Stray Birds sign to Yep Roc Records, announce label debut LP Best Medicine

Photo by Doug Seymour
Photo by Doug Seymour

Lancaster folk trio The Stray Birds have signed a record deal with Yep Roc (home to Nick Lowe, Jukebox the Ghost, Wesley Stace), resulting the release of label debut coming October 21st.  Best Medicine will be the band’s second full-length after its 2012 self-titled effort and will be accompanied by a fall tour, to be announced.  Take a look back at The Key’s coverage of the band here, including a Key Studio Session, and watch The Stray Birds’ Out of Town Films session filmed at last year’s XPoNential Music Festival below.

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Deep house trio Les Professionnels sign with Nervous Records and release EP, Pure Love (Endless Love)


Philly dance music heads Drew Kramer, Christopher Schor and Daniel Reizes – AKA Les Professionnels – made a few exciting announcements this week. First, the Philly deep house trio announced via their Facebook page that they have signed with NYC-based house label, Nurvous Records. Continue reading →


RIP: Richard Nichols, longtime manager and “guiding spirit” of The Roots

Longtime manager, friend, and “guiding spirit” of The Roots, Richard Nichols, passed away today.

The Roots released this official statement:

“The Roots Family are devastated to announce the passing of Richard Nichols, the band’s longtime manager, after a long battle with leukemia. Nichols, 55, a Philadelphia native, managed the band from its inception in 1992, and was instrumental in every aspect of The Roots’ creative, cultural, and professional life  over the past two decades. Nichols is survived by his wife, Mercedes Martinez, his sons Amiri Nichols and Rakim Nichols, his sisters Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Rebecca Dennis, his brothers Russell Nichols and Reginald Nichols, and the many individuals and artists he mentored in his lifetime.”

In Chapter Two of Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, there’s an e-mail exchange between Quest’s co-writer, Ben Greenman, and the editor of the book, Ben Greenberg. In the e-mail, Greenman outlines the potential way in which Nichols can have an ongoing voice throughout the book. Greenman describes Rich:

Rich is supremely analytical, extremely verbal, and entirely determined to digest, process, present, and represent the Roots’ whole experience. He has been central to the growth of the enterprise – in helping to strategize the moments when they grabbed for the brass ring as well as the moments when they sat back and thought about what the brass ring meant. He conducts an ongoing interrogation about what it all means. What’s black culture? What’s hip-hop? What are the responsibilities of a society and the people in it? And his inquiry isn’t bloodlessly academic, either; there’s something very consequential about his approach.

I’ve had the privilege of a handful of dealings with Rich over the years, in the context of the music business and the various events and interviews WXPN has done with the band. When I read the above paragraph in Quest’s book, which came out about a year ago, I felt that Greenman expressed how I always felt about Rich, in the little that I did deal with him. What I noticed right up front when I did meet Rich for the very first time – I think it was at a Roots house party in Grays Ferry back in the early 90′s, I always admired Nichols’ thoughtfulness, as well as his incredible love of music. Perhaps it was the “consequential-ness” of his approach that I felt, but couldn’t articulate.

In addition to his work visionary work with The Roots, Nichols also held down production, mixing and Executive Producing duties for a number of records, including those by Al Green, Common, Jill Scott, Zap Mama, Jay Z, Elvis Costello, and others.

In his acknowledgments to Mo’ Meta Blues, Questlove offers a thank you to Richard Nichols: “For being in the lighthouse. Actually, I think you are the lighthouse.”

Our thoughts go out to Nichols, family, friends, and the entire Roots crew.


College Calling: The Districts’ guitarist Mark Larson to bow out after XPoNential


One of the first things that newcomers to Lititz / Philly rockers The Districts mention is their age. They’re young. They’re “just out of high school.” And it’s true: just about a year ago, the bandmates were at a serious life crossroads – start the higher education thing in the fall, or defer enrollment to do a full-on push for their music, which had serious momentum behind it.

We all know where that story went. The band decided to be a band, tour hard nationally and make a splash overseas – check out their spotlight from The Guardian in the UK – get signed to Fat Possum Records, tour some more, do a sweet Shaking Through session, play a revved-up NonCOMM set, and hit the summer festival circuit while prepping their debut full-length in the background. (Oh, and get their van stolen too, ugh.)

