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The High Key Portrait Series: Stan Davis

Stan Davis | 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.

For almost 20 years now, musician Stan Davis has toured with artists at every level of stardom, from local to international, and put down bass tracks on almost every stage across Philly. He’s proficient with several other instruments as well, and the versatility has afforded him the opportunity to play with diverse musicians in genres from jazz to hip hop to gospel.

Having established himself on both his musical talents and sweat equity, Davis has earned the right to be able to advise — which, from his perspective, is most important. In this interview, Davis reflectively returns several times stress to the importance of work ethic for young musicians looking to build a name for themselves in the music industry. At the same time, he looks back, through memories and stories — from his time studying music at Central High to being prepped for a show by Lauryn Hill — on the colorful career in the musical arts that he’s grateful to have.

This year, Davis is active as ever — he’s done shows with national R&B artists Syleena Johnson, Vivian Green, and Tia McNeil, and worked on Tia’s debut album, due out soon. He’s also in the process of completing his own album, and expects to have some news to share about it soon. Continue reading →

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Philly bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma on risk-taking, Outsiders Improvised Festival, and the state of jazz in 2018

Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Jamaaladeen Tacuma | photo courtesy of the artist

While you should listen to jazz every day of the year, April