Tag Archives: T61

Passive Promotion on ‘pay what you want’ pricing

It was interesting to read Brian Hazard’s post on his Passive Promotion blog about “pay what you want pricing” just as I started editing my interview with Ethan Tufts aka State Shirt.

Brian (also a big favorite in the old T61 site, who makes music under the name Color Theory), has decided that the strategy isn’t effective as it puts some fans in an ethical dilemma that they often resolve by not buying the album at all.

State Shirt has a “pay what you want” option for all his albums ($10 suggested, $5 minimum) as well as a “steal all” option. Interesting juxtaposition, but in a way they are actually very much in agreement. Brian has very much embraced the digital world and is more interested in what works for musicians today than in what worked for them years ago.

And by the way, I am a big fan of Passive Promotion, which is geared toward indie artists trying to find their way. He has some great advice. If you’re a musician and haven’t found his blog yet, I would highly recommend it – he’s in my blogroll for a very good reason. I also like Color Theory quite a bit. Very catchy songs. Check out the Color Theory Bandcamp page. 

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, Uncategorized

Pure art: Joanne Gabriel and the true meaning of success

When I think of pure art for art’s sake, one of the first people I think of is a young woman from France named Joanne Gabriel. I met her in the good old days of TheSixtyOne when fans and artists could actually get to know one another and become friends.

She is extraordinarily prolific. Some of what she produces are songs in the traditional sense. Others I would describe as flowing ambient soundscapes, full of texture, the kind of music that makes you feel and dream.

Many of her songs feature wordless vocals and she has a lovely voice. She isn’t trying to get famous, she’s just doing what feels right to her. She isn’t afraid to experiment and just play what comes naturally.

Joanne also puts out music under the name Caterwauler and makes “catcore” music featuring her cat Mojo. Mojo sounds scary and makes my little flowerdog growl 😉

I recently interviewed Joanne and learned some interesting things about her craft — and other things, like what a “belly name” is.

She has a ton of songs and albums available for free on Bandcamp. This is a good one, featuring a couple of my favorites — “So Be It” and “The Other Side.”

Artistic schizophrenia? 

MusicMissionary: Why do you release some songs as Joanne Gabriel and some songs as Caterwauler? Are you joined by other musicians as Caterwauler or is it for aesthetic reasons?

Joanne Gabriel: Artistic schizophrenia? For me the answer is not as simple as you could think. I took the artist name Joanne Gabriel when I started playing solo gigs. I felt I needed an artist name to help me playing the role of the-best-of-myself on stage, because I was shy and not very self-confident. Gabriel was my “belly name” : a kind of tradition in my family was to give the babies a name they would keep throughout the pregnancy time, until they were born and got their real name.

Everyone thought I was a boy, they called me Gabriel, teased me with this story when I was a kid, and I took the name back when I was older. Then I wrote my first songs and played them live. Soon the audience started to consistently make comparisons, and it was daunting. For instance they screamed “Hallelujah” for the curtain call. I’ve always found Jeff Buckley very impressive. They also called me Archangel Gabriel.

It was quite embarrassing and someday I felt I couldn’t take the responsibility for this comparison anymore and changed my name for Caterwauler. I also refocused on the kind of indie stuff I was performing in band before discovering improvisation. So maybe changing names increased my artistic schizophrenia. I was looking for my style and didn’t know how to handle the disparity of my tastes in my own music.

I guess at some point I was confused enough to split my songs into two categories as if I had two distinct styles or musical personalities. It took me some time to realize my work was a whole and that this way of doing things reflected deeper things than the will of splitting experimental and indie stuff into two different projects. It was all about self-confidence, accepting myself as an artist and accepting how people perceived me.

I took my Joanne Gabriel name back in 2009, released some of the many songs I had kept for myself until then on TheSixtyOne.com, and the feedback and support I got there helped me a lot to cure my schizophrenia. I even realized my experimental stuff tended to be more successful than the songs I was proud of/satisfied with…

So at the moment I think I’m done with the Caterwauler project, but who knows… I like aliases anyway, and borrowing names to attempt things I wouldn’t do otherwise.

MM: Are you joined by other musicians as Caterwauler or is it for aesthetic reasons?

JG: No, I’ve stopped working with other musicians (meaning as a band or on a regular basis) when my 7th drummer left the band some years ago.

Well, that’s not exactly how it happened but I was really bored of spending months working on a project then having to start from scratch again because one of the musicians left. So I decided to become self-sufficient, bought crap e-drums, and started recording my stuff on my own while pretending my skills on all instruments were high enough to do so. No aesthetic reasons, but with time I got to like this way of working, at least this avoids incomprehension and conflicts.

MM: I gather that at least at first, you did sort of use the two names Joanne Gabriel and Caterwauler to separate your music by style. My impression from a sampling your offerings on Bandcamp is that your Gabriel material is a bit more experimental and your Caterwauler stuff has more traditional song structures. Is that accurate?

JG: Yes, at least for the stuff I’ve released. The categorization is much less coherent in my private folders on my computer. Sometimes I had issues deciding what project a track belonged to, and in the end it happened more and more frequently. I’ve even released some of my tracks under one name then changed my mind later and put the song into an album released under the other name.

For instance “Opening all gates” was first released as a Caterwauler song. That’s why the video my friend Viktor Alexis made for it is still tagged Caterwauler, though the song is featured in a Joanne Gabriel album. It’s a quite experimental track. And I have tons of tracks I’ve never released that don’t clearly belong to a category.

