By

The High Key Portrait Series: Ivy Sole

Ivy Sole | 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.

This past September, Ivy Sole played a set at Philly Music and Arts Fest at World Cafe Live that showcased best the talent and skill that she’s honed for engaging her audience. Closing that night with “Life,” a track that’s maybe her best-known to date, the artist modulated several times from theatrical gesticulations to rap verses, and slipped seamlessly into song for her choruses too, a swaying audience in tow.

In this interview, recorded earlier that evening, the 24-year-old artist describes her relationship with the performing arts, and how a background with spoken word poetry may have informed the arc of her artistic development, ultimately lending an element of effortless elegance to her stagecraft.

Having returned from show dates in Berlin and London, and with a new EP out recently, Ivy Sole looks toward a full-schedule though this year, with a focus on video production and a new full-length on the horizon too.  Continue reading →

By

PREMIERE: Curtis Cooper’s Messy is a visceral work of compelling catharsis

Curtis Cooper | photo by Abigail Townsend Photography | courtesy of the artist

“I feel like all my closest friends are damaged,” says Philly’s Curtis Cooper. “And I don’t mean damaged in a bad way. I mean they have been beat down in one way or another and they’ve come back, and now they know the difference between having a good life and having a bad life, and they really appreciate what’s going on in their lives now. Those are the kind of people I want to spend time with.”

We’re talking one evening last week over falafel at Mama’s Vegetarian in Center City; “I love coming here,” Cooper comments, “there’s always somebody behind the counter wearing a Clique shirt.” And indeed, we’re handed our pita sandwiches from somebody wearing a jet black LIZARED tee. We grab a table and proceed to talking about Cooper’s personal and creative journey – through drugs, depression, and breakdowns – to their new album Messy, released this week. Continue reading →

By

Awakening the Feminine: Mhysa’s E. Jane on harnessing the power of softness

Mhysa | photo by Naima Green | courtesy of the artist
Mhysa | photo by Naima Green | courtesy of the artist

Conceptual artist E. Jane is, to put it in their own words, “always working on all cylinders.” In addition to pursuing an M.F.A. in interdisciplinary art, which they completed last year, E. has been performing as one half of the electronic duo SCRAAATCH since 2013, and exhibiting work in galleries across the globe for nearly as long. This summer, E. stepped out as a solo musical act, releasing fantasii, the debut album of their popstar alter-ego, Mhysa.

On fantasii, which is set for a vinyl release later this month, music is imagined as a space of resistance for Mhysa and other Black women and femmes, foregrounding joy, affection, and sexuality as a gesture of opposition to those who would rather hold them down. The Key spoke with E. about the origins of the Mhysa project, the intersections of art and music, and the nature of resistance. Continue reading →

By

The High Key Portrait Series: Chris Smith

Chris Smith | 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.

When you speak with Chris Smith, you don’t get the impression that it’s a nervous energy, so much, that drives the discursive discourse — or even that the discursiveness is necessarily a negative quality, in his case. Rather, you immediately understand that he just has so much to say about all of his rich experiences, that he’s thought so deeply about it all: from the city streets he’s stomped for his decades living here, to the venues he’s played, the neighborhoods he’s called home, and most of all to the expansive community of musicians and artists and friends that he clearly feels so fortunate to have.

Smith is a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge — for all music, sure, in the way you might expect or hope any passionate musician to be — but specifically and profoundly for Philly’s scene. He can’t seem to be able to say enough in his adoration for what this city’s managed to cultivate, over the past twenty years and even earlier, and parts of the conversation can begin to  trend toward extemporaneous encomium.

But although the multi-instrumentalist’s psych-folk outfit Espers were a beloved staple of Philly indie music back in their heyday, some 15 years ago now — back in the days when he wore his straight hair a lot longer — you don’t catch Smith dwelling much on that, beyond a passing reference, even if you might have hoped for a tale or two. In fact, he never even really references or plugs his own band’s really remarkable catalog and achievements at all, but instead directs almost of all of his acclaim outwards. From his accounts, you end up with a much broader picture of a reverie that wanders between the actual brick-and-mortar record stores of South Street record stores, through recurrent Philly occasions like First Fridays, his exploits and encounters with local artists and poets, and into a cheap rental property in the mid-’90s with his indie-rock compatriot Steve Gunn for a snapshot of the sometimes-controversial revitalization the Northern Liberties. And on top of all that, Smith is uniquely poised to be able to offer both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the Philly’s arts culture, as well as both a successful musician’s and a successful indie-record-label-owner’s perspectives on how to enable yourself to be both — even in a place that artists can sometimes have the tendency to malign as unconducive to that sort of professional growth.

