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Unlocked: 8 tips on recording and producing your own album from Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com
Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

So here’s a sort of little-known fact about Modern Baseball: they record and produce their
music themselves.

Local studio luminaries Jonathan Low and Will Yip pitched in on You’re Gonna Miss It All when the album reached the mixing and mastering stages respectively, but all the initial tracking was done by the band itself. Vocalist/guitarist Jake Ewald and bassist Ian Farmer are both students at Drexel University in the Music Industry program. That means they spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the recording process. We asked Ewald to share some tips on the recording process for other folks who choose to opt out on hiring an extra hand to man all the knobs and dials. Here’s what he had to say.

“As a pair of 20-year-old college ding dongs, we’d like to preface this by stating that we (for
the most part) still have no idea what we’re doing in the world of recording. But after recording the last two Modern Baseball records, it’s safe to say we learned a few things along the way. Here are some of the most important ones.” Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Hanging out at home with Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com
Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

Jake Ewald is a big fan of New Girl.

In fact, when he asks me what I think about the show, the Modern Baseball guitarist and co-vocalist lets out a long, resounding “Yyyeah” and pumps his fist when I safely tell him I think it’s a pretty cool program. From across their West Philly kitchen, cherubic Brendan Lukens, Modern Baseball’s other guitarist and co-vocalist, folds his arms and shakes his head knowingly.

“I’m coming around to it as of yesterday,” Lukens sighs. “Jake just keeps talking about it so I sat down the other day and started watching it and thought, ‘this is fucking stupid.’ I’m still not sold though. It’ll come on and I won’t go ‘ugh’ anymore, you know?” Drummer Sean Huber just laughs to himself as he digs through the refrigerator.

This appears to be the general tone over at Modern Baseball HQ, a house not too far north of Drexel University’s campus, in the week leading up to the release of Your Gonna Miss It All, the young, spritely, punkish group’s second full-length album. The pressure may be on, but these boys – Lukens, Ewald, Huber and bassist Ian Farmer, who had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t make the interview – are keeping things casual. Which is an impressive notion, considering how much is exactly on the band’s collective plate in the coming weeks and months.

Photo by Allison Newbold |  allynewbold.com
Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

The day after this interview is over, the band will be spending the rest of the week running around Philadelphia to shoot a video for “Your Graduation,” You’re Gonna Miss It All’s acid-spitting lead single, in an upwards of 10 locations, culminating in a performance scene at FDR Skate Park. “We’re shooting in all these different spots because the concept [of the video] is basically me getting broken up with over and over again,” Lukens chuckles. On March 5th, they’ll be heading out on a month-long national tour supporting local pop-punk heavyweights The Wonder Years. A couple weeks after that ends, they’ll be touring Europe for the first time with Real Friends and You Blew It!

Wait. Aren’t these guys still in school? Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Watch Modern Baseball play a deep cut for Village Basement Sessions

Jake Ewald | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com
Jake Ewald | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

Modern Baseball began back when Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens decided it might be fun to write and play some songs together. Keep in mind, this was only a couple short years before Ian Farmer and Sean Huber would round out the lineup and release two very successful records, including this week’s Unlocked subject, You’re Gonna Miss It All.

Before their first record, 2012’s Sports, was finished, Modern Baseball put out two songs on a split with fellow locals Marietta called Couple’s Therapy. One of these songs is called “It’s Cold Out Here.”

Here you’ll find Ewald and Lukens playing a stripped down “It’s Cold Out Here” as part of the Village Basement Sessions, a New Jersey-based collection of videos highlighting tri-state area artists playing songs in a warm, suburban basement. It’s a nice homage to Modern Baseball’s early days, before the pre-release sellouts and tours both national and European.

“It’s Cold Out Here” is an early entry into the band’s discography, but the track is already classic Modern Baseball, what with Ewald’s colloquial, illustrative scene-setting before some friends make a surprise appearance for the track’s refrain: “I told you I loved you just outside your mom’s place / You laughed then you felt bad as we sat there red-faced / I felt like a bitch so I told you to get out / But I guess Bren was right babe cause’ who’s laughing now.”

Best friends are the best friends.

Modern Baseball – “It’s Cold Out Here” from Village Basement Sessions on Vimeo.

You’re Gonna Miss it All is the subject of this week’s edition of Unlocked; download “Broken Cash Machine” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, and check back tomorrow for an interview with the band!

