Category Archives: indie

Chubby Knuckle Choir sizzles at Reunion Grille as (temporary) trio

IMG_20130608_203847_692I saw a really good concert the other night from my favorite local discovery, The Chubby Knuckle Choir. They played in Cedar Park at a place called Reunion Grille. It was a nice, open air venue, with little kids running around. This time it was a trio, with Rory Smith on percussion and vocals, Tres Womack on guitar and vocals and Dave Gould on stand up bass. Singer/percussionist Perry Lowe and singer/stringed instruments of various kinds player Slim Bawb couldn’t make the gig, which was scheduled on short notice.

As always, they were great live, although they were performing in the trio configuration for the first time. It was good music and they kept it fun. This time they were also promoting their self-titled debut CD. Go see them live and get yours there if you get a chance. If you can’t, you can get it at CD Baby.com.

I had a nice visit with the band during the break. Interesting to hear them talk about their musical influences. Rory surprised me with his knowledge of classic rock groups — the same ones I listened to when I was a teenager. Dave Gould surprised me by saying he once saw demented carnivalesque Attic Ted perform, one of the weirdest acts in the Austin area and one of my faves.

The band has been playing a lot of gigs in New Braunfels lately, making an impression on the out-of-state tourist crowd. They’re still playing there a lot this summer, with more of a Texas crowd.

Catch the Chubby Knuckle Choir live if you can. You can hear some of their music and see their upcoming schedule on their Reverbnation page.

Upcoming shows include:

July 19 – Oma Gruene’s Secret Garden in New Braunfels at 2:30 p.m.

July 21 – Gruene Hall in New Braunfels at 5 p.m.

July 27 – Reunion Grille in Cedar Park at 8 p.m.

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Filed under indie, indie rock, live show, music

Wknd to release The Venopian Solitude single June 7

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Just got an awesome update about a unique artist I wrote about a while back: The Venopian Solitude, stage name for a young woman from Malaysia with a great voice and even better tunes and lyrics.

The Wknd, a Malaysian magazine that promotes indie music, held a contest and put out a call for demos and The Venopian Solitude won. She is the first ever recipient of the Wknd Recording Fund. The fund will get her a professionally produced single, which Wknd will market and make available for sale through their website.

Wknd writer Faiz Fadzil commented in my “about” section, “We’ve finished recording her first single. It will be launched on Friday 7th June 2013. We’ll be announcing the Soundcloud links to her tracks on that day as well.”

Congratulations to a very talented and deserving musician. I’m proud to have had a chance to find her early and see her mature as an artist.

Check out my blog post about her from 2010: The Venopian Solitude – unique voice from the global village

Edit:

Here’s the link if you want to check it out http://the-wknd.com/music/new-music/the-venopian-solitude-warkah-narcissus/

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Filed under experimental, folk, indie, music, one to watch

Digititalis – just what the doctor ordered for chilled out listening-while-working music

digitalis logo

Yesterday as I struggled to find some music to listen to that would help me get through my busy work day, I kept thinking about Robyn Hitchcock’s crazy story on Storefront Hitchcock where he’s in a lobby (and a hotel on top of it as well) with a hangover and asks the person at the desk if they can turn the Muzak down. “We can’t,” they tell him. “Why not?””Because it’s pleasing.”

Generally if I’m going to play music while I’m working, I need something mellow. Too mellow and it will just bore me and piss me off. Like Hitchcock says, there’s such a thing as “annoyingly comfortable.”

Finally I hit on something that was just what the doctor ordered: a SomaFM channel called Digitalis. It was playing music that I would place in the shoegaze category – chillwave, dream pop, glitch, etc. According to the website, the music is “Digitally-affected analog rock; laptop rock; screengaze: these are some of the names that people give this new style of indie rock that’s all about the shift of the recording studio into the laptop.”

It was just right. Not so attention grabbing that I got distracted, but not boring. I streamed it through my cellphone via Shoutcast and was able to move around the office and get a lot of work done.

In the process, I discovered several acts that I would like to hear more from:

Soley – reminds me a little of Bjork, and Lacrymosa.

Inu – really glitchy sounding stuff, melancholy vocals…

Ms John Soda – a really good indie band from Germany that I’m surprised I missed. Kind of Looper meets Ivy?

