangs out in his room sometimes and plays guitar all night.

David: Sometimes you’re more creative than others. I think it requires a certain amount of energy to be creative and sometimes touring is not very inductive to saving energy. It’s just like give give give and not get a lot of sleep. I find that I am most creative when I am happier and more comfortable in my life.

Dave: It’s also about being tapped into yourself and being able to be in touch with yourself when you’re sad or whatever. And when you’re on tour it sometimes involves turning off your brain. You’re in a car for twelve hours every day in Canada and you have to find a way to numb yourself to be in the car. You stop being a person, you stop being in touch with yourself because you’re just trying to pass the time as opposed to really taking in your surroundings which is what you really need to do to be creative.

Me: So, do you write the core of the songs individually or as a group?

Ashleigh: It depends on the song. I usually come with a melody or some lyrical stuff. Dave (David) has this new thing called a Tenori-ON. It’s like a little mini-synthesizer and he’s creating this musical sequences and recently we started playing them and tried to write all together this one song.

Me: Is it a harmonious process?

David: I think that’s the best way to go and I think it’s because at the end of the day whatever we put into the band is considered a joint effort. We all put in creatively different ways. I think it would be different – and weirdly so – if we would all try to fight for having a certain amount of MY songs on the record.

Dave: But the process itself can be quite brutal. We’re like siblings.

Me: Do you have musical side-projects where you can put those ideas that everyone hated in the band so they come to fruition?

David: Dave has his own thing, I have songs that I have got aside…

Ashleigh: I have a lot of pony-songs.

David: But this is our priority, it takes the most of our time and our energy.

Me: I’ve read that you had to change the producer, was that scary? Because I know from one other band that had to do that and they said it was really risky because of the deadlines and they had to postpone everything.

David: Yeah, it was getting postponed anyway.

Dave: We did it all independently so we didn’t have someone who was like, ‘It’s gotta come out on this day!’ So we finished it and then we dropped it to labels.

David: It was taking longer than we had planned because the thing with the producer went so far and then totally fell apart. We had spent a bunch of money and were totally crushed and emotionally drained. It was a very negative relationship toward the end. And after that we took a little time off and then decided to regroup. And when we decided to do this, Dave was really keen on doing it ourselves.

Dave: It would have been weird to bring someone new in. It was like coming from an intense break-up and then dating someone right away.

Me: You also changed labels – I mean, a couple of years ago but was that a big change?

David: We were independent before and that’s been a big learning curve for sure but not in a restricting way because we maintain all creative control over what we do. Our label (Universal/Nettwerk) is…we are working on a new album and they have been responding to our new demos and giving us their opinions like, ‘This will be hard to work because of the radio and this will be easy because of this’. They are giving us a heads up but we never wanted to be in a position where someone is telling us what kind of music to make or how to make it. It was nice to have people advising us.

Spinal Trip with Hey Ocean!

Touring is a big part of being a band and through the years I’ve wondered how often bands get into situations that might not be the big adventurous and super cool anecdotes they love to talk about but venture more into Spinal Tap-moments of awkwardness. For this episode – which is the second episode of this series – I asked the jolly and very funny bunch Hey Ocean! who like to put meat on their face in the spare time and once got asked by a fan how their feet smell (more of that in a future post).

Ashleigh: We had a lot of drummers that exploded on stage. Johnny might actually spontaneously combust this evening.

David :That’s what Jonny’s gotta do tonight – Seppuku – ritual Samurai suicide.

Dave: We had four touring drummers and on all ten recordings we’ve ever done we had different drummers.

Me: What’s wrong with you? Are you bullying your drummers?

Ashleigh: We’re really mean to our drummers.

David: We just can’t play in time.

Ashleigh: No, we hadn’t met Johnny yet.

Go Go Berlin interview: My new live-band crush

This Danish outfit is one of the bands who sound good on an album but are absolutely mandatory in a live setting. Their debut “New Gold” (out in Denmark since a few years, release in Germany will be in April) is a mix of pop songs a la “Because of the times”-Kings of Leon, 60s rock with a big booty of funk and some awesome rock-monsters that promise to be epic on stage. It’s the kind of fun and diverse debut that hints at greatness and as hinted in the interview, they might go for the epic sounds on their sophomore which makes this little lady (points to self) very happy.

The band consists of five dudes, namely Christian (vocals, guitar), Mikkel (guitar), Anders (keys), Emil (bass and best hair of the band) and Christoffer on the drums. I met Christian and Mikkel for an interview after a Showcase-gig at the Gibson-showroom in Berlin which is a beautiful location with an awesome sound and tons of beautiful guitars – so yes, everyone did their obligatory ‘haha, imma gonna steal one of those’-jokes which the owners probably hear every single time anyone enters the room.