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Unlocked: Read The Key’s review of You’re Gonna Miss it All by Modern Baseball

a1051948489_10I tried to date a girl named Ilana in my sophomore year of high school.

By tried, I mean that we spent a lot of time together for a couple weeks right around midterms. I pretended to like Radiohead when we talked on AOL Instant Messenger (to win Cool Points with her) and she faked her laughs when I quoted Stella in her dad’s car (to shut me up, I guess). I knew she wasn’t into me; she was talking to another boy around the same time and I would often receive instant messages from her when he flaked on plans they made, hours after she cancelled our movie nights and
such. They ended up dating for a few years. It’s cool.

This kind of friend-zone sentiment appears pretty quickly and oddly specifically on Modern Baseball’s sophomore album, You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run For Cover). Here’s co-vocalist Brendan Lukens rattling off on a similar situation on opening track “Fine, Great”:

“I know that you just adore / Starting off with me / That way that there’s no
way that I’ll assume / That you’re wasting all of my time / To vent about your problems / Like how your Instagram stopped working / And how your friends bailed on you / But it was funny because it was the day you were supposed to hang with me.”

Yeah, about that.

This is Modern Baseball’s biggest asset, this hypersensitive lyrical attention to detail, coupled with knowing their way around a tune, that made 2012’s  Sports, their first record, quickly resonate (especially with other 20-somethings). But Sports was pieced together rather haphazardly. Being fully preconceived from the beginning as a full band, You’re Gonna Miss It All improves on all of Sports’ charms and nuances.

Lukens and Jake Ewald have a far more even spread on songs this time around, splitting vocal duties roughly in half. Their voices are pretty similar – not too eloquent and a little heavy on the vowels (adorkable, some might say). This only characterizes the songs even further, like Ewald’s punchline-spitting punk scene frustration on “Going to Bed Now” or when Lukens pulls a rhyme scheme fast one on us on “The Old Gospel Choir”: “Breaking up never felt so cruel / And now I’m tired and now I’m dead to… / Me.”

Sonically speaking, the record strays a bit from the greatly acoustic-tinged Sports; the band’s sound is fully fleshed out, particularly in the lead guitars, aided with mixing from Jon Low and Will Yip. Some quieter moments can be found in “Timmy Bowers” and the gorgeous closing track “Pothole,” but You’re Gonna Miss It All is largely a much louder affair. When we piece it all together though, You’re Gonna Miss It All captures a moment in awkward and wide-eyed youth with such empathy and approximation that you kind of have to stop and wonder if all young people essentially experience the same kind of heartbreak and anxieties in the 21st century before realizing that, yeah, I guess they do, and it’s cathartic to hear them be expounded on in such a familiar way.   Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download “Broken Cash Machine” from Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All

Modern Baseball | photo via band's Facebook
Modern Baseball | photo via band’s Facebook

When Jake Ewald starts daydreaming about “something cool” that might happen on “Broken Cash Machine,” the second track on Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All, it’s not what you’re thinking, at least at first: “The sun explodes / we die / the world ends.” But you get it though. You’re pacing around your living room on a Friday night, you recently went through a breakup that was probably your fault – what’s cooler than a solar apocalypse at this point? Whatever gets your mind off things.

Clocking in at just under two minutes, “Broken Cash Machine” cements the tone for Modern Baseball’s second LP: all colloquial meanderings and tightly-sewn songwriting from four funky West Philly boys, straddling the line between somewhat tired descriptors like “indie pop” and “pop punk.” The track is a clear indicator of the band’s growth from the short time they released Sports not too long ago.

And while the edges may be sharper this time around, Modern Baseball still keeps around its knack for words. Looking back on that Friday night at home, Ewald still hasn’t figured it out, not that it’s likely he would anyway. “My eyes burning holes through your old pictures,” he sings, likely referring to that well-worn Facebook stalking ritual. We’ve all done that. Right? I mean, uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

We’re taking a close look at You’re Gonna Miss It All here at The Key this week as part of our Unlocked series. Check back in tomorrow for an album review and later in the week for a video, an interview and more. As for now, grab a download of “Broken Cash Machine” below. For the next five days, it’s a free mp3 compliments of the band.

