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The High Key Portrait Series: Stan Davis

Stan Davis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For almost 20 years now, musician Stan Davis has toured with artists at every level of stardom, from local to international, and put down bass tracks on almost every stage across Philly. He’s proficient with several other instruments as well, and the versatility has afforded him the opportunity to play with diverse musicians in genres from jazz to hip hop to gospel.

Having established himself on both his musical talents and sweat equity, Davis has earned the right to be able to advise — which, from his perspective, is most important. In this interview, Davis reflectively returns several times stress to the importance of work ethic for young musicians looking to build a name for themselves in the music industry. At the same time, he looks back, through memories and stories — from his time studying music at Central High to being prepped for a show by Lauryn Hill — on the colorful career in the musical arts that he’s grateful to have.

This year, Davis is active as ever — he’s done shows with national R&B artists Syleena Johnson, Vivian Green, and Tia McNeil, and worked on Tia’s debut album, due out soon. He’s also in the process of completing his own album, and expects to have some news to share about it soon. Continue reading →

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Yo La Tengo brings two sets, a spectrum of tones and a jam with Kurt Vile to Union Transfer

Yo La Tengo with Kurt Vile | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

You have to love a band that’s not so jaded, after being at it for over thirty years, to come out to their own merch table after a two-hour show to meet their fans. Yo La Tengo‘s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley did just that on Saturday night, mingling with the last of their most devout devotees to finally drag themselves out of Union Transfer close to midnight, earnestly and charmingly thanking those who came out to the sold-out event and signing everything from free copies of a crossword puzzle Kaplan drafted, to fancy limited-edition orange vinyl copies of the new studio album There’s A Riot Goin’ On which they’re touring to support. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog

Jake Ewald | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Jake Ewald would position the dissolution of beloved hometown heroes Modern Baseball more as an indefinite hiatus. One of the most heralded band of recent Philly history, MoBo played three sold-out goodbye-for-now sets at Union Transfer last Fall. Just before that, the below interview was recorded backstage at the inaugural Philadelphia Music Fest, where Ewald played a set with his new project, Slaughter Beach, Dog.

In the time since, Ewald has kept busy touring behind and gigging locally in support of Birdie, the second full-length for that band, and confounding music writers everywhere with Slaughter Beach, Dog’s unanticipated comma. The band trades pop-punk for a more acoustic-centered approach to Ewald’s unique brand of storytelling, and was recorded at his Fishtown studio The Metal Shop, a setup asselmbed with fellow MoBo-er Ian Farmer and Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher over the past four or five years, in a space he found on Craigslist. In this interview, we got Ewald’s perspective on straddling the space between one band winding down and another winding up, the scene that he discovered upon moving to Philly six years ago, and the ups and downs of different neighborhoods.

Explore more by reading on, and catch Slaughter Beach, Dog playing a gig on the 23rd of this month, at West Philly spot Hole Foods. Continue reading →

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Inara George delivers a short set of solo indie-pop confection at Boot and Saddle

Inara George | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Inara George returned to a Philadelphia stage as a solo artist for the first time in over a decade this weekend. In that time, the prolific songwriter has certainly been no stranger to the recording studio, having released three records with each of two other projects, including the one for which she’s perhaps best known, LA-based duo The Bird and the Bee.

Those in attendance at Friday’s show were clearly fans of George’s entire catalog, and she expressed her appreciation for that in expressly acknowledging her other work, as well as those who may have been a fan of her father too: the late Lowell George, one of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and co-founder of legendary ’70s boogie-rock juggernaut Little Feat.

Still, George was intent to focus on her latest solo material that night, as she and her three supporting musicians regaled the rapt Boot-&-Saddle crowd with a short set of solo indie-pop confection pulled with few exceptions from her new record, Dearest Everybody, released only about a week prior. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Raj Haldar of Lushlife and The Skull Eclipses

Raj Haldar | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

At last September’s Philly Music and Arts Fest, Philly rapper Raj Haldar and Austin-based producer Botany debuted material as The Skull Eclipses. Haldar brought some fire that night, piquing interest for his new project, though to be fair current fans of his other nom de plume Lushlife were already plenty familiar with the level of focused intensity and urgency in Haldar’s lyrical delivery, and all the thoughtfulness with which he crafts a verse.

In the below interview, conducted later that evening, Haldar seemed more than satisfied with their first outing. He was just a bit opaque about this project back then, by necessity, but at the same time you could see him wrestling a bit to keep his exuberance for it pent up. He talked openly about his work as Lushlife, and about what he described as an organic transition from being a recording auteur to now entrusting the beats to the capable hands of a skilled producer. Haldar shared his thoughts on Philly, too, from the perspective of an artist who’s spent significant amounts of his life and recording career in London, New York, and Los Angeles as well, and the unique position to be able to comment on the pros and cons of life both as an aspiring and professional recording artist informed and impacted by those communities.

Prior to their stage premiere at World Cafe last Fall, The Skull Eclipses had issued their first single, “Totality Piece,” featuring Philly native Mary Lattimore on harp, having timed it as a soundtrack for viewing the solar eclipse in August. This year, they’ve lined up international tour dates in support their upcoming record release, including a performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Friday, March 9th. More information can be found here. Continue reading →

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Inside Out: Spoon works it for Stroudsburg fans and Philly travelers at Sherman Theater

Spoon | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Whatever Philly did to piss Spoon off must surely have been grievous. Apart from two festival appearances (including this past summer’s killer Saturday-night set at the XPoNential Music Festival), the band hasn’t headlined a proper show here since their stop at the Mann Center, touring behind 2010’s Transference, some seven years ago. During their last tour in 2015, they played some 36 U.S. dates in support of They Want My Soul, one of which should have been but wasn’t at Union Transfer. Was it something we said?