At one point in this interview, after all of that, Smith catches himself, and feels the need to advise you that he’s not usually an unbridled optimist, lest you begin to feel your Philly-stiffened upper lip start to soften on the spot from all of his exuberance. Frankly, you really don’t buy his reminder.

Still kicking around in Philly, Smith is mostly focused these days on continuing to build remotely his record label, Paradise of Bachelors, based outside of Durham, NC, in partnership with co-founder and Carolina counterpart Brendan Greaves. The label has been blowing up lately, most recently offering new releases from The Weather Station and Gun Outfit — not to mention this fantastic and seasonally relevant sci-fi literature review. ”Paradise of Bachelors,” declares Smith after the interview ends, “Just check it out!” True to form, he adds after a short pause, “That’s about it . . . I’m so bad at plugging myself.” Continue reading →

By

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 →

By

Ever-Evolving: In conversation with Rainer Maria about time apart, the new album S/T, and Philly memories

Rainer Maria | photo by Shawn Brackbill | courtesy of the artist

Rainer Maria recently released their first album of new material in over a decade, the propulsive, powerful S/T. Short, sharp, and intense, it finds the trio simultaneously evolving from their signature emo roots while seeming to actively dialogue with them in real time.

They will be bringing those songs, past and present, to Underground Arts in Philly this Friday. Ahead of the show, I got to have a chat with Kaia Fischer, Caithlin De Marrais, and William Kuehn about what it’s like to be back together, how much has changed, and how those changes inform their music and approach to life now… Continue reading →

By

Listen to the audio of The Clash’s 1979 show at the Walnut Street Theatre

The Clash in Philadelphia | Photo by Todd Heft

English punk rock icons The Clash rolled through Philadelphia on this day in 1979 for a show at Walnut Street Theatre. They were only a few months away from releasing the critically acclaimed London Calling, the record that boasts the legendary photo on the album cover of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar. This photo has been called one of the greatest in rock and roll history and is almost universally recognized. Continue reading →

By

Time For Acchin: Weird N.J. rockers Pine Barons reflect on the road to their debut LP

Pine Barons | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN | brotherlylost.com

Shamong Township sits about 35 miles south east of Philadelphia, smack dab in the center of New Jersey, but it’s practically a world away.

More of a geographical boundary than a bustling municipality, it’s sliced down the middle by Route 206 and dotted with diners, delis, liquor stores and a gun shop called Pistol Pete’s. At the south border is the mouth of the massive Wharton State Forest, the nucleus of Jersey’s storied Pine Barrens region –- an area with such acidic soil that nothing but evergreens can grow, home to cedar water and the Jersey Devil. It’s from this territory that Shamong-born indie rock five-piece Pine Barons lifted its name…and to a degree, its persona as well. Rugged and adventurous, mysterious and mystical, yet totally affable – these are Jersey guys, after all.

“It wasn’t so much that there was a scene [in Shamong],” recalls bassist Shane Hower of his band’s origins, pausing to look around the room. Several of his fellow Pine Barons are shaking their heads; there was, in fact, no scene in their childhood town, at least not as far as their brand of oddball hallucinogenic indie rock goes.

Guitarist Brad Pulley acknowledges that “another band or two” popped up in their high school, but they were more along the lines of Warped Tour-aspiring pop punk and hardcore; those kids hung out at the Cherry Hill Mall. He preferred the woods.

“I think it was moreso the isolation that brought us together,” says Hower. Continue reading →

By

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 →

By

Maximizing Time: Philly’s Justin Duerr on constant immersion in music, writing and visual art

Justin Duerr performs with Northern Liberties | photo by Yoni Kroll

You might know Justin Duerr from Resurrect Dead, the award-winning documentary he helped make about Toynbee Tiles, the colorful and mysterious messages embedded in roads in Philadelphia, NYC, and elsewhere. You might know him from his bands, including the long-running ‘ghost punk’ outfit Northern Liberties or the acoustic duo Get the Great Cackler he does with his partner Mandy Katz. You might have seen his one-of-a-kind art on a t-shirt or a show flyer or maybe hanging on your friend’s wall. Or you might just have seen Justin intently walking around Philadelphia, tattoos stretching from the side of his head to the tops of his hands – including a portrait of pop singer Cyndi Lauper gracing his left hand – and wondered, “What’s up with that guy?”

Opening Friday at the Magic Gardens on South Street, Time’s Funeral: Drawings and Poems by Justin Duerr is a gallery exhibition including small, stand-alone pieces and huge posters that are part of an on-going storytelling series that Justin has been working on for almost two decades. As an added bonus, he’ll be playing music at the opening night. Continue reading →