The gig itself was a lot of fun and there was a magical moment of geek-pride when the band covered a little “Speeddance” from fellow Danish live-wizards Reptile Youth which is the kind of camaraderie I love.

go go berlin m&m

They got their own M&Ms for that show! Usually, I am not a fan of weird/expensive Showcase-extras but this was just too weird to not be considered awesome.

As I hadn’t heard the full album before and only listened to roughly a dozen youtube-clips of acoustic and live-sets, I wasn’t prepared for the insane stage presence this band has and that is one of the reasons why they hopefully make it really big. They are already kind of a big deal in Denmark and will tour heavily throughout Europe and the rest of the world this year. Although their sound is very radio-friendly (lots of material for a club-night and sing-alongs), their technical skills are top notch and they use them accordingly.

I am saying that because sometimes bands with radio friendly material tend to backtrack a little on their musical skills and make the instrumentals a little too simplistic. But because this band has been to the old school of rock, they add psychedelic moments on songs like “California Mind” (not surprisingly one of my absolute favourites), there’s a cheeky little nod to the dawn of metal in “On the run” and a butt load of early 70s goodness all over the album. It’s a stylistic firework that elevates their songs in a live setting because there they add guitar soli – that never overstay their welcome – and have their secret weapon in full force: Christian Vium.

As much as I like those introverted weirdos on stage, I fully appreciate stage presence when I see it and Go Go Berlin have it in heaps. Christian has some swagger like ye olden Gods of Rock’n Roll and I assume that the weird comparisons to Led Zep they occasionally get (which don’t work for their debut) come from his sassy hip-action that reminds a little of Robert Plant.

Oh, and even though I compared him with Caleb Followill in the interview, upon hearing “California Mind” over and over again, I had this weird sense of 70s Tina Turner because the way Christian uses his voice is very Rock’n’Roll with a lot of funk aesthetics mixed in in quite a few of the songs. And given the way that Tina rocked the house in the 70s, this is nothing but high praise.

His interactions with the audience are also witty, charming and even made me clap along (which is something I usually don’t do) – look, it might not appear to be as important as the musical style and skill-set but if you look at the great classic rock bands, most of them had it and believe me, THAT was a huge part why their music was able to reach such a wide audience over the years.

Plus: Look at them, they are all gorgeous. Scandinavian beauty strikes again

The Interview:

Christian: Want me to hold the recorder?

Me: I can hold it.

Mikkel: You learned that the last interview that you don’t hold it, it’s always the interviewer.

Me: I have to be in control.

Christian: That’s what the last one said.

Me: I actually wanted to start with a different question but you played one new song from the upcoming album that – I think will be out in Denmark by the end of the year?

Mikkel: We will start recording it by the end of the year.

Christian: There’s no schedule yet. It’s just that we haven’t been playing live in December and January and so we’ve been just writing songs. We’ve been in a songwriting-state-of-mind.

Mikkel: We know that the next year will be touring, touring and touring, so every time we get a hint of a break we have to write songs for the new album, every time we get a chance because otherwise the label will just come knocking and say ‘You have got to record’ and you just have nothing.

Christian: And also we’re very energetic guys as you’ve probably saw, so there’s no point in sitting still, you’ve gotta use it.

Me: So you don’t write when you’re on tour?

Christian: I want to have things separated because there is too much stuff in your head.

Mikkel: It’s because there are very different states of mind. There are two kinds of creative processes. The songwriting is kind of – you have to look inwards when you’re writing a song and when you’re playing a song for people you have to make it out otherwise you’re going to be one of the indie bands that stand around, looking down and go: ‘uuuuh’ (makes zombie-noise).

Me: I loved the song because it had a certain “Kashmir”-Led Zep-vibe to it.

Christian: There are a lot of people in Denmark that have been saying that we remind them of Led Zeppelin on this album and we can’t really see it but now we gave them something.

Me: So, are the other songs also going into that direction or not? Because you’re very diverse already on this album.

Mikkel: I think it’s coming more together this time because this album was three years of songs and we had some we just wrote just before the recording and we recorded some we had from the very beginning so that’s why it’s very diverse. It’s from a lot of different states of mind. But now it’s not gonna take three years till we record another album it’s gonna be more similar.

Christian: The first album was a lot of writing in the rehearsal space with all five people in a room together. This time, it’s a lot of personal ideas and some stuff that I’ve only made or Mikkel and I made or Christoffer the drummer, he is also starting to write songs. There is an individuality at the beginning and then we start to Go Go-lize it. Now there is more thought behind it.