Styrofoam – really glitchy, kinda funky, a bit of  a New Order vibe…

And while I’m at it, let me recommend SomaFM as a whole. They’ve got a lot of interesting channels worth checking out. Played Groove Salad for a while and liked it.

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Filed under indie, music, shoegaze, trip hop, Uncategorized

Dandy Warhols rock Emo’s Austin

Last week I finally got a chance to see the Dandy Warhols, one of my all-time favorite bands. Avant garde yet catchy, nice and psychedelic. I saw them at Emo’s in Austin in the company of some good friends.

One of my friends referred to them as the coolest-looking band on the planet, and he could be right. They don’t do a lot of jumping around on stage, they just look really cool. As cool as they sound. I sort of get the impression of lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor as someone who’s been around and seen and done pretty much everything, kinda  sleazy, druggy and wise.

The Dandy Warhols are still on tour. Check here to see if they’re coming to a town near you.

Didn’t manage to get a decent photo with my cellphone, alas, but check out this video of my favorite Dandy Warhols song. They killed on this one.

 

They also had some really kickass songs that I hadn’t heard before, many from their new album, This Machine.

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Latest find – Austin singer-songwriter Shakey Graves (This guy’s gonna be huge)

Shakey Graves – an Austin musician with a big future, mark my words.

Every now and then I make a music discovery that is so good and so unexpected it stops me right in my tracks. Last night I was playing the free downloads from the Eye in the Sky Collective and I suddenly heard a song I never heard before that sounded like it might have been around forever – a sure sign of talent and inspiration. “Built to Roam” by Shakey Graves. Just a perfect, perfect song.

And after a bit of digging I got more shocks: Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia, is from Austin and has been featured by the Austin Chronicle and on KUT – by other people who were affected the same way by his music. I could have seen him live at South By Southwest if I had known. I will definitely be on the lookout for new chances to see him play.

Furthermore, I listened to his album, Roll the Bones on Bandcamp all the way through, and loved every song. His style is a blend of classic blues, alt country and folk music. Mainly just great songwriting. The picking in some of his songs make me think of blues legends like Bukka White. The songs are available on a “pay what you want” basis. Give it a listen and see if you don’t think it’s worth paying for. We need to keep this man in business. He’s brilliant.

Here is his Tumblr page, which includes dates for upcoming performances. If you’re in the Austin area, you can see him at the Hole in the Wall on Thursday, March 29 and at the White Horse on Saturday, March 31.

Shakey Graves will be performing at the Kohoutek music festival in Claremont CA on April 28 and is looking for other venues in the West – New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, etc. (E-mail him at shakey.graves@gmail.com if you have any ideas.)

“Like” him on Facebook to find out more.

And check out this video I just found, wherein he tells how he got his stage name and plays a really good song:

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Filed under alt-country, blues, country, folk, indie, music, one to watch, Uncategorized

SXSW 2012 final wrap-up

Finally got some free time to finish talking about the rest of my South By Southwest experience… Lots more interesting music on Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17.

Friday, March 18 finds

On Friday I went to the free Eye in the Sky Collective party at Shiner’s Bar at 5th and Congress. I only saw one band there, but it turned out to be pretty impressive. Sorne performed these tribal anthems that really got folks excited. The singer had a high, powerful voice. There were two percussionists in the group. For one song, he got the audience to divide into groups of “Vulcans” vs. “Romulans” and get them to perform a chorus. Sounded pretty cool.

Here’s an example of what they sound like (It’s the song with the Vulcans and Romulans in fact):

By the way, the Eye in the Sky Collective bears looking into. It’s an organization working to establish a new business model that works for both fans and artists. Just off hand, it makes me think of John Pointer’s Patronism. If you give them your e-mail address you can get 28 free tracks. Sounds worth it to me…

After listening to Sorne, I had an inexplicable feeling that I should leave the bar and go wandering outside to see what I could see. (The fact that I had no bars on my cellphone inside Shiner’s may have had something to do with it.) It was a good decision, because I saw the coolest act, playing on the street. Gouda Music – a group featuring Ghanaian xylophone player  Kwame Kponyo Wadada. Apparently there are different lineups, but on this night he was accompanied by a cajon drummer and another guy playing a kind of rasp. They were busking at the corner of 6th and Trinity and had drawn quite a crowd.