Twelve months later, the band is at another crossroads, and announced via Facebook early this morning that guitarist Mark Larson will be leaving the band after their set next week at the XPoNential Music Festival.

It is with heavy hearts but high hopes that we announce our good friend Mark will be leaving us to pursue his college education in the fall. While we’re bummed to not be playing with him any longer, we’re excited to see what the future holds for both him and us. … We wish ya the best Mark, and thank you mucho, mucho for helping us get this far. We couldn’t have done the past five years without you. Good luck to you on the next chapter dawgy.

Larson’s shoes will be filled in by Pat Cassidy of the jangle-pop four-piece Keepers, and while Larson’s guitarmonies and sweet solos will be missed (seriously, for such a relaxed and jovial-looking guy, Larson could freaking demonically shred) Cassidy is a more than solid player in his own right. We join the band in welcoming him to the fold, and wishing Larson best of luck as he hits the books in September.

Certainly the plight of school versus creative output versus career isn’t rare. When they played an opening slot at The Electric Factory this spring, Philly pop punks Modern Baseball were lauded by Dan “Soupy” Campbell of headliners The Wonder Years for not throwing themselves full-on into the music industry grind just yet. The MoBo guys are finishing various degrees at Drexel University and Chestnut Hill College as their album You’re Gonna Miss It All builds in popularity and critical acclaim.

“Even with all that upward trajectory,” Campbell told the sold-out E Factory crowd, “They’ve got the smarts, and they’re heading back to Philly when tour is over to finish up school.”

More recently, Matthew Kerr – guitarist of local indie faves Family Vacation – announced his departure from the band to pursue his education career.

And while these life crossroads might be difficult and bittersweet, they are not fraught with finality in the least. The pendulum always swings the other way, and artists can just as easily go from bagging groceries part-time and / or teaching full-time to making one of the most talked-about records of a given year (see, for example, Elliott Sharp’s Clocked-In interview with Strand of Oaks).

So, as the band alluded to on Facebook, we’re excited for what Larson’s next chapter brings.



Norah Jones, Jack White, Lord Huron, fun., and more to be featured on Beck’s Song Reader

Beck at Firefly 2014 | Photo by Joe del Tufo |
Beck at Firefly 2014 | Photo by Joe del Tufo |
Two years ago, Beck released his new “album” – Song Reader – a book of sheet music and art featuring twenty new songs. The new songs weren’t recorded by Beck at all; the idea was that the songs would be recorded by others using the sheet music. “There are no rules in interpretation,” said Beck in an interview with McSweeney’s, who released Song Reader. “These songs are meant to be pulled apart and reshaped,” he said in the interview. “The idea of them being played by choirs, brass bands, string ensembles, anything outside of traditional rock-band constructs—it’s interesting because it’s outside of where my songs normally exist,” said Beck.

On July 29th, Norah Jones, Jeff Tweedy, Lord Huron, Jack White, Beck himself, and others will be featured on Warby Parker Presents Song Reader. Co-produced by Beck with Wes Anderson and Randall Poster, proceeds will be donated to 826 National – a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers a variety of opportunities to students, ages 6-18, to “explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.”

Beck is playing on Sunday, July 27th at the XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru. The set list for Song Reader is below.

1. Moses Sumney, “Title of This Song”
2. Fun., “Please Leave a Light on When You Go”
3. Tweedy, “The Wolf Is on the Hill”
4. Norah Jones, “Just Noise”
5. Lord Huron, “Last Night You Were a Dream”
6. Bob Forrest, “Saint Dude”
7. Jack White, “I’m Down”
8. Beck, “Heaven’s Ladder”
9. Juanes, “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard”
10. Laura Marling, “Sorry”
11. Jarvis Cocker, “Eyes That Say ‘I Love You’”
12. David Johansen, “Rough on Rats”
13. Jason Isbell, “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings”
14. Marc Ribot, “The Last Polka”
15. Eleanor Friedberger, “Old Shanghai”
16. Sparks, “Why Did You Make Me Care?”
17. Swamp Dogg, “America, Here’s My Boy”
18. Jack Black, “We All Wear Cloaks”
19. Loudon Wainwright III, “Do We? We Do”
20. Gabriel Kahane & Ymusic, “Mutilation Rag”


