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The High Key Portrait Series: Donn T

Donn T | 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.

Donn Thompson Morelli is an author. She’s a theater and film actress. She’s a record label owner, having founded and launched Dtone Victorious records in 2014, on which she’s also a recording artist. She’s a singer and a songwriter who pens her own work and contributes to her husband’s as well, the Philly-by-way-of-New-York guitarist and producer Jake Morelli. She’s a committed multitasker and she doesn’t seem to want to stop.

These days she has her hands in a little bit of everything, from a new dreamscape of a collaboration with Philly rapper Chill Moody and producers Daru Jones and Ray Angry, to work with singer Kuf Knotz, to performing this past Spring in Prince Theater’s premiere of Japanese Azteroids, coming soon to Netflix. Earlier this month, Donn was a panelist and a headlining performer at a Behind The Song launch event, an anthology edited by K.M. Walton to which she contributed as well.

When you meet her, you get an immediate sense of just how busy she makes herself, how involved she is at every level of her artistry. What you notice most of all though is how hard a time she has keeping a lid on her exuberance for all of her many varied forays and interests.

Donn channels a rich family history in the arts, and in particular the arts in Philadelphia, and to spend half an hour asking her about it is to realize just how many more stories she’d have to relate if you only had another few weeks to talk. Raised in West Philly in the ‘70s by parents who were legendary performing artists in their own right, Donn and her brother Ahmir were both exposed from a young age to the power of wordcraft, and both followed their own distinct paths to prolific careers in the performing arts. She now goes by Donn T; her brother by Questlove — he started a band too.

DonnT talks about some of that here, and lays bare her reverence and gratitude for the eclectic influences with which she was imbued by her parents, and for the city that in her mind so uniquely and singularly supports such a variety of artistic style. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Steve Gunn

Steve Gunn | 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.

In June of last year, Philly-turned-Brooklyn rocker Steve Gunn released a dazzling collection of anthems for the modern American road-warrior. Eyes On The Lines is the sort of record that has the potential to become a local classic, the kind of music conducive to a little reflection and meditation on a sprawling state highway, a soundtrack to stumbling on interesting places even in what you may have used to think of as flyover country.

Originally from the suburbs west of Philly, Gunn graduated from Temple U and moved to Northern Liberties, as sort of a happy accident for him, back in the days just before it became the focus of developers, or a trendy place to move and invest in property. It was where Gunn got serious, as he describes it, about his focus on writing and recording music, where the prolific artist got started on what’s now a back catalog of over a dozen albums; among other topics, he talks  in this interview about the era of Philly indie rock in the time of the late Jack Rose.

The native son returns next Saturday, for a homecoming set at the World Cafe’s Philly Music and Arts Fest. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | 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 the past few years, Zoe Reynolds has been diligently crafting her gorgeous, poetic reveries, framed by the tastefully reverberating rhythm of her electric guitar, all packaged under the Kississippi brand. Sometimes touring on her own, sometimes with more rounded-out crew of other musicians she’s met at shows, her recordings and performances are evenly thoughtful and intimate, and she delivers her rich vocals with just enough empty space between the notes.

Having already produced two EP’s and a live recording, Kississippi is putting final touches on a new full-length, which Reynolds is excited to share. A crowning achievement for an eventful Summer that included her first trip up to Canada to play a few dates, Reynolds will play in the company of her compatriot artists the first weekend of Fall at World Cafe Live, taking her place in a lineup comprised exclusively of local musicians in a few weeks for September’s Philly Music Fest, in what will be her first full-band show with the all-new Kississipi lineup. Get more information on that performance at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read our interview with Reynolds below. Continue reading →

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Brit rock icons Ride bring Weather Diaries to the TLA in a dazzling set

Ride | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

It must be some sort of testimony to a band’s draw when a guy with a Sonic Youth t-shirt is standing in the front row at the TLA the same night Thurston Moore is playing a set at another club across town.

Ride would be the first to profess their debt of gratitude to the 1980s’ noise-rockers. Vocalist Mark Gardener has also be the first to shrug off similar genre labels and pigeonholes, especially the “shoegaze” stuff to which they’ve been inextricably tethered since they debuted with genre-defining Nowhere in 1990, at turns proving both blessing and curse. Reportedly mired in conflict over creative direction, the band failed to mend fences, and with the inherent strains of extensive tours Ride ultimately split just six years later. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Joie Kathos

Joie Kathos | 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.

Philly’s Joie Kathos has had a busy year. In June, she performed at Delaware’s Firefly Festival; back in March she was showcased on both the iStandard Beat Battle and in Washington DC’s SheROCKS event. She’s got her hands in several ongoing projects, having released singles for Comin Home With Me (CHWM) on iTunes late last year. And come September, she’ll open up at the Electric Factory for Young M.A.

The Philly native’s star is on the rise, but her head seems to be planted squarely right here at home, in a city that’s imbued her with a deep cultural tradition going back to her parents’ love for arts and music. In this interview, she recalls childhood memories attending local concerts with her father, and all of the music that continues to fuel her own creative energy. She’s inspired and informed by hip hop touchstones like The Roots and KRS-One, and one of her personal heroes, Bahamadia, invited the young rapper to perform at her #KOLLAGE tribute show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. “We sat in the studio and talked and she was droppin’ jewels,” Kathos reminisces about the collaboration. “I’m grateful for her.”

