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Unlocked: Darren Schlappich on the unexpected origins of Ataloft

Photo courtesy of the artist

“The last thing I was looking for was to start another band,” says Darren Schlappich. “It just kind of worked out that way.”

In fall of 2012, the singer and songwriter behind the new Reading-area six-piece Ataloft didn’t know Ataloft was going to exist a year and a half later. He didn’t know that it was going to release a fantastic pop-rock production of a debut LP, a far cry from his country-Americana roots. Schlappich was wrapping up a long stretch of activity with his other band, Frog Holler, in support of 2009′s Believe It or Not. He was pretty content that he’d kick back and take time to himself with no looming musical pressures, when his friend Bruce Siekmann gave him a call.

He had some free time in his Fleetwood, Pennsylvania studio, Amoeba Audio, and asked if Schlappich would like to record anything. Intrigued, Schlappich and his Frog Holler bandmate Michael Lavdanski showed up with an unrecorded tune called “Warning Signs.” It had a midtempo bounce and worked in a contemplative lower register; they recorded some guitar parts and vocal harmonies, then left for the day.

“A couple weeks later Bruce sent me a copy, and he’d added bass and keys, fleshed it out a lot,” says Schlappich. “And then it was another year before we talked about it again. He got in touch and said ‘Hey, did you want to revisit that song? It’s not really finished.’”

Schlappich, Lavdanski and Siekmann reconvened to put some finishing touches on “Warning Signs,” then moved on to another song – the plaintive “Heart Attack on the Holidays,” which kept things very tightly focused around acoustic strumming, an electric lead, and an understated bass part.

“I remember Bruce putting the first bass notes on it,” says Schlappich. “I was like ‘wow, we’ve gone outside of Frog Holler now.’” Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Take a look inside the studio where Ataloft came to life

Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist
Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist

If you had to boil it down to a place, Amoeba Audio in Reading is where Ataloft came to life. As we’ll hear in tomorrow’s interview, Frog Holler members Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski went into the studio owned by their friend Bruce Siekmann to mess around with recording some unreleased songs. The initial meetups went well, and the group kept returning until there was a full album and a new band in tow.

Earlier this month, the Reading Eagle met up with Ataloft to profile them upon the release of the self-titled album, and brought a video crew inside Amoeba to watch the band – now a six-piece – play live in the room where the music was born. Check out a performance of their very summery song “Old Jones” below, and get psyched to see these gents perform at Ardmore Music Hall on the 3rd of May.

Ataloft is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Download “The End is Nearer Than We Know” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later this week for an interview and more

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Explore the world of percussion with Man Forever at Kung Fu Necktie tonight

Man Forever | photo by Lisa Corson
Man Forever | photo by Lisa Corson

As related in a Zen koan, Ryonen was the name of a Buddhist nun who lived in the early 19th century. The granddaughter of a famous Japanese warrior, Ryonen was inspired to study Zen when the empress she served died suddenly. Several Zen masters rejected her because of her beauty, so she burned her face with a hot iron.

More importantly, if Google’s search results are any indication, Ryonen is the name of a thin, large-eyed nude model. “I was excited to see that,” says John Colpitts with a laugh, “but it had nothing to do with the piece.”

Ryonen (Thrill Jockey), the latest release by Colpitts’ Man Forever project, was indeed named for the more philosophically-oriented of the two beauties. The album features two lengthy, intense all-percussion compositions written by the drummer (better known as Oneida’s Kid Millions) and performed by him along with the renowned So Percussion ensemble. He’ll perform an expanded 30-minute version of the album’s opening track, “The Clear Realization,” with Brooklyn-based percussion trio TIGUE at Kung Fu Necktie Wednesday night, on a bill with Stoner Boner DJs.

On the CD, “The Clear Realization” floats Colpitts’ hazy, ethereal vocals over intricately interlocking polyrhythms, building to a mesmerizing, almost spiritual, pitch. Live, he promises, the piece is “heavier in terms of the patterns and the impact. It’s more evolved and a little less raw.”

Man Forever was born at the suggestion of Ben Swanson at the now-defunct vinyl-only label St. Ives, an offshoot of Secretly Canadian. “Ben said, ‘I’d like to hear a solo drum record from you. We’ll put it out if you get it to us.’ I hadn’t even considered doing something like it,” Colpitts recalls. He was at a loss as to how to even approach such a project until hearing Fireworks Ensemble performing a chamber rendition of Lou Reed’s polarizing Metal Machine Music in 2010.

“I saw that and thought it would be really interesting to try to do something like Metal Machine Music but with drums,” he says. “So I had some conversations with Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about tuning drums to just intonation and different pitches and I recorded [the first album] by myself.”


Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Ataloft’s self-titled debut

a3607964194_10Darren Schlappich might be known as the lead guy in one of the region’s  Americana staples, Frog Holler, but that doesn’t mean Americana is his whole world.

The singer-guitarist has an evident appreciation of expansive pop-rock productions stylists like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and John Brion, and while those leanings might not always get a chance to shine in his main project, his new band does an admirable job of scratching that itch.

On the debut LP from Ataloft, released on ZoBird Records earlier this month, Schlappich explores tones and takes chances with his music that he might not have in Frog Holler. Banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lavdanski also made the jump from Holler to Ataloft for the project, and it’s clear that the two have a very distinctive writing style. We hear it in “Bucket of Blood” – the midtempo shuffle and the twangy chord changes – as well as the delicate “A Heart Attack on the Holidays,” a plaintive solo acoustic number. Indeed, these were selections from Schlappich’s songbook that he wrote thinking that they may wind up being Frog Holler tracks, but here they’re dressed up in different tones and textures, aided by third-member and studio guru Bruce Siekmann, who sparked the collaboration. Continue reading →

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Belgium’s Ignatz channels heartland America, plays Pageant: Soloveev Gallery on 4/22

Ignatz-01-©-Mark_Rietveld1
Ignatz | photo by Mark Rietveld

 In George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comics, Ignatz is the main antagonist, a belligerent mouse whose habit of hurling bricks at the title character’s head only endears him to her. His anarchic aggression seems an ill fit for Belgian guitarist and vocalist Bram Devens, who adopted the name Ignatz for his spare, Appalachian folk-inspired performances.

“I used to draw comics myself and collect them,” writes Devens, who earned a Master’s degree in comics from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design in Brussels, via email. “Krazy Kat is one of my favorite comics. I love the drawings and the language. For my first recordings as Ignatz I used to speed up the tape, so my voice would sound higher pitched and more cartoony. With this in mind, and the references to old pre-war music, it seemed a good match to call myself Ignatz.”

He then adds, “Ignatz the mouse is also a bit of a dick in the comics, and I can relate to that.”

Whatever the reasons behind the name, Ignatz offers a unique approach that emulates the sound of early 20th-century American folk and blues forms as played on a warped 78-rpm record, electronically manipulated and altered. He’ll play a solo show at the Pageant: Soloveev Gallery on Tuesday night, focusing on new songs and material from his latest CD, Can I Go Home Now? (Fonal). The program, presented by Alabaster Museum, also features Philadelphia guitarists Mark Feehan and Mitch Esparza.

Continue reading →

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Curly Castro’s latest EP spits out rhymes with heart

Photo courtesy of facebook.com/curlycastro
Photo courtesy of facebook.com/curlycastro

If you want a clear depiction of what modern hip-hop sounds like, take one listen to Curly Castro‘s EP Brody.

Castro’s got an incredible talent of espousing socially-conscious ideas while spitting out rhymes with impeccable energy. Throughout the EP, guitar samples and movie dialogue overlap powerful lyrics, making it irresistible to listen to all six head-bobbing songs.

You can catch Castro with his producer (and fellow MC in the Wrecking Crew) collective, Zilla Rocca, Saturday April 19 at The Fire. The show starts at 9 p.m. and the $10 tickets to the 21+ can be purchased here. If you want more of Castro, check out his The Key Studio Session this past September, at or his solo show a bit away on June 14 (also at The Fire).

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Unlocked: Check out an album of photos from Pattern is Movement’s self-titled record release show at Boot & Saddle

Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer
Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer

Our week closes with a triumphant homecoming for Pattern is Movement. Supported by their fellow Philadelphians Busses and Brooklyn-based Hometapes label mates Yellow Ostrich (featuring ex-We are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper), Pattern is Movement played the penultimate show on their first support tour for Pattern is Movement to a rapturous audience. Tearing through songs from the new record with an ideal balance of hit-by-hit perfection and erratic fluidity (mainly thanks to Chris Ward’s J. Dilla-inspired breaks and Andrew Thiboldeaux’s acrobatic live vocal runs), the band have proven that the gambles they took with their new record are starting to pay off.

Significant praise also goes to Busses and Yellow Ostrich, both of whose idiosyncratic takes on psych rock set an appropriate atmosphere for Pattern is Movement’s ecstatic return. Check out this gallery of photos from local musician and photographer Mark Schaffer.

Pattern is Movement has been the featured album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Suckling in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, learn about their videos for “Untitled and “Little by Little in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and stay up to date for future editions of Unlocked.