Woah, Styx and Foreigner’s tour buses caught on fire in Philly

Tour bus damage after fire was put out | photo courtesy of TMZ
Tour bus damage after fire was put out | photo via TMZ

It’s been sort of a quiet day here at The Key today, with much of the world in pre-holiday weekend mode. That is, until we got word of this: A tour bus traveling as a part of Styx’s and Foreigner’s The Soundtrack of Summer co-headlining tour, which is scheduled to continue tomorrow night at Camden’s Susquehanna Bank Center, caught on fire this afternoon according to TMZ.

The fire occurred while the bus was parked, and quickly spread to the other bus parked right beside it. Nobody knows exactly how the fire started just yet. Luckily, no one was hurt, and both buses were unoccupied at the time of the fire.

So, I guess this gives me reason to plug the concert: Tickets for the show are available here, and all revenue accrued will likely be put toward new tour buses.


Toy Soldiers entering “deep, dark hibernation” following upcoming Union Transfer show

Photo by Caitlin McCann
Photo by Caitlin McCann

Philly Americana rock crew Toy Soldiers announced today that they are entering a period of “deep, dark hibernation” following their upcoming Union Transfer show with Cheers Elephant on July 18th.

From the band’s blog post announcing the news:

After 7 years, 20+ musicians, 3.4 million highway miles, 9 thousand rest-stops and a lifetimes worth of experience, knowledge and a half-witted tango with the drunkest most unpredictable woman ever known as the music industry…Toy Soldiers, the band, will be entering into a deep, dark hibernation from now until ___.

We are endlessly grateful for the amazing people we’ve met, the times we had and the situations we sometimes found ourselves in both ugly and beautiful. At the end of the day they have contributed to our individual skins.

That said, there’s a noticeable lack of finality in this bow out. Four question marks in the headline, tentative phrasing like “hibernation” and “final hurrah for now.” Nobody is calling it a break-up because, let’s face it, rock and roll breakups are passé, and this crew clearly harbors no ill will towards one another (check the post for a breakdown of what the various members are up to – including front-dude Ron Gallo, who last week released his proper solo debut Ronny).

You might also say that Toy Soldiers have broken up twice before, anyway; the Black Keys-y duo of Gallo and drummer Michael Baurer (2007-2009); the sprawling 11-piece (or so) Band-esque band co-fronted by Kate Faust (2009-2011). The current lineup of drummer Dom Billett, guitarist Matt Kelly, bassist Bill McCloskey and keyboardist Luke Leidy has by far taken the band the furthest and garnered it the most exposure and opportunities, from writeups in Paste to gigs backing Wanda Jackson. But the one constant has been Gallo, and it seems natural for him to step into a new role as a solo artist as his bandmates chase other opportunities.

Get tickets and info on Toy Soldiers’ farewell show, July 18th at Union Transfer, at the XPN Concert Calendar. Below, watch the trailer for The Maybe Trails, the 2013 independent documentary on Toy Soldiers detailing the grind of being a touring band.


Why the heck did somebody think it was okay to deface the Kurt Vile mural?

For an update on this story, see below.

An unknown man took it upon himself to roll cover-up paint overtop of Fishtown’s Kurt Vile mural this morning. Located at Front and Master streets, the mural, painted by Steve Powers, provided the iconic cover art for Vile’s 2013 tour de force LP Wakin on a Pretty Daze

In the above photo posted to Philly photographer Conrad Benner’s Instagram (known on the local internet as @streetsdept), we see that much of the lower half of the mural – graphical interpretations of many of the albums lyrics – is now covered in a dreary white-grey paint. Benner said the photo was shot by fellow local artist Najeeb Sheikh this morning.

According to @dasheikee, the man said he was not connected to the city or the building’s owner and that he was buffing the mural because it was attracting graffiti to the neighborhood.

On the one hand, muralist Powers – who is also known for Mural Arts’ Love Letter along the Market-Frankford el – does indeed have roots in the graffiti scene. But where does graffiti end and art begin? Or, more simply, is all graffiti art? It’s a philosophical debate that stretches back to the 70s and before – a debate that Benner actively engages in. But let’s assume for a moment that this person defines graffiti as any unwanted writing or illustration painted on a building. Wouldn’t a stucco wall covered in empty white paint be more likely to attract that than a wall covered in a bright, colorful and lively work of art?

