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The High Key Portrait Series: King Britt

King Britt | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

A year after graduating from Central High School, King Britt was working at a new Tower Records location on South Street, having been hired for his judicious taste in music imports. At just 19 years old in 1987, having been brought up on all kinds of music and connected to the arts community in Philly, King was uniquely positioned to make moves, and to update dance music and electronica just at a time when the music industry stood ready to be transformed by the impending advent of digital technology.

At this interview at XPN studios, King reflected on his early hustle, and on those days in the late ‘80s and the first years of the ‘90s — a time of mixtapes and cassingles, hip-house and trip-hop. Few would be able to tell the story more capably or warmly than the Philly-born music producer, as he entreats us to fond memories of his days recording Sylk 130 records at Larry Gold’s studio, of the record label he co-founded with then-fellow-Temple-U student Josh Wink, of his collaborations with Bahamadia, and Ursula Rucker, and to musings about what, in his opinion, we all lost when Napster was unleashed (hint: it may not be what you think!). Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Posing for some portraits at XPN studios, Lucy Stone calls attention to her sunshine-yellow jacket, and volunteers that her mother said it wasn’t her color and warned her against it, before the singer affixes her own punchline to the narrative, unironically: “That’s why I wore it.”

Having played with local indie rock faves DRGN KING and Sad13 before then striking out on her own for awhile, the Philly native has planned some stage time in the coming months with new crew Vexxed, supporting tracks they recently laid down at a Drexel studio with compositions she’d written when she was 16.

And she can rock her yellow jacket if she wants to, along with a uniquely frank wit and deadpan humor, demonstrated by her response to a mention of her stern portrait visage.

“Good,” she confirms. “I want people to be afraid.”  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Garnet Mimms

Garnet Mimms | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Early in 1971, Janis Joplin’s second and final solo studio record Pearl was released, and featured a number of what would ultimately become her best-known hits. Among them was “Cry Baby,” which she’d been featuring in live sets in the years prior, and which was released as a single in 1971 (b/w “Mercedes Benz”) that spent six weeks on that year’s charts.

Perhaps it was her notoriety, or her untimely death at age 27, just a few months prior, that helped to seal the popular association of that track so synonymously with Joplin, her withering blues-rock rendition reportedly a commentary on an ex-boyfriend’s departure. But, written by hitmakers Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy seven years earlier, the song had another life with its original performer, a gospel artist named Garnet Mimms. Backed by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston, Mimms put that song on top of the R&B and US pop charts in 1963, launching the singer into an international spotlight. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

It was by luck of the draw that Tim Showalter became a Philadelphian. Having spent his childhood in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, the Strand Of Oaks frontman was sold on Philly by a childhood friend of his who’d already pioneered the relocation, and to hear Showalter tell it, it hardly even feels adopted, anymore.

He makes reference to that several times, in a recent interview with us, effusive in his affection for all he feels Philly has been able to offer him over the past decade and a half here. Wearing his beard long and his lumberjack coat red, Showalter reminisced warmly about wandering the Wissahickon, building out his band, getting to see Philly legend Jack Rose play hallowed local stages like Brenda’s — and then, with a sense of genuine gratitude, the good fortune of getting to later play them himself.

Showalter also talks “Winter Classic”: a lineup of several consecutive Strand Of Oaks shows that launches tonight at Boot And Saddle. On deck this week to celebrate a fourth year of these gigs with him are folk-singer Joe Pug, and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel. Continue reading →

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Liz Phair and Speedy Ortiz bring indie rock healing to Union Transfer

Liz Phair | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Before their last two songs on Friday night, openers Speedy Ortiz’ frontwoman Sadie Dupuis offered some context. “The first one is a love letter to Gritty,” referring to the oddly-lovable-slash-horrifyingly-psychotic-looking new Flyers’ mascot that she’d petitioned to have at the show that night. “I’m officially dating him, and I don’t know where he is.”

“The second one is a love letter to Liz Phair, who told me that she doesn’t care for Gritty because he doesn’t treat me that well. That’s a good friend. That’s a really good friend.” An at-capacity Union Transfer cheered. “We’re so grateful to be on tour with our really good friend Liz Phair. Who’s much better for me than Gritty.”

Speedy offered up a crackling opening set of introspective indie rock curated from the appreciable catalog they’ve amassed over the last six years, thrashing and throttling their instruments and casually stage-bantering, clearly comfortable with the rock stardom they’ve earned themselves. Dupuis was openly angry about current events as well, parlaying her platform into some dutiful political activism, and unflappable as she capably made sure a miserable heckler knew he was at the wrong rock show.

Phair acknowledged the current political landscape too, even if she took a more resigned tone. Continue reading →

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Belly helps the Union Transfer crowd find release in a maddening week

Belly | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Toward the end of a first set at Union Transfer on Friday night, Belly singer Tanya Donelly seemed to sum up what was on the audience’s collective minds, lobbing this succinct lamentation: “What a shit week!”