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Digging up the past with Philly punk vets Ex Friends

Photo by Danny Flexner
Photo by Isaac Turner | www.isaacturnerphoto.com

Historical context, and the role it plays as we view our own present, is important to Joel Tannenbaum. He teaches history at the Community College of Philadelphia – why wouldn’t it be? His fixation on the past and its relationship to the current state of things is evident right from the first few seconds of “Dirty Ben Franklin,” the opening track to Rules for Making up Words (Paper + Plastick), the first record from Tannenbaum’s Ex Friends, when he growls:

“If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound / Of ghostly feet walking on the old hunting grounds / Then you’ll hear voices, troubled and vexed / With vague premonitions of what’s coming next”

“I’m really genuinely proud of that song,” Tannenbaum says. “I feel like it let me do a lot of different things at once that I think are important in songs. It’s about history, which is very important to me obviously. It’s about this city in a very particular way.” He stops for a second, before finishing his thought. “And it’s an anthem.”

There’s a distinct air of weariness and exhaustion that runs through Rules for Making up Words, but we’ll get to that in a second. Right now, a little bit of Ex Friends history.

The band was conceived backstage at 2011’s Riot Fest, where Tannenbaum was performing with a  Plow United, the popular power trio he played bass in during the mid-90s. The band played its first show in a dozen years for the festival, and after the set, Tannenbaum was talking to his friend, artist and drummer JP Flexner. He realized that he needed to start playing music again. Continue reading →

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Getting to know The Smith Street Band (opening for Frank Turner tonight)

Photo via facebook.com/thesmithstreetband
Photo via facebook.com/thesmithstreetband

Let’s talk about The Smith Street Band for a little bit.

They’ve traveled a pretty long ways to join English folk rock romantic Frank Turner on his fall U.S. tour that’s hitting the Electric Factory on Friday. Like, Australia far. The Melbourne quartet have been playing a brand of heart-burning punk rock since 2009 – the kind that’s likely to be found highlighted during Gainesville, Florida’s annual Fest (which The Smith Street Band played this year) – and have two full-length albums under their belt, last year’s Sunshine & Technology and 2011’s No One Gets Lost Anymore (Poison City). They’re on tour with Turner (and his band, The Sleeping Souls) and Minneapolis crew Koo Koo Kanga Roo in support of their recently released EP, Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams (Poison City), a five-song entry into the Smith Street catalogue that shaves off the folk tinges the band has flashed in earlier releases.

We don’t need to waste time seeking out passion when listening to The Smith Street Band; vocalist Wil Wagner’s thickly coated Aussie accent hoists us by the shirt collar like a ‘90s playground bully would. Song lyrics as diary entries might be a tired cliché to use, but Wagner writes what he knows and, when anchored by the rest of the band, his words are arresting. “Ducks Fly Together,” a standout track from Dreams, finds Wagner confessing over a restlessly tapping lead guitar: “And I was so scared / To talk to your friends / Pretended that I was a real person / Trying to remember names / smiling and nodding / But I couldn’t kick the grin / From when you’d gone and kissed me quickly in the kitchen”.

Given Australia’s proximity to the rest of the world, it’s not out of hand that The Smith Street Band’s touring regiment finds them playing shows all over the world. It’s probably super demanding. But they’re entrenched in the constantly-growing, always-evolving punk scene, the bulk of which is centered in many countries that happen to not be Australia. These are some of the biggest shows the Smith Streeters have played to date. They’re worth checking out- chances are, the hike over to the Electric Factory won’t be as hemisphere spanning.

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Interview: Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain on throwing down for all walks of life (playing Free at Noon today, The Blockley tonight)

Red Baraat at XPoNential Music Festival | Photo by Eric Ashleigh | showtographe.com

There’s no magic or alchemic wizardry behind Red Baraat’s successful synthesis of East-meets-West. They just know the key to get asses shaking.

The Brooklyn-based band, having melded elements of jazz, funk, go-go, bhangra and Bollywood into an expansive and explosive final product since 2008, works on a simpler, more matter-of-fact level, according to bandleader and dhol drum player Sunny Jain.

“One main reason I would say is the fact that you have five horn players and three drummers and these guys are all playing their hearts out,” he says, referring to Red Baraat’s always-impassioned live performances. It may be as simple as that, really. “They’re serious musicians. They’re not just people screwing around and putting on a show. These guys know their instruments in and out, but they also know how to throw down. They party hard on the stage. I think that brings a lot to the sound, having eight people up there, when there’s just a lot of energy and passion that’s being brought.”