It boggles the mind. Let us know your thoughts in the comments and, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch the below video of the mural’s birth.

Update (6/29/14, 3:15PM) – The person responsible for painting over portions of the Kurt Vile mural is DJ Lee Mayjahs.

At 10:14 AM this morning, someone commented as “Dumb Buffer” on a story about this on Philadelphia Magazine.

The offender posted:

Hello everyone, I am the idiot in the picture. Let me start off by saying I Love Philadelphia, I love my neighborhood and I love Art. I am completely committed to supporting legal street art, publicly funded art and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. But what I did yesterday was the most stupid and selfish thing I have ever done. I think I literally had a mental breakdown and lost my mind there.

At 1:28 PM, Leah Kauffman, a Philadelphia based journalist posted an interview on her Facebook page with the mural buffer. During Kauffman’s interview with Mayjahs he admitted he was responsible for painting over the mural and putting the comment on the Philadelphia Magazine story.

Below is a portion of Kauffman’s interview: (read the full interview here.

I just spoke with DJ/kurt vile x espo mural buffer Lee Mayjahs on the phone. Turns out that he is not well. He is offering to pay espo to come down and restore the mural. I hope he gets the help he needs. I also hope espo takes him up on his offer.

Lee Mayjahs: I got home and started doing research on my computer. I can’t believe what I had done ad I wrote a letter to Kurt Vile apologizing. And I wrote a letter to the artist Espo apologizing, telling them that I would pay Espo to come down and repaint it. I also wrote a letter to the mural arts apologizing. Apparently it wasn’t official. Even though it wasn’t official I’m sorry for everything I did. I would do whatever I could do to make it right. I really am sorry. I don’t know what I was doing. I literally lost my mind and took it out which was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

Leah Kauffman: Was it premeditated? Did you just have white paint laying around? It’s 9 am on a Saturday. What was going through your head?

LM: I live in that neighborhood. I’ve lived there for 15 years. I’m always cleaning up the streets and alleyways. I don’t know…for some reason I feel like ever since that piece has been there it’s attracted more and more graffiti to that neighborhood. Every time I paint over illegal graffiti I was blaming it on it (the mural) and I didn’t realize the people in the neighborhood love it, I’ve never really sat and looked at it. I never did any research on it and then I just snapped.


Listen to a new song from Brooklyn electro-pop group, Little Daylight

Little Daylight | Photo by John Vettese
Little Daylight | Photo by John Vettese

Little Daylight is an electro-pop group out of Brooklyn. In the past year, they have released an album called Tunnel Vision, toured with Bastille and have had singles remixed by artists like Future Islands.  They recently played two huge festivals, Governor’s Ball and Firefly, and received high praise for each performance.  Their new album, Hello Memory, is set to be released July 15th.

This week, the group posted a new song, “My Life”, to their SoundCloud page.  It’s a big song that needs to be played loudly.  Just shy of three minutes long, the catchy percussion and synthy back-beats keep us wanting more.  It’s loud, but not TOO loud.

You can bet Little Daylight’s live performance is a guaranteed good time.  Make sure you catch them when they perform at MilkBoy on September 20th.

Listen to “My Life” below:


Watch the rambunctious “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” video from #xpnfest artist Old 97′s

Photo by Allison Smith
Photo by Allison Smith

XPoNential Music Festival artists Old 97′s recently released a video for the song “Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” from their latest album, Most Messed Up. The first video made by the 97′s since 2010, it uses four simultaneous cameras to follows the four bandmates going through their daily routine before their first 2014 show in Dallas. In an interview with Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy, singer Rhett Miller commented that the video portrays the lives of the 97s pretty accurately. The highlights include bassist Murry Hammond’s extensive napping and Miller’s wig removal at the end. It’s a clever video from a catchy new album, where the band reasserts its place as rowdy alt-country rockers. The group recently did a session with the World Cafe, and will perform on Sunday year’s XPoNential Festival. Get more details here. Watch the video below.