All the Introspection albums for example : they are raw compositions, written like a diary or photographs of my everyday life, and I never meant to release them. So I don’t even know in what folder I should put them. There are 7 Introspection albums : sounds, structures and level of experimentation correspond to the mood I was in when I wrote the songs. Some album sessions lasted a few days or a few weeks, others a few months.

Most of the tracks I’ve released online belonged to a session before being gathered in an album. “Excerpts from the lost opuses” is a collection of the most successfully completed tracks of 7 or 8 sessions. The only albums that are the result of a dedicated session are “Almighty” and “The battle for the return of mirth and goodness” (the latter one has never been released).

Lately I’ve realized I tended to categorize my stuff not according to the structures or the genres but rather to the emotions. Some tracks, like “Won’t anyone save me” had a “Caterwauler structure” but a “Joanne Gabriel emotion.” Soon it became impossible to keep this logic when I put together an album. Now I almost always work according to themes or topics.

When a theme inspires me, I create a folder on my computer, give it a name that will become the title of the album, and when a track suits the theme in terms of emotion I put it in the folder. This way, I can open several sessions at the same time and work on several themes. It’s much more convenient and less confusing than releasing stuff under two names.

Here’s one from her alter-ego Caterwauler — there are quite a few of those as well:

Music: the language of emotion

MM: A lot of your music I would classify as “dark” as well as quite lovely. Does your music provide a kind of catharsis for those feelings? (It’s interesting because you come across as very cheerful in conversation.)

JG: Thanks. For me, making music and writing songs is a compulsive thing. There is a catharsis, but most times it’s not the purpose. The purpose is the feelings, the emotions. They’re like a second language, a universal language. Emotions and feelings are the same all over the world. Sound is a perfect vehicle for emotions.

To play their role as a language, touch the listeners and deliver their message, emotions have to be fully rendered. Therefore they have to be fully (and genuinely) felt. I’ve learnt not to conceal my feelings while performing music : on the contrary, I use them. In a way, music is the frame and emotions are the colours.

The wider the emotional range is, the more heartfelt the music is, the more chances you have to make contact with a listener. It happens when someone identifies something he has felt himself someday, or when the emotion is compelling enough to echo in someone’s heart. Transmitter to receiver ; you just have to be tuned on the same frequency.

Feeling low or depressed doesn’t prevent me from being inspired, and as lack of inspiration is the only thing that stops my compulsive writing, my tracks reflect my feelings. On a few occasions I’ve deliberately rekindled some dark feelings to arouse catharsis. Also, in order to be more convincing when writing with directions given by a collaborator, or for a film soundtrack.

I’ve sought catharsis with songs about nightmares and agoraphobia. But mostly, my tracks seize the moment.

Musical influences 

MM: Who are some of your biggest influences musically?

JG: Influences, hehe. I like that you specify “musically” There are tons of artists who influence me, and the way they influence me and the impact they have vary. I have “phases.”

To name a few I never grow tired of : Jeff Buckley, who’s been very important for the shaping of my vocal approach and also for my solo performances in gigs. Sunny Day Real Estate, Trail Of Dead, The Waterboys, Swervedriver, NIN, The Dead Can Dance, early Genesis, Simple Minds until “Street Fighting Years”…

Howard Shore’s soundtrack for The Lord Of The Rings also played a big role, and I regularly listen to U2 and Fear Factory. Otherwise I’m fond of gospel and negro spiritual, and Schubert’s Ave Maria always moves me.

These are the biggest ones but many unknown musicians and friends also deserve to be called influences at some point.

The true meaning of ‘success’

MM: Do you hope to someday earn a living from music so that you don’t have to have a day job?

JG: No

MM: What sort of success have you had getting your music out to the public?

JG: have no clue what sort of success I’ve had. I’m not even sure how to define success. Once I was playing a gig and there was this punk guy, pretty drunk and laughing all the time. It was an open-air concert, in the street, and it was probably the only reason that made him stay.

I started a song, and suddenly he stopped, began listening, and moved closer to the stage. His facial expression changed. The smile disappeared and I found myself looking him right in the eye. He was listening to my lyrics very carefully (he was probably the only native English speaker in the audience).

Then I could read “you’re crazy” on his lips while he was making the cuckoo sign. In this song I was addressing to all the persons I had loved in my life and who had died. Obviously it touched him more than he expected to. I finished my concert, talked with a few persons in the audience…

He was sitting on the floor and was crying. I left him alone (I had noticed he was drinking a lot during the concert and I guessed it added to his turmoil). But I saw him later, just before leaving.

He said : “Thank you, you’ve touched me. I’ve been moving from places to others for a very long time, I have no ties, but you made me feel like settling down. I was trying to escape but now I want to face the things that scare me. But I don’t know how to do it…”

I was really moved. I took his hand, and I told him : “Just do it, you’re strong enough to do it.” There was nothing else I could do or say. He was expecting this answer, he needed it, and at that moment I was the one who was supposed to deliver it. When I left he looked relieved.

I think that was the moment when I realized the importance of the messages an artist can send to his audience, and the responsibility he has. I never knew what happened to this guy after the gig but this encounter has left its mark on me.

When someone asks me a question about my “success,” the first things that come to my mind are this anecdote and a few others, like people coming to me after a performance, with tears in their eyes, saying “thank you” and vanishing in the crowd, or just hugging me.

I guess that’s what success is for me: being able to make contact with a listener so we understand each other and share something. Even if it seldom happens, with only a few persons, and lasts a very short time.

Soundtrack works

MM: I understand some of your music has been used in soundtracks?