In other words, Jain and company know how to go hard. They demonstrated this at the XPoNential Music Festival and will again today at the Free at Noon concert, and tonight at the Blockley. All eight Red Baraat members come from extensive musical backgrounds, cutting their teeth professionally and methodically through schooling from Berklee College of Music and other programs (trombone whiz Ernest Stuart is a Temple grad). Between Jain, Stewart, saxophonist Mike Bomwell, trumpet players Sonny Singh and MiWi La Lupa, sousaphone player John Altieri and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Red Baraat possesses the highly refined technical skills necessary to make their unique fusion of cultural sounds and rhythms work.

“I also don’t know if it’s necessarily just a genre thing,” says Jain about any given Red Baraat show’s crowd reception. “It’s also interesting that the spotlight always shifts. I think that’s cool for people to notice that there’s not a lead singer and a band surrounding that person.” Continue reading →

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Talking hiphop symphonies and Shaking Through with Lushlife’s Raj Haldar (radio premiere of Toynbee Suite tonight)

Raj Haldar tracking piano for the 4th movement of Toynbee Suite | Photo by Phil Bradshaw
Raj Haldar tracking piano for the 4th movement of Toynbee Suite | Photo by Phil Bradshaw

Toynbee tiles- those clandestine, ceramic squares marked with crudely scrawled chunks of some lost conspiracy manifesto- are everywhere. Ever walk past one? They’re all over Philadelphia. And Chicago. And Buenos Ares. Hundreds of tiles have been placed around the world over the past 20 years by an anonymous tile-placer, more often than not stepped over, torn apart by civic management or otherwise weathered by two decades of simply existing. The tiles don’t draw too much attention to themselves; there’s no Banksy-level gawking involved, but they have left many folks simply puzzled.

“They’re definitely esoteric. They’re cryptic,” says a puzzled Raj Haldar, i.e. Lushlife, between sips of coffee and behind sunglasses in a sleepy South Philly café. (It’s 6 p.m. in November, by the way.) He’s explaining what about the Toynbee tiles drew him to write an 11-minute, multi-movement rap song called the Toynbee Suite.

“I think, like a lot of people, they just piqued curiosity in me. I’ve been walking around town over the last decade and just had very much a passing interest in them,” he says. “That sense of unknown origin gave me a lot of scope to build a narrative of what was behind the tiles. That openness was fruitful for the creative process, rather than writing about a historical fact where you’re limited to structure.”

Tile
A Toynbee tile at 8th and Market | Photograph Larry DeMark

The Toynbee Suite has dragged Haldar out of his creative comfort zone in a handful of ways. Aside from fixating on a particular, tangible subject matter (“I usually don’t rap about something this specific. My rhymes are more stream of consciousness,” he says), the sheer scope of the project forced the 30-year-old hip-hop artist to work with a slew of outside musicians and producers (“With the Lushlife records, I do absolutely everything. It’s completely DIY”) in a pithy 48 hours (“A three-minute song usually takes me like five months to write and record”). It’s operatic in its construction, divided into four movements, each based on a line from the most seminal and ubiquitous of the Toynbee tiles, the one that reads something like:

TOYNBEE IDEA:

IN KUBRICK’S 2001

RESSURECT DEAD

ON PLANET JUPITER

Recorded at Miner Street Studios in Fishtown, the Toynbee Suite is the latest in a series of installments from Shaking Through, a project from Weathervane Music that challenges musicians to write and record a song in two days, documenting the process along the way. Haldar’s might be one of the most ambitious Shaking Through episodes to date, although he had written the bulk of the Toynbee Suite months in advance. “Even with all that planning, the 48 hours was just so packed,” he says. “The song, in the multi-track, has over 140 tracks. It’s unreal.”

Shaking Through: Lushlife Preview from Weathervane Music on Vimeo.

Working with anyone but himself – nevermind between 15 and 18 musicians at any given time during the two recording days – was new territory for Hadar. Continue reading →

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C’mon Kid: A Brief History of Dave Hause (On Record)

HauseOkay, so Dave Hause has been in a few bands in the past decade. Things have been going pretty well for him in the “solo guy” (his words) stage of his career, what with a stream of Devour (Rise Records), his massive second solo release, premiering on The Wall Street Journal’s website earlier this week and all of that. No big deal or anything. But if you track his trajectory over the past decade or so, you’ll notice that Hause has gone through a pretty huge songwriting overhaul (but also kind of remarkably remains his own), from his days chiseling out the modern Philly hardcore scene in the early 2000’s, to founding a seminal melodic punk voice in The Loved Ones, to resting on new laurels this decade as a full-on folk rock storyteller. So let’s take a look at that timeline. Continue reading →