As she describes CHWM, she evokes more cherished memories of ‘90s music media culture. “Remember back in like the ‘90s when they used to release singles on CD, and then there would be like the ‘radio edit,’ and three different house mixes.. I just wanna keep it true to that.” You’ll be quickly laughed off and contradicted, though, should you try to point that she couldn’t possibly “remember the ‘90s” because she’s only 25: “I’ve always been into music. My start in music was way back when, when I was a baby! My mom sang, and she danced, and my uncle sang, and I was just around it. So I’m a little bit ahead of my time, a little bit old-school too.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Matt Cappy

Matt Cappy | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Matt Cappy | 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.

Philly brass-man Matt Cappy will be dropping his debut album Church And State from Ropeadope Records on June 16th. It’ll be available everywhere digitally, but you can grab an advance hard copy at his CD release party at 2300 Arena in South Philly on June 8th.

Cappy cut his teeth at Philly’s jazz clubs, but has since blown a trumpet on everything from R&B, neo-soul, indie rock and ska, hip-hop and jazz records. He’ll kick off a tour next month supporting compatriot neo-soul singer Jill Scott, and representing Philly as far west as LA’s Hollywood Bowl. Continue reading →

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Oh My Golly! Pixies bring their A-game at the Electric Factory

Pixies | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Pixies took the Electric Factory stage Tuesday night to an obscure B-side: The Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).” Formalities dispensed, without introductions or interim chatter they vaulted into a virtual medley of some 30-odd songs, an exhaustive sampler representing each era of a three-decade career.

Singer Black Francis and company shared the majority of their latest record, last year’s Head Carrier, and juxtaposed many of their more prominent singles with some favorite “deep cuts” as well. “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone To Heaven” and “Wave Of Mutilation” were offered side-by-side with Doolittle counterparts “No. 13 Baby,” “Mr. Grieves” and “Hey.”  Continue reading →

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Mike Watt and Meat Puppets rattle the windows at Underground Arts

Mike Watt | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Thumping his way through a sonorous solo, Mike Watt makes this pronouncement to a full basement at Underground Arts: “BASSSSSS!!” The delivery of both the declaration and the music is definitive, as if to make one thing clear: if you weren’t sure whether you’d ever heard a bassline before, you can be sure here, tonight. Watt stretches the single word affirmatively over the sounds, and lets it hang there for awhile. It’s not condescending; it’s instructive, as though at the end of a Sesame Street bit, as though we’ve just learned how to sound it out together, right there on the spot, with his guidance. Tonight’s set has been brought to you by the the letter “B.”

If you’re cool, you know of Watt from his heady hardcore days with The Minutemen and Firehose, in the seminal Southern Cali punk scene. But if you’re like me, you first heard about him when he mixed it up with the likes of more widely recognized ‘90s icons. Released in 1995, Watt’s first “solo” record Ball-Hog or Tugboat? was an ensemble effort, a virtual who’s-who of alt-rock featuring the likes of Frank Black, Thurston Moore, Kathleen Hanna, Anna Waronker and Flea, as well as Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl who joined him for the tour and who helped spotlight the bassist for some overdue mainstream attention. Continue reading →

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The New Pornographers bring a wall of indie pop sound to Union Transfer

The New Pornographers | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The New Pornographers | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Indie-pop fans filled the Union Transfer to capacity on Thursday night.

Not to be outdone, The New Pornographers filled the stage to capacity too, with their signature small army of musicians. Dispensing with stage banter, for the most part, vocalists Neko Case and AC Newman led their chorus of five additional vocalists — almost everyone on stage save bassist John Collins had a mic — through a career-spanning set of songs cherry-picked from all seven of their records. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Hardwork Movement

Hardwork Movement | 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.

Philly’s newest live-hip-hop collective is working this Spring on perhaps their most ambitious project to date. Historically, where Hardwork Movement’s live shows boast a full band with woodwinds and brass, their albums feature produced beats. But as MC Sterling Duns explains, for the first time, the crew has recently brought their whole band into the studio, determined to document the energy and sound of their shows with their first live recording. As Duns puts it, they wanted to “capture that, bottle that up, so people can take that home with them.”

Packaging the magic of being there into any medium can be challenging, especially when it comes to a crew like this one. The biggest thing about Duns, Jeremy Keys, RB Ricks and Rick Banks — the thing that comes across so immediately and infectiously in person (and, it’s pertinent to note here, what any written interview might also stand to lose, in translation) is their chemistry, the personality of each of the four of them as individuals that informs the rapport and the charm of the group as a whole as well. These longtime friends share history, and the love for music and for their hometown that serves organically to shape their shows, their compositions, their productions and performances, all styled with a wide and eclectic range of artistic influences.

They’ll play World Cafe Live Tuesday night for NPR Music’s sold-out Tiny Desk Philly concert. Later in the month, they’ll return to one of their favorite venues, Johnny Brenda’s, and for the first time will be featured at Firefly Festival in Dover this Summer, among other appearances this year. And in the meantime, they’re working toward a new album, and toward their commitments to supporting and mentoring the students of Play On Philly’s youth orchestra program too. Continue reading →