JG: Yes. I first provided Viktor Alexis with songs he used in his films, then he introduced me to his friends Chicken Chris and Jean-David Izambard, and I worked with them. They are still regular collaborators : they “pay” me by making videos for my tracks from time to time. Most of the songs they featured were created before the films though.

So far the only soundtrack I specially wrote was for Chicken Chris’s short film Welt, a sci-fi fantasy tale. It was a great experience. I also recorded several tracks for Viktor Alexis’s adaptation of Le Horlà, but he kept only one for the actual soundtrack.

Lately, Annie Huntley featured a collaborative track with Softspace in videos aiming at increasing public awareness of endangered species, like the Orange-bellied parrots. Annie is studying a Masters of Natural History Film-Making, and she’s extremely committed to protecting wildlife in Australia. I’m delighted this could happen. Having my music featured in wildlife documentaries is an achievement, and the fact it’s endangered species means a lot to me.

Also, “Loin du regard” has been used in a very poignant short film by Will Sheridan, and Stéphane Piter asked me to cover Walking In The Air by Howard Blake for a fan project on Michael Mann’s film The Keep.

Studio vs. Live

MM: How often do you play live and how does your live music differ from what you produce in the studio?

JG: My last live performance was for a “Headphones Festival” in 2008. At the moment I don’t play live at all. When I was at my peak in term of frequency, I was playing live at least twice per month, at most four times. Regarding the difference between live music and what is produced in the studio, it totally depends on the kind of band or project I play in. I’ve played indie rock, punk, metal stuff with bands and it sounded pretty much like what was written in the first place.

But I’ve also performed a lot of solo gigs, and there was a large part of improvisation. So each time I played it was a different version of the produced songs. Most of the music I perform alone is improvisation based, even when I record. I change the patterns of my effects pedals all the time and never remind to note them down, so I never have exactly the same effects when I perform a song. And for some tracks, I don’t even define a structure before recording.

I already tended to record this way when I put together my very first tracks with a multitrack recorder. Later I attended an improvisation course in the Conservatoire of Nancy for one year, and it almost became a rule. If the improvisation fails and I’m not satisfied with the track, I simply put it aside and record another one. Now I’m digging a new way of performing live. I used to play with two looping pedals, build vocal and guitar loops in real time and play different versions of already existing songs or improvise new ones.

For the kind of stuff I’ve recorded lately, I would need more than two loopers and I still have to figure out how to bring in more instruments. I have to try a few things and see what I can handle.

FAWM = great way to kill writer’s block

MM: Could you tell me what FAWM is and why you participate in it? FAWM = February Album Writing Month. It’s a challenge where you have to write 14 songs in 28 days. The first time I participated was in 2008. It was only for the challenge.

I hadn’t recorded anything for a very long time and thought a deadline would help me. The same year I also participated in 50-90, 50 songs in 90 days. That’s a lot, but that’s what made me discover the concept of the “second wind”, which is the answer to the second part of your question.

To explain what I mean I will simply quote a blog post I’ve made after last FAWM:

“The second wind is one of the most pleasant and awesome things I’ve experienced throughout my creative course.I would take part in this kind of challenges only to get the second wind. Many musicians are skeptical about the validity of events like FAWM where you have to force creativity and, on top of that, have a deadline.

“For my part I love the process, because you have to let loose. When I start a FAWM my aim is not to write 14 good songs ; it’s to write songs, even crap songs, so as to put aside all the things that block my inspiration.

“When at last I manage to get rid of all the useless considerations, like ‘is there a better way to play this?’, ‘should I really submit a song that shows how poor my drumming skills are?’ and so on; when I stop spending hours on a song I don’t like because I have no clue how to make it sound better, and when I give up trying to force myself to write songs that are “different” and don’t sound like me; then comes the second wind: inspiration is here, near at hand, simple and natural, the songs flow because somehow the lesson has been learned and the way I should work is accepted.”

Mojo and the Catcore revolution 

MM: Hey you know what? I just realized I’m not done with the interview. You have to tell me about Mojo the Cat.

JG: Haha, Mojo the Cat! Indeed it was missing. Here’s my attempt to answer but I confess it’s really tough to explain, especially in English (I still have issues explaining it in my native language).

Well, as you may guess he’s my cat. I got him and his brother Prâna when they were only one month old, and I had to replace their mother (Mojo couldn’t feed by himself).

They grew up with instruments all around them and were accustomed to music. I had this bad habit : I never cut my guitar strings ends, and at some point Prâna used to spend 20 minutes a day “playing the guitar” ; he seized a string end with his claws, held it with his teeth and released it so it would hit the other strings above the nut and produce a tinkling. He also “sang” while I was playing the guitar, and looked pretty inspired when the song used a D chord. At that time I found this funny, I recorded him but never went further. Mojo wasn’t interested in the guitar and didn’t sing at all.

It all began after I lost Prâna a few years ago. I used a sample of Mojo’s babbling in a Caterwauler song then played it to him. I didn’t really pay attention to his reaction, but soon after he started pestering me each time I was recording vocals. He whined, pulled at my trousers, and stopped only when I gave up.

I thought he hated my voice (quite appalling). One day during FAWM 2009 (my second one), I was chatting with my FAWM friend Kevin Reid and we were exchanging old songs. I sent him a few cat samples and he asked me if he could use one. I said “yes of course, but you have to credit Mojo on FAWM.”