“How many people drove up from Philly tonight?.” Britt Daniel asked the Sherman Theater on Sunday, semi-rhetorically. “Most of us?,” I kinda mumbled, looking around with a shrug. (Disclaimer: No disrespect intended to a healthy crowd of Stroudsburg’s school-night rockers.) Continue reading →

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PHOTOS: Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton at Union Transfer

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton | photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

Part rock show, part theatrical performance, Metric frontwoman Emily Haines and her band The Soft Skeleton brought their Choir of the Mind tour to Union Transfer in Philadelphia last Wednesday, November 29th. Check out scenes from the show below, along with Haines’ remaining tour dates for 2017. The final three shows in San Francisco and L.A. are sold out, but tickets remain for their other three west coast gigs.    Continue reading →

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Downtown Boys have a few questions to ask you, loudly.

Downtown Boys | photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

It’s been almost five decades now since Jefferson Airplane asked for volunteers to get out in the street. Where at one point American popular music could be relied on for a soundtrack that catalyzed the grassroots groundswell decrying racial segregation and our unpopular wars, overtly political rock ‘n roll seems to have become unfashionable. Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello raged for eight years against the Clinton machine, but turned off their amps through the invasion of Iraq. In 2005, Pearl Jam hardly played a full set without impaling a rubber mask of President Bush on a mic stand, but since Trump took office it seems that Eddie Vedder’s been talking about nothing but his hometown’s World Champs, the Chicago Cubs (even if it’s sorta hard to blame him). Anecdotally, at least, it feels sometimes like the days of abundant rock and hip hop that expressed our collective frustration with our dysfunctional institutions, unaccountable abuses of power, unjust policy systemic socioeconomic disease seem to have waned. Hashtags have replaced hands in the air, and if our revolution will not be televised, well at least we can always binge-watch Season 6 of House Of Cards instead.

About that, the Downtown Boys have a few questions to ask you, loudly. The Providence punks brought their kinetic choral rock and roll to Underground Arts on Thursday night with all the energy and swagger of the Dead Kennedys, and the tasteful touch of brass that would make the late Poly Styrene proud. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Ivy Sole

Ivy Sole | photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

This past September, Ivy Sole played a set at Philly Music and Arts Fest at World Cafe Live that showcased best the talent and skill that she’s honed for engaging her audience. Closing that night with “Life,” a track that’s maybe her best-known to date, the artist modulated several times from theatrical gesticulations to rap verses, and slipped seamlessly into song for her choruses too, a swaying audience in tow.

In this interview, recorded earlier that evening, the 24-year-old artist describes her relationship with the performing arts, and how a background with spoken word poetry may have informed the arc of her artistic development, ultimately lending an element of effortless elegance to her stagecraft.

Having returned from show dates in Berlin and London, and with a new EP out recently, Ivy Sole looks toward a full-schedule though this year, with a focus on video production and a new full-length on the horizon too.  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Chris Smith

Chris Smith | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

When you speak with Chris Smith, you don’t get the impression that it’s a nervous energy, so much, that drives the discursive discourse — or even that the discursiveness is necessarily a negative quality, in his case. Rather, you immediately understand that he just has so much to say about all of his rich experiences, that he’s thought so deeply about it all: from the city streets he’s stomped for his decades living here, to the venues he’s played, the neighborhoods he’s called home, and most of all to the expansive community of musicians and artists and friends that he clearly feels so fortunate to have.

Smith is a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge — for all music, sure, in the way you might expect or hope any passionate musician to be — but specifically and profoundly for Philly’s scene. He can’t seem to be able to say enough in his adoration for what this city’s managed to cultivate, over the past twenty years and even earlier, and parts of the conversation can begin to  trend toward extemporaneous encomium.

But although the multi-instrumentalist’s psych-folk outfit Espers were a beloved staple of Philly indie music back in their heyday, some 15 years ago now — back in the days when he wore his straight hair a lot longer — you don’t catch Smith dwelling much on that, beyond a passing reference, even if you might have hoped for a tale or two. In fact, he never even really references or plugs his own band’s really remarkable catalog and achievements at all, but instead directs almost of all of his acclaim outwards. From his accounts, you end up with a much broader picture of a reverie that wanders between the actual brick-and-mortar record stores of South Street record stores, through recurrent Philly occasions like First Fridays, his exploits and encounters with local artists and poets, and into a cheap rental property in the mid-’90s with his indie-rock compatriot Steve Gunn for a snapshot of the sometimes-controversial revitalization the Northern Liberties. And on top of all that, Smith is uniquely poised to be able to offer both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the Philly’s arts culture, as well as both a successful musician’s and a successful indie-record-label-owner’s perspectives on how to enable yourself to be both — even in a place that artists can sometimes have the tendency to malign as unconducive to that sort of professional growth.

At one point in this interview, after all of that, Smith catches himself, and feels the need to advise you that he’s not usually an unbridled optimist, lest you begin to feel your Philly-stiffened upper lip start to soften on the spot from all of his exuberance. Frankly, you really don’t buy his reminder.

Still kicking around in Philly, Smith is mostly focused these days on continuing to build remotely his record label, Paradise of Bachelors, based outside of Durham, NC, in partnership with co-founder and Carolina counterpart Brendan Greaves. The label has been blowing up lately, most recently offering new releases from The Weather Station and Gun Outfit — not to mention this fantastic and seasonally relevant sci-fi literature review. ”Paradise of Bachelors,” declares Smith after the interview ends, “Just check it out!” True to form, he adds after a short pause, “That’s about it . . . I’m so bad at plugging myself.” Continue reading →