Here’s a video I made with my cellphone:

I love surprises like that. It’s part of what I like best about SXSW. There was another world music group on the street Saturday night, playing some kind of Caribbean music, but I didn’t get to stick around and wasn’t able to find out more. If anyone got to see more of them and knows their name, let me know.

Saturday, March 18

We started the day at a free party at The Belmont (305 W. 6th), sponsored by an app called Tabbed Out (you got a better place in line if you had it on your phone – lots of us were downloading it while standing in line. Mine didn’t download all the way, but they let me in nevertheless.)

Best bands I heard there were Bright Light Social Hour and Cuckoo Chaos.

Austin-based Bright Light Social Hour was quite like a throwback to the best music of the ’70s, doing hard rock, funk, and even throwing in some disco. A few times I was reminded of Grand Funk Railroad. Just one of those powerful, balls to the wall rock groups like I grew up with.

Next was a group called Kids These Days from Chicago. They are kind of a jazz-hip hop group, quite young. At first I wasn’t feeling it, but finally they got into a groove and I started digging their sound. They did a song kind of mock-fighting with the crowd, “Shut the Fuck Up,” and put their young female keyboard player on lead vocal for a really kickass blues song. They’re young, but I think they could be going places…

Cuckoo Chaos

Next up was Cuckoo Chaos from San Diego. I actually discovered them while playing a mix on the MySpace music player (might have to give MySpace a second look – they found me some seriously good tunes) and was looking forward to them. They do a kind of African-influenced pop-rock in the same vein as Vampire Weekend. I liked their sound and their tunes. The guitar player had a way of producing harmonics from feedback that reminded me a bit of Gang of Four. Definitely a band to check out further.

Not only did we get to hear free music at The Belmont, we had plenty of free alcohol. I could’ve stayed there all day, but we had another party we wanted to get into later. This was quite a party though. It looked like the party your parents were always afraid you were gonna have whenever they went out of town. Lots of drinking and dancing. And I might as well throw in my bathroom story. By late afternoon, the men’s bathroom looked like it had been hit by a very unsanitary tornado. I went in and there was a very drunk guy standing there with a roll of paper towels, going, “woo, woo,” just swinging it around. He comes up to me and goes, “You think I should get that guy?” pointing to someone taking a leak at a urinal. I said, “That would be totally up to you.” So he went up and wrapped paper towels around the guy’s face. The guy turned around and said “what the fuck?” and drunk guy threw the roll of towels onto the wet floor and left. I decided to use the stall so no one could sneak up on me. I sure feel sorry for the janitor…

Sometimes it’s good to let someone drag you into a place you wouldn’t have gone otherwise, and sometimes it’s good to throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.

To my surprise, one of the biggest highlights of the evening on March 18 was the Thre3Style show, a free event sponsored by Red Bull including major acts Erykah Badu, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Crystal Method. It turned out to be mainly DJ music and a lot of hip hop. Not something I would’ve expected to enjoy. But enjoy it I did. I decided to give in and get down. It was a hugely popular event – at one point, security guards had to keep people who didn’t get in from pushing the fence down. (The only real downside to the event was actually the Red Bull itself – I hate energy drinks and the only alcoholic beverage choices were Red Bull & Deep Eddy vodka or beer. Also not a huge beer drinker.)

I enjoyed Erykah Badu and The Crystal Method. (I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Vegas.) I also enjoyed the DJ sets more than I would’ve expected, especially a DJ who called himself Big Once, Dan the Automator, who at one point was accompanied by an excellent singer (and I believe actress as well) named Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Badu did an interesting set, accompanied by a host of producers who refer to themselves as the Cannibinoids. The music was a kind of techno-hip hop, with a lot of rich visuals on the LCD screens. Psychedelia was a major theme, and everyone including Badu had names that sounded like names of illegal substances. The highly rebellious theme, along with the trippy visuals, made me think of cyberpunk. Points to Badu for doing something unique, but frankly I enjoyed it better toward the end of the set, when she performed some of her old songs from the ’90s.