On the site you can credit a collaborator and link to his profile. I created a profile for Mojo The Cat, at first with no other purpose than the joke, but soon the idea grew on my mind. I recorded a short track, trying to be as feline as possible in my approach, looped some babbling and pasted them in it. That was the first Mojo song.

Comments poured on the site, they were hilarious and I took a liking to the joke. I completed the challenge with over 14 “catcore” tracks. Only Kevin knew I was behind the profile until I released a collaborative track between me and Mojo at the end of the month. “I would trade all my catnip for chicken wings” was a very important track, it changed the whole project into something serious because it was the first time Mojo took part willingly… and live.

He had spent the whole month listening to the tracks I was producing with his babbling, enjoyed listening and stayed close to me the whole time, providing me with more meows, purring that I immediately used in new tracks… So in the end I really paid attention to everything he did while I was putting together the tracks, trying to guess if he liked them or not, putting him on the keyboards to get nice cat solos or presenting him the mic with the hope of being able to record him in real time.

I guess the process of hearing his voice in different musical structures excited his interest. He’s very smart and he also loves playing to the gallery. The catnip song opened a door for us. I found his reaction intriguing and wanted to see more. He obviously understood the process of recording, the purpose of microphones and loved listening to himself.

After FAWM 2009, the project largely evolved, turning into a real experiment on the one hand, and a completely new artistic approach on the other hand.

During the treatment of Mojo’s voice in songs, I realized a cat’s voice suits music perfectly : it is deep and warm, strange and beautiful, especially when some reverb or delay effects are applied to it. Also, a collaboration with an individual who hasn’t got the same language as me, the same capacities as me, but who can get involved in an activity so that we share something and have fun together is an amazing thing to do.

Moreover we both learn and acquire, be it techniques or behaviours. When he hears himself he winks (it’s one of the things he does when he’s happy), and sometimes he sings while a track is playing. I sing the catnip song for him from time to time, a capella, and he answers me like in the original recording. It’s stunning. During FAWM 2010 Mojo forced me to “lend” him several songs that didn’t belonged to his project and recorded vocals for alternate versions. In FAWM 2011 he hacked one of my songs by singing live on it during the recording.

These are some of the many reasons that turned the Mojo project into a big thing, but there are others. On FAWM several persons copied the process and posted catcore tracks featuring their cats.

The feedback we got there was very interesting, as people reported they played Mojo’s songs to their pets.. They also said that their cats were either conquered, either scared, but all appeared to be responsive to Mojo’s music. Besides, Mojo’s new brother Mantra often tries to copy his brother and to reproduce the same meows when he hears one of his songs. Maybe it’s a new form of music for pets? I’m still experimenting from this point of view.

At the moment I’m trying to adapt the project to the gained capacity to record Mojo live instead of looping samples, and to his tastes. I seriously think about shooting videos to witness his behaviour.

Since I recorded his first own tracks he completely stopped pestering me when I record vocals. Sometimes he claims the mic (and I seize the opportunity) but he usually leaves me alone when I work outside his project style, unless he really likes the song and feels like contributing.

The way I feel towards him and the music I make for him is a little strange: I feel like I’m a kind of tool, an extension for his creativity. I perform what he can’t perform by himself due to physical incapacity, assuming he would perform this kind of things if he could. Musically, he’s not responsive to everything. He enjoys experimental stuff and loves indie tunes with coloured harmonies. Otherwise it depends on his mood. I could define him as a punk-hipster cat, though he’s very wise in the everyday life and looks more like an Aristocat.

Most probably he’s a genius on the cats scale, the kind who opens doors, vanishes when he hears us calling the vet, can count (as long as it’s the number of chicken wings he is allowed to eat) and even knows a few words (french equivalents of “mum”, “no”, “yes”, “lamb”, “up”, “meat” and “I love you”). When my mother calls me he rushes in the room as soon as he hears the ringing. She always asks to speak to him and he purrs in the speaker and rubs against the phone. Animals can be very intelligent, you can teach them a lot of things and if you pay attention you can develop their creativity as well.

The last thing I will say about this project is an anecdote that moved me a lot. During last FAWM, I got this message on my wall from a fellow fawmer, Max: “You know what, Foppe (copycat) left the house December 1st on a freezing cold day and never returned. 13 years old, always on my lap and we don’t know what happened. I’m so happy I did that track last year with him, it means a lot to me now. Without you and Mojo I would only have the pictures of our dear family member, now I’ve got a song with him. Thank you for that.”

Leave a comment

Filed under dark ambient, darkwave, experimental, indie, interview, music, one to watch, Uncategorized

Help Japan and download some cool electronic music

Just found out Electro-freaks, a group of electronic artists and fans who originated on TheSixtyOne is still going outside the website and has put together a downloadable album to benefit the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. They already raised $1,500 after about a week. If that kind of music turns your motor, or you’d just like to chip in, visit www.electrofreakspresent.com.

The fundraiser should run for about another week, so get your copy of EFP Vol. 3  soon.

I’m told the album will be available after the fundraiser. Still, why wait?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Social Networks: Good? Evil? Probably neither.

I don’t like it, but it’s undeniable: Sometimes the best, most important things come from total assholes. Knowing that fact doesn’t make the assholes’ accomplishments any less important. I’ve always known that, but watching The Social Network really brought it home for me. I realize the movie was a fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the other co-founders of Facebook, but I can’t help but believe it captured something of his character, or lack thereof.

I also think he must be a visionary as well as extremely ambitious. He did what he had to do, no matter who he had to screw over. And if he hadn’t, we might not have Facebook. You could argue that the world would be better off. I personally avoided drinking the Facebook Koolaid for as long as possible. I didn’t necessarily want tons of people — even friends and relatives — knowing all my details all the time. I had privacy concerns. Still do.

But just when I had decided Facebook was a fad that I wanted no part of, TheSixtyOne (another remarkable website started by brilliant guys who turned out to be assholes) changed from an innovative music site with a vibrant community into a glorified web radio where artists and listeners could no longer communicate. Friends were suddenly cut off from one another as site owners James Miao and Sam Hsiung made a radical redesign with little regard for the artists and listeners, in exchange for investment capital. (I think it was also a disastrous business decision, but time will tell.) When that happened, Facebook became our lifeline, the best way to get back in touch with one another.

And at the moment it looks like the old T61 community still exists, waiting for another virtual homeland to come along and fill those needs for friendship and music discovery. Kind of ironic that the refuge is Facebook, a website started by a guy who might make T61s founders look like sweethearts by comparison.

But a good idea is a good idea, wherever it comes from. I guess in the end, sites like Facebook and T61 aren’t good or bad. They’re morally neutral. Like the Internet itself. I hate some of the changes the Internet has given us, but I don’t think I would want to go back to the way it was before.

Here are a couple of posts I wrote about T61 right around the time of the big site change, just in case you’re new to my blog or you’re feeling nostalgic:

Lessons we learned from T61 (that the owners did not)

T61′s redesign – from DABDA to hope


Filed under commentary, review, Uncategorized

The Widest Smiling Faces interview — melancholy and optimism coexist

How does an indie musician become successful? I wish I knew. But I am sure of one thing, there isn’t any magic person or company or website out there who will make it happen. You have to do it yourself. New York-based singer-songwriter Aviv Cohn aka The Widest Smiling Faces is just 23, but he’s already got that figured out.

When I first encountered him on TheSixtyOne, he had uploaded “The Only Lonely Ocean,” a song full of shoegaze echoes and alliteration that I knew was destined to be a hit on the site. And sure enough, the song caught on and burned up the charts. I really admired the way he developed his networking skills, making friends, picking up tips and promoting his music far and wide.

Aviv is a largely self-taught guitar player. He had lessons, but mainly used them as a chance to show off his compositions. “I took guitar lessons when I was younger but I never really followed the lesson plan and would go to the lessons to show off my songs,” he told me in a recent interview. “I think though that that was a good fire starter for me, because it encouraged me to get in the habit of regularly composing so I had something new to show each time. But most of my playing style I developed myself I would say.”

Aviv plays regularly in New York City. “It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve played at a lot of good venues like Mercury Lounge, the Knitting Factory, The Bitter End. I had residency at The Beauty Bar in Brooklyn a few months ago.”

He has one album under his belt, The Widest Smiling Faces, which features the song, “The Only Lonely Ocean.” You can download it for free or get a physical copy for $5 via Bandcamp. A second album is in the works, and he is building a website.

As much as I liked the way Aviv handled networking on T61, I had even more respect for the way he handled the demise of the old, community-friendly gaming version of in favor of the new slick version that doesn’t seem to be much use to anyone. While most of the T61 stalwarts (including me) were getting angry and depressed, he took it in stride and simply moved on, found new ways to promote himself. I thought the pic he uploaded to Facebook around that time summed up his attitude pretty well:

A couple of weeks ago, I had a nice little chat with Aviv in Facebook messenger that turned into an interview. I learned a lot about him and we got into some very interesting topics.

First the basics: Aviv grew up in Long Beach, New York, and went to College at Suny Purchase. He got a BA in Media, Science and the Arts. Sounds like a pretty good degree for a practicing musician on practical grounds, but he picked the major for intellectual reasons: “I decided to study Media, Society and the Arts because I felt it would give me more insight into the way art interacts with society.”

The Widest Smiling Faces is essentially Aviv’s project, although he has had some help along the way. “At times it’s had other members; all my recordings have been solo, and for the most part it’s been solo but occasionally I have performed with other people under the umbrella of the Widest Smiling Faces. But for right now it continues to be solo.”

What’s in a name?

MusicMissionary: “How did you come up with the name, Widest Smiling Faces?”

Aviv: “Hmm, thats a bit complicated. I got the name from my head, it just came in there one day, and I thought it sounded good and felt right, is the simple answer.”

MM: “What’s the more complicated version? Now you got me curious.”

A: “I started playing music at around the same time my face started twisting. I used to have a cute smile but I can’t smile the way I used to. All the good feelings from my normal smile left my mouth and went to my fingers when I started playing, so that’s why the music is the Widest Smiling Faces.”

The melancholy smile

MM: “If i had any genre that your music reminds me of it would be shoegaze. Shoegaze is most often associated with melancholy. Yet your stage name and emphasis is on happiness.”

A: “Yeah, you’re right, my music is probably more melancholy than happy though. I think melancholy is one of the best words in the English language as well.”

MM: “Me too, come to think of it. Feels good on the tongue. So is there a kind of irony to your stage name that you enjoy? And melancholy… it is a bit more complex than ‘sadness.’ It can be kind of pleasant, right?”

A: “Well, I think a smile can be melancholy as well.”

Musical influences

MM: “Who are your big influences, favorite bands?”

A: “I really like Sigur Ros and Boards of Canada. I like Radiohead a lot. Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Beatles, Nirvana, The Beach Boys…”

MM: “What about Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine?”

A: “I really like the song ‘The Sadman’ by Slowdive.”

MM: “Jesus and Mary Chain…”

A: “That connected with me.”

MM: “Still it doesn’t sound like shoegaze bands are your biggest touchstone. or am I wrong?”

A: “I would say they aren’t my biggest touchstone.”

MM: “I can definitely hear Beatles and Beach Boys. Is there a certain feeling or sound that you go for when you perform live or record? Atmospheric, reverb, etc.?”

A: “Well I guess it depends on the song. I’m usually going for more of an image or a set of images.”

The Only Lonely Ocean: The Storybook

Speaking of images, one of the most interesting Widest Smiling Faces projects was Aviv’s collaboration with artist Daniel Spenser. If you’re a fan of the satirical website, The Onion, you may have seen his artwork. He is also the artist who designed the cover for The Widest Smiling Faces album. That eye-catching, professional-looking cover was one reason Aviv did so well on T61.

Aviv let Daniel hear his music and come up with artwork based on his impressions. The art was fashioned into a book featuring Aviv’s lyrics for “The Only Lonely Ocean.” “He’s an incredibly talented artist and I’m really fortunate to be able to work with him,” Aviv said.

You can see more of Daniel’s artwork here: http://www.danielspenser.com

Marketing and the Internet

MM: “So… We talked last time about your inspirations, etc. Now how about the marketing and business aspects? For example, would you consider yourself an ambitious artist? Do you expect to make a good living from music someday?”

A: “The music industry keeps changing so I don’t really know what to expect. Right now I’m trying to get my music out there as best as I can.”

MM: “How do you view the Internet as a way to promote yourself? Advantages, pitfalls?”

A: “I think it’s an incredible tool, and there’s no question it’s revolutionized music. I think it’s had more of an effect on music than on any other art form. With regards to advantages/pitfalls, I think it’s helped artists spread their music, while at the same time, perhaps made it harder to make the same kind of living.”

MM: “More positive or more negative? Downloading has impacted a lot of artists’ income don’t you think?”

A: “More positive. People are exposed to more music than ever before, more genres as bleeding into each other.”

MM: “What ways have you found on the Internet to promote your music? What has worked well and what hasn’t? And what kind of lessons have you learned so far?”

A: “I think the best way is to realize you’re dealing with humans and not numbers, and to be as real and genuine as you can with people.”

MM: “I discovered you on T61. Was that the first sort of social networking/venue site you used?”

A: “I think MySpace was the first. MySpace isn’t what it once was but I think it’s still useful.”

MM: “So… what would you say are your most useful tools on the Internet right now?”

A: “Myself.”

MM: “Meaning that no magical site out there will make you succeed, you have to do it yourself?”

A: “Yeah, and I think music is the most important thing as well.”

MM: “I thought you did quite a good job harnessing T61 in its old format. What lessons did you learn from operating in that environment? And what lessons from when the site owners made the big change? Are you still getting good use out of it?”

A: “I haven’t used TheSixtyOne in a while, I would love to go back to it but I feel like all my fans have left (maybe that’s not true though). They sent me an e-mail a litle while ago on myspace asking for high res photos, which I updated, but I heard from them since really. And they updated one of my songs with artwork from the storybook themselves, which I thought was a nice touch.”

MM: “What all are you using right now?”

A: “I’m really liking Bandcamp. It’s clean, it sounds good, people like it.”

MM: “I can tell you I like it because it’s easy to embed songs. which for you means the music can go viral more easily.”

A: “Yeah, that’s one of its best features I would say.”

Check out The Widest Smiling Faces’ music on Bandcamp: 

And get to know Aviv on Facebook and Myspace.


Filed under indie, indie pop, interview, music, one to watch, shoegaze, Uncategorized

Daniel Knox’s strange, beautiful songs could be future American standards

Daniel Knox in the shadows next to a carousel. Captures something about his music I think.... (John Atwood photo)

The first time I heard Daniel Knox’s “Ghostsong” I was stunned. It was like nothing I had ever heard, but at the same time it sounded so classic, full of beauty, sadness and mean-spirited humor.

I streamed it over the Internet for a few days, growing more and more addicted and finally I couldn’t take it any more. I went to his website and ordered his whole discography.

That’s something I rarely do — I’m not made out of money. But I could tell right away that I had to get my hands on this man’s music and keep it close, on the off chance it could turn out to be a dream, or something the Internet washed onto my shore that it might sweep away again.

There was more where “Ghostsong” came from. Much more. I now think of Knox as an American treasure, right up there with Tom Waits.

Knox taught himself to play the piano by regularly sneaking into the Hilton Tower’s Grand Ballroom; he took a job as a projectionist at the historic Music Box Theater just so he could play its massive pipe organ. He accompanied director David Lynch in that theater for the 2007 Chicago premiere of Inland Empire.

Much of the time he sings in a deep, masculine voice. Then he breaks into a beautiful, sweet falsetto. His songs range from heartbreaking ballads (often with wicked twists), to brash, New Orleans-influenced pieces that put me in mind of Dr. John.

His songs don’t really sound like anything else. And yet i get the distinct feeling they might’ve been around forever — American standards.

Here’s a taste of what Daniel Knox can do:

I currently have the albums Disaster, Evryman for Himself (technically not released yet, but I was able to get hold of it – send DK a message and he will probably hook you up) and two E.P.s: A Poison Tree and Window Music (Instrumentals 2001-2007).

At this point I have a hard time deciding which I like better, Disaster or Evryman. Disaster is a bit more minimalistic, with those lovely dark ballads, often just Knox and a piano or organ. Those songs really get to me — “What Have They Done to You Now” and “Be Afraid” being particular favorites.