Mikkel: The first album is more live, like playing live concerts. Like “A Hard Day’s Night” from the Beatles where they were going into the studio and they played the song as they are and we want to explore and use the studio more because we didn’t know how to use it the first time. But there’s nothing bad about this record. There is just a really good live vibe about it and an organic sound.

Instant good mood with this song.

Me: The first time around you had this bunch of songs and you knew they were working live and you could just pick the best ones out and now you don’t have that much time and it has to be great and concise – is that scary?

Christian: At first I thought it was really scary, when we had our last show on the 5th of December, I thought ‘Ok, now I have a month and a half to write’ and sit down with a pen and go: Now write! But now we have this song and three more that we are going to play live on our tour in Denmark and I am really happy about those songs. And we will try them out and play some new songs in spring on the tour and see how people react. And then you can see what doesn’t work. Now we have written some songs and test them. I am quite confident.

Mikkel: Our pace in writing songs is faster now. Suddenly, we just write more because if you are playing in a rehearsal studio with five people and no ideas that means that you make a song one out of ten times but when you write at home and bring it to the other guys, then you can make four songs in a day.

Christian: It’s also cool because when you’re in the rehearsal room and you get an idea but the train of sound is just continuing, it is really difficult to shout ‘Everybody make a left turn’ If you’re songwriting, you can be the tour guide. I also found out that it’s a great idea not to write the whole song but do a verse, an intro, maybe a chorus and don’t stick to it and see how the guys work with it.

Mikkel: And that’s a very different approach to what we used to do. It doesn’t mean that the old one was wrong it’s just perfect for the place where you are and we’re still playing these songs live as we move on with the new songs and it’s a great feeling in that sense that we have these more naive songs and it’s a nice side to get out.

Me: So, are the newer songs the kind of songs that are more epic and go out into those guitar solos?

Christian: The pop songs like ‘Raise your head’… we have those two parts in the album. Like ‘California mind’ is more complex, there’s an A to B. That is also something we came up with when we were in the studio and that is quite a great example of where we are heading because there are a lot of songs that have been written years ago like ‘Raise your head’…

Mikkel: …one of the first.

By the way, that’s the song where hips start to shake…

Christian: Yeah, ‘Waste of Trying’ as well and then there are more complex songs, it’s more thought through and that’s something like ‘California Mind’ that creates a picture.

Mikkel: But we also wanted to combine different sounds on this album, the old and the new ones. We wanted to make an album and not just twelve singles. That was the glue that was meant to bind the together: The chorus – if you can call it – comes out three times in the album, the start, the middle and the ending.

Me: I listened to a couple of songs from a few years ago and your voice sounds so much different back then. Did you work on that consciously?

Christian: I don’t know.

Mikkel: I can tell you! I’ve been following your voice intensely through recordings and different stuff. It’s just that slowly through these years – I sound so old when I say that – through these three years it slowly just developed. It’s like hearing Aerosmith when they started and then in the 80s, it evolved so much and I think it comes from singing.

Christian: I never had the training but you always learn something when you do it a lot and that’s what happened. In the beginning I didn’t want to be the front singer but now I am really comfortable singing and I enjoy throwing away the guitar and singing (editor’s note: he doesn’t throw the guitar, he gently hands it to the roadie, just for your information, no guitars were harmed during their show). And that is one of the developments. I am more secure and I gained a lot of power. And you find some more technique and style by listening to yourself. I don’t do it intentionally but you get to know your voice and you want to do different things with it.

Mikkel: You learn by doing. We did a lot of wrong things and a lot of right things and you talk about it after the show if it didn’t work or try something different but probably with your singing that’s in your own head and we don’t really talk about it, it’s maybe unintentionally that – if something doesn’t work – you change it unintentionally.

Christian: Also, with ‘Raise your head’, we’ve been recording it three or four times in the past two years but the first time, the verses were so much more of a pop-song and then by listening to it and recording it, I was changing the approach to it and made it more rough or soft and by changing that, that also developed me as a singer because I found a sound.

Me: I asked because upon first hearing it, your voice sounds a little like Caleb Followill from the Kings of Leon.

Christian: He is the best singer.

Me: But I think that your voice changed a lot more in the amount of years than his did and even though you sound a little alike, you use the voice differently.

Mikkel: It’s also why we in the band are so confident in this because we feel like we have something that the scene is missing and that is a male singer with a personal voice and I can say that.

Christian: Thanks man!