In between sets, there was plenty of music to keep people dancing, a beach ball for people to toss around, and at one point, giant eyeballs. It took a while for me to realize there were cameras in them, flashing views of the crowd on the LCD screen. I only managed to graze a ball once, never got a good solid whack on it, but it was fun trying. There was also enough pot smoke in the crowd to nearly give me a contact high. A community joint came through my part of the crowd in fact – I let it pass me by, but still, thanks to whatever generous person it originated with.

We later went down to check out the madhouse that is 6th Street at the height of SXSW. It’s just barely controlled chaos. They close off the street, which fills completely full of people, desperately trying to cram in as much party as possible before everything ends. From the rooftops were laser beams, some of which fanned out and had smoke billowing through them, making interesting patterns. It’s crazy, all those people crammed together, but kind of an impressive sight.

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Filed under funk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, live show, music, one to watch, psych

State Shirt embraces digital world – you can steal his tunes but you’ll probably pay up


I just completed an interview Ethan Tufts, an LA-based musician who goes by the moniker State Shirt. He had some interesting things to say about his music and his career strategy.

I love his songs, often melancholy and sometimes very catchy. I’m a sucker for effects like loops and reverb and he makes great use of those. Any time I make a playlist of “atmospheric” songs, several of his invariably wind up on it, alongside My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive. He was one of my first discoveries when I frequented TheSixtyOne a couple of years ago. (He was also one of the ones, like me, who got the angriest when they killed the social part of the site and cut off artist-fan communications.)

His latest album, Let’s Get Bloody, would’ve been a good candidate for my best of 2011 list if I’d found it in time. It has some great songs. “Disappointed,” “Let’s Get Bloody,” “Suffer Someday” and “Crush” are particular favorites.

He also has some interesting, forward-thinking attitudes toward the music industry. In an age when media companies appear to be in a frenzy to stamp out piracy and other indie musicians are struggling to find ways to make money from their music, he actually has a “steal all” button on his website, as well as an option to pay. (I “stole” the mp3s and bought the CD.) He also encourages other artists to make remixes of his songs. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, he likes to race cars.

I’ve read that your stage name comes from your hobby of collecting and wearing state promotional shirts from around the country. Do you have a shirt from all 50 states yet?

Not yet. I’ve set some arbitrary rules for my dumb state shirt collection. I really only like state shirts that feature nature scenes or animals. And they can’t have the name of a city or a landmark. It needs to be a true state shirt. So I’m missing quite a few. I’ll be be sure to scour the bargain racks at all of the dirty truck stops on my next tour.

You were popular on TheSixtyOne back when I was active on the site – before the redesign that removed most of the social media aspects. You were also among the most militant critics of the change. You gave them the finger in a profile pic and wrote a protest song. What’s your perspective on that site, two years later?

Well I didn’t exactly give anyone the finger. I was more really just baffled by their marketing decisions and how they were okay with upsetting so many people. It’s not often that you see a company that has a product that people really like just completely disregard and abandon their entire user base. Looking back I’m actually a little embarrassed that I got so mad about it. Though I am really glad I wrote the song “61 Ways” because of it—it’s become sort of a multi-purpose protest / break-up song.

In other interviews, you’ve named some rather aggressive bands as influences – Fugazi, Helmet, Drive Like Jehu, hardcore punk, etc. I’m hearing a bit of Depeche Mode, maybe some shoegaze acts like Slowdive, maybe a bit of Red House Painters. How did those hardcore influences get transformed into the atmospheric pop you’re creating now?

I really have no idea. I listen to a pretty wide variety of music, and on occasion will get into the heavy and more aggressive stuff. I’ll even record some hardcore-ish tracks from time to time, but it rarely sees the light of day. For years I’ve been threatening to record a cover of every song on Helmet’s Meantime but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe next year.

Part of it may be that my songwriting process is so odd and random that I never know how one of my songs is going to sound until it’s finished.

What music inspires you today?

I’m totally in love with the band Subtle. It’s not that often that something so unique comes along. I’m so surprised that not more people have heard of them. They’re incredible. I’ve also been kind of reverting back to stuff I listened to back in the 90s. Lots of Sebadoh. Funny story, for about a year I actually lived two houses down from Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh when we were both kids. He was several years older than me and stole my Big Wheel tricycle. But I got over it and listen to Sebadoh way too much.

I’ve also been getting inspired by many of the undiscovered and semi-discovered artists on YouTube. Amongst the glut of terrible ukulele songs there are some incredibly raw and emotional performances.

I hear a lot of pathos in your songs. How autobiographical are they? Are they just an outlet for you, a kind of catharsis?

I had a pretty normal childhood. A pretty normal life too, actually. Never was addicted to heroin. Didn’t live on a commune. Wasn’t molested. Not an alcoholic. Most of my friends would probably describe me as pretty easy going, and even positive. But I’ve always struggled with an obscene fascination and preoccupation with death and dying. There has always been this underlying, unillumated hopelessness that I’ve never been able to escape, and that I’m pretty good at hiding. It makes its way into most everything I write. It’s not rational. And I feel like if I ever were to seek professional help, I would be diagnosed as clinically, undoubtedly normal. But that never gets rid of the underlying desire to crash into the center divider just to see what it feels like to die.

I think it’s interesting that you seem to zig when the music industry zags. The industry is putting a lot of political muscle into stamping out piracy. You on the other hand, have a “steal this album” option on your website. How is that working? Do enough people pay to make up for all the “stealing”?

Piracy is like gravity. It’s always going to exist, no matter what laws are in place to stop it. Musicians have been incredibly lucky over the last many years to have had formats where you can affix music to a tangible object. Now that music is virtual, piracy is so easy it’s essentially unstoppable. And I don’t care. I’ve decided to stop fighting gravity. Piracy is awareness. I don’t want to make money selling plastic discs.

In terms of supporting my career, I’ve focused my attention on licensing. Many of my songs are licensed for television, film, and commercials. I’d rather work on partnerships with filmmakers and companies that I respect, which will subsidize my music for my fans. Though I will say I’ve been very lucky that many of my fans buy my music. I don’t really know how many people steal it, but enough people pay for it to allow me to continue to be able to make music.

What do you think the future holds for musicians on the Internet?

It’s the same game that it’s always been—to make a living making music—but now the barriers to entry are gone. The lack of barriers doesn’t mean it’s any easier than it was back in the record label days. It just means the rules are different and the gatekeepers are different. There are no templates or formulas for success.

Musicians are finally becoming part-time marketers. But I hope that the marketing side doesn’t overtake the music side. Like the constant attempts to capitalize on viral trends as a method to gain awareness. There are only so many YouTube parodies that you can listen to. I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy for your art. I’m guilty of this as well, I once made a remix song out of the Slap Chop commercial. I hope it becomes more about creating new, innovative and mind-blowing art rather than crap where the marketing is more important than the music. It is a fine balance though. If you don’t market your music, no-one is going to hear it.

Which do you think is more of a threat to musicians, piracy, or bills like SOPA or PIPA? (And now the treaty being pushed by the industry, ACTA.)

I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask. I want people to pirate my music. I encourage it. I don’t give a shit if anyone pays me for an mp3. I want music licensing and carefully chosen partnerships to subsidize my music so I can give it to my fans for free.
 
I understand you’re into racing. What do you race and have you won any trophies?

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to get into such a ridiculous and insanely fun hobby. I race something called a Spec Miata—it’s basically a near-stock Mazda Miata that has been converted for road racing. I’m an incredibly average race car driver, though I did somehow manage to finish on the podium four times. If you’re in Southern California, drop by one of our road courses out in the desert. You can usually find me towards the back of the field, trying to keep from wrecking.

Where can people hear your music? Do you make it available to streaming sites like Pandora or Spotify? I understand some indie artists have decided they don’t get a fair shake with those services.

All of my music can be downloaded for free on my website, stateshirt.com. It’s also available on iTunes and most music sites, including Pandora and Spotify. The payout through those sites is tiny, even with a decent number of plays and downloads. Though it doesn’t bother me at all. Services like Pandora and Spotify are the new radio. I view them as a source of exposure and awareness, not cash money.

This is one of my favorite songs off the new album:

And here is a live loop performance of the title track:

Ethan makes frequent use of Twitter: twitter.com/#!/stateshirt
You can also find him on Facebook: facebook.com/stateshirt
And check out the official State Shirt website: stateshirt.com

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Filed under electro-pop, indie, indie pop, indie rock, interview, music, Uncategorized