Evryman has some of those — “Ghostsong” being a huge standout — but it also features more New Orleans style songs, with bandmates Paul Parts (bass), Jason Toth (drums), Ralph Carney (horns) and Chris Hefner (auxiliary instruments). “I Make Enemies” and “Debt Collector” are excellent as is “Armageddonsong.” I got to love those too. They might be the ones with the biggest hit potential after all.

The E.P. A Poison Tree is also definitely worth having for the two very different treatments of John Donne’s famous poem.

It’s not all about the music either. Knox’s lyrics have a big impact — sad and misanthropic, resigned and fatalistic, wry and witty, vulnerable to warm feelings — which are seen as a distraction and an imposition…

They might not work for everyone, but I find them brilliant and moving.

Just check out some of the lines:

From “Armageddonsong”: “Armageddon’s comin’ soon. The sun will crash into the moon, but we will still have breakfast…”

From “Lovescene”: “Groping for more than I can hold, sulking like a 12-year-old, and suddenly I find myself dancing. Oh how I hate dancing…”

From “Ghostsong”: “If you die tomorrow or a hundred years from now, there won’t be an article or a furrowed brow. Yours is like the spirit of a breeze that blows through town. No one remembers unless it knocks something down…”

Truly brilliant. I think this guy is going places. If I have anything to do with he will. I haven’t been so excited about a newly discovered artist in a long time. He’s already made it to the top of my own musical Olympus.

If you’re anywhere close to as impressed as I am, check out his website and buy some of his albums. Then find him on Facebook. He just might go on tour one of these days and you’ll want to be ready in case he comes to your town.


Filed under indie, indie pop, music, one to watch, review, Uncategorized, video

Lacrymosa has a new album due Sept. 5

You might recall Lacrymosa (Caitlyn Pasko) from TheSixtyOne, where she did very well with several of her songs from the album I Was Once (Oh), especially “Weltschmertz (The Smitten Song),” a big favorite of mine. I bought Caitlyn’s album and made a blog post about her a while back: Lacrymosa – ‘Whimsical Forest Music’ from a wonderful new talent.

Lacrymosa’s new album, Selah has been in the works for a while and is about to come out on Sept. 5. Till then, there are several songs available on the ModCloth blog: New Artist to Watch: Caitlin Pasko of Lacrymosa

Also, check out this teaser video for the gorgeous new song, “Simple Questions.”

P.S. Check out her website which features a new video: http://iamlacrymosa.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under indie, indie pop, one to watch

Sa!nt – unique freak of an indie artist

Check this guy out. I discovered him on TheSixtyOne, not long before they did the redesign that caused me to bail out of the place. One of my first reactions to his music was the thought: Wow, this guy is a true freak. And I mean that in the best way. Someone who does things his own way and doesn’t care what people think. Out of the mainstream and proud of it. Interesting that he has a song called “Sideshow Freaks.” On the other hand, I think he’s what the mainstream should sound like – a mix of all those things that have bubbled their way into our pop culture – pop, rock, sampling. It’s the kind of music that ought to be coming out of our radios, but sadly isn’t.

His real name is Sean Brown of Palm Springs, California and he’s doing his best to get his music out there. Listen to his stuff on ReverbNation and MySpace and check out his videos on Youtube. I think he deserves to be a huge success. If you agree, maybe we can help make it happen. Below are three examples of his work – a folk song, a sample-heavy track featuring techno artist Ronald Jenkees, and a mash-up of Bjork and Lil Wayne.


Filed under folk, indie, indie rock, one to watch, rock, Uncategorized

Okay, so now I’m pissed at Pandora (if you’re not ‘free,’ say so up front)

After praising Pandora in my last post, I’ve run across several flies in the ointment, so to speak. First, I was informed that Pandora doesn’t work outside the U.S. Not Pandora’s fault. It has to do with licensing agreements from the record companies. The British service Spotify also does not work in the U.S. for similar reasons. That didn’t piss me off.

What pissed me off was the e-mail I got from Pandora informing me that I was “running out of free listening time.” It turns out that you only get 40 hours of free listening a month (After just a few days I was on hour 34). If you want more, you have to pay for an upgrade at $36 a year. That’s a good deal, really, but it’s the principle of the thing. They tried to trick me into getting hooked on their service and then told me about the catch. They should’ve told me up front. I respect the fact that they have to monetize their service. This just feels dishonest to me. They probably figured they would get me hooked and then I want them so badly I would pay up. That doesn’t work on me. I’m too stubborn. I will avoid things I like just to make a point, or because I’m irritated. I haven’t been in Blockbuster video in years because a clerk pissed me off. It’s just the way I am. Not to mention, I was already putting up with their annoying sound and video ads. Doesn’t that count for anything?

Am I being too hard on Pandora? Maybe. I have a good friend who is a loyal customer. He loves the service so much that he actually bought a standalone Pandora radio to stream music in his home. My friend (who sometimes comments on my posts under the nickname “ceed”) gave me permission to post an exchange we had about the service. He makes some pretty good points about how much more value you can get from the Internet if you’re willing to pay a little. I am still annoyed with Pandora though. I’m not boycotting them, but I am in CD/mp3 mode at the moment.

My first email just said: Bye Bye Pandora. I’m not paying. (Which was harsh. Maybe one day I would be willing to pay, but not right now. I was mad.)

ceed: Ah okay, so here goes:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, still everyone gets 36 hours free music every month from Pandora. Pandora has more than 20 million users. That would be how many hours of free music? Eh? How many zeros do we need? 🙂

We’ve seen it with T61 and now with Pandora. Something’s gotta give. T61 turned into a cheap hooker to get paid. However, I do not think Pandora has since their financial survival plan is much cleaner than the crap T61 pulled. Besides, Pandora cost less than a cent per day! You wear your underwear down for more than that by farting in it! It’s so fuckin cheap! Skip five lunches and there you go! 🙂

Over the last few years I’ve decided to pay for things on the Internet I think is worth it. Pandora is one such thing, Yahoo! Mail Plus is another. I also pay for Individual.net Usenet service and a couple of other minor things like domain hosting and such. I will accept to pay for one music service that I like, and even purchased the Livio Pandora Radio for $100 which in my opinion is a steal! It cost about the same as taking the kids to the movies twice and offers far more entertainment and enlightenment than that. The kids are having a blast creating their own after school channel, They are forced to be aware of music they hear and like to be able to create something meaningful to them. That music awareness in the kids is worth far more than a cent a day in my opinion! It’s worth over yonder more! 🙂

Oh, and I have begun purchasing mp3’s on Amazon.com if I want something. If I can’t find it there I steal it. I’m feel more guilty when it comes to movies which I steal shamelessly. The only excuse is that I think going to the movies is far too expensive for a family. I also think that the movie industry has to go through the same thing as the music industry. There’s no reason an actor should make millions. Who pays for that movie star shit? The movie goers of course. There’s also an enormous unnecessary administration controlled by unions behind every movie. Screw that too! I’ll pay for movies when they can be downloaded for $9.99 on-line without DRM or any hassle. This Flix thing where you have to send stuff back to get new movies is not for me either. I would lose those DVD’s and end up with no movies. And who uses the postal service anyway these days? Suckers use that crap! I wasted a lot of time the other day trying to find somewhere to mail a letter. Couldn’t and had to go to the post office! Horror! 🙂 Everything has to come in right here, right at my fingertips through my own home network. That’s the only distribution channel I pay through for everything except food and clothes.

MM: What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. It’s not a bad value. The problem is, I can’t afford it right now, which is when I need it. Also, they didn’t tell me when I started using it, which strikes me as a bit dishonest. I will be back, but now for a while I’m going to listen to what I already paid for. I already spent a fortune on CDs, many of which I never listen to anymore, even though I like them a lot. It’s time to dig some of those out and get back some of my investment.

ceed: You’re right. They want you hooked, so they do not want to give the bad news to your face. If they told up front when you started using it you would have left then. They do not want that! They want to justify value through usage. It’s the same thing software companies do with pre-installed software: They let you use it for free for a month or so, and then they ask you to pay. As with all commercial trickery done by businesses it’s done because it works. Most of us are suckers and they know it.

What I think they should offer is a payment plan where you pay monthly. $3 per month charged is easier to swallow than $36 up front for a lot of people.


Filed under commentary

Smooth soul music – sometimes it’s called a ‘classic’ for a reason

When the old T61 came crashing down, replaced by a new model with less choice and no communication between artist and listener, I thought, now they’ve turned into just another Pandora radio. Lately I have to admit that I was being a little unfair – to Pandora.

I enjoyed Pandora online radio quite a lot several years ago. I eventually grew tired of it and drifted away, mainly because they weren’t “indie” enough. I couldn’t find a lot of what I was looking for and I didn’t have enough choice. I made some interesting stations and got to put a bit of my own spin on them, but I wanted to explore a lot more.

Now I find I have a use for Pandora once again. There are some things that annoy me about it. I don’t like the commercials, or the fact that you can only skip so many songs before you get a message saying their licenses won’t let them let you skip anymore. And again, I find some artists are unavailable that they really should have. No Fela Kuti for Christ’s sake!

But there are a few advantages as well. First of all, things just got VERY busy at my job. I can’t afford to get as involved in an online music site right now as I was on the Old T61. I tried to use that as a simple radio when I was busy, but the temptation to always be messing with it was too distracting. Pandora is a lot more hands-off – that’s something I don’t like when I have more free time, but when I’m very busy it keeps me out of trouble. Second, although it might not have enough off-the-wall music for my taste, it has a lot of classic stuff that you can’t get on sites that focus on unsigned and indie-label artists. There is some music that every music lover should hear and know about, no matter how indie you are.

I made a few stations this weekend and tweaked some of my old ones from years ago. “Smooth Soul” is one I can play at work, enjoy, and keep on working without getting distracted. It’s mostly Philly Soul, with some Motown and other things thrown in. Every now and then they toss in something I didn’t know about. I especially love the Philly Soul stuff, because it’s quite pretty and not as overplayed as Motown music.

It won’t let me embed the station or even link to it on my blog, although I was allowed to Tweet it. Below are some of the artists and songs I put in to give the station its  vibe:

The Spinners (“I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”), The Delfonics (“La-La (Means I Love You),” “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”), Blue Magic (“Sideshow”), The Dramatics (“Whatcha See is What You Get” is probably their best-known song, but “In the Rain” is my favorite), The O’Jays (tons of great songs, but especially, “Back Stabbers” and “For the Love of Money”), The Intruders (“Cowboys to Girls”), Shuggie Otis (not Philly Soul, but he still fits in the mix – “Aht Uh Mi Head,” “Inspiration Information”), The Main Ingredient (“Everybody Plays the Fool”), The Stylistics (“You Make Me Feel Brand New”).

However you get to hear those songs, you need to hear them. They’re good for your soul.

Leave a comment

Filed under r&b, soul