The Rhode-Island rockers are maybe best known for a 1993 debut record of mind-bending, often dark songs that conjure imagery around funerals under trees, stolen children, melancholy breakups and blood moons — richly textured dream-pop landscapes forged with twisted takes on nursery rhyme cadences that you could call anything from mystical to macabre.

One thing they’ve never been, though, is overtly political, and even here Donelly seemed reluctant to really go into it further. But people knew. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | 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.

About eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Morelli

Jake Morelli | 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.

About fifteen years ago, guitarist Jake Morelli met wife Donn Thompson, when he saw her perform with her vocal duo The Day at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester. “I actually purchased a CD [after the show] that didn’t exist at the time, I found out,” Morelli recalled recently during an interview with two of them at WXPN’s studio. Morelli is charming, easygoing and disarming, and seems to put a great deal of thought into his reflections. He continued in earnest, “I mean I was so moved by what I witnessed [that night] on a lot of levels, that I just [gave them] whatever they asked for — and I think it was very modest, six or eight dollars.”

Thompson interrupted his account with a laugh. “We weren’t thieves, can I just interject here? It was eight dollars. And we were embarrassed that we had taken your money!”

The chemistry between the two of them is evident, as they took turns recalling the origins of their relationship: how half a year later the “very basic CD-R” of The Day’s finished recordings that appeared in Morelli’s mailbox would become his favorite piece of music; how a call a few years later from the late Rich Nichols — The Roots’ producer and a friend of Morelli’s — would connect the two of them for a live musical project to promote a new record; how Morelli recognized her voice during the sessions immediately from that recording that he loved so much, even without realizing at first who the singer was with whom he’d be working.

Since arriving in Philly from New York City two decades ago, the third-generation musician has had his skilled guitar handiwork in projects of all kinds. He’d played regularly at the legendary Black Lily sessions at The Five Spot in the early aughts, a beloved Philly soul artist showcase of which Thompson had hinted at hushed murmurings of a revival. Morelli started a reggae project with renowned drummer Chuck Treece, and he’s played gigs and toured extensively with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Alma and Roberta Flack, citing the latter two as a major influences in helping him hone his recording and stagecraft skills. Morelli produced some of Thompson’s work too, as she records now under nom de plume DonnT, and started a record label with her that’s now distributed by Sony’s label group Red Music, out of New York. And he’s leant his guitar stylings to new music from Donn’s nascent project &More, a collaboration with Philly rap artist Chill Moody, He’s also produced their two singles, “My Own Light” and “Woah,” and will join the band when they perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on Saturday July 28th.

At the same time, Morelli’s been working on his own music as well, including new EP Good News, featuring Chuck Treece on drums and Nahla Bee on vocals. He’s constantly on the road as a touring guitarist, currently on a west coast run with Village People, and plans to launch a reggae/punk project called OnWa when he returns. He documents all of it on Instagram at @jmotone. Below, read our indepth conversation about his musical background, and how Philly helped amplify it. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Suzann Christine

Suzann Christine | 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.

Suzann Christine has earned a place for herself as an estimable Philly R&B artist, no small feat in a city whose arts and culture is defined largely by its legacy of contributions to R&B, hip-hop and soul music. A longtime student of that heritage, the singer and songwriter has been named “Philly’s Best R&B Artist,” shared stages with the likes of Wale, Musiq Soulchild and Frankie Beverly, and played to a packed Franklin Parkway when Pope Francis visited in 2015.

Recently, Suzann published a new project called Cup of Love, which is now available on all digital media outlets, along with her new hit song “Save Me.” In April, she released a collaboration with Dejure Hest, called “Don’t Rush it,” along with a new music video for the track.

Suzann works hard to give back to her community too. For the past eight years, she’s been diligently developing SCH Creative & Performing Art, Inc., a non-profit organization that she founded and incorporated, where her “Fly Star” program was conceived as a way to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in middle and high school kids in Philly who were interested becoming professional musical artists. And this Thursday, June 7th, Christine performs at 2018 Redemption Week, a community concert and candlelight vigil to support One Day At A Time, a service organization helping low-income and homeless Philadelphians affected by HIV/AIDS. More information on that event can be found here. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Shannen Moser and Julia Peters

Shannen Moser and Julia Peters | 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.

A little over a year ago, Philly folk singer Shannen Moser released a debut studio full-length, Oh My Heart, on Philly-based indie record label Lame-O.

Moser is open about how emotional attachment  affected everything from the approach to recording it to stagecraft. While her first tour in support of the material last summer was with a full band, her set at last fall’s Philly Music Fest — where we conducted this interview — was stripped down to herself and cellist Julia Peters, who’s worked closely with Moser since Peters moved to the area a few years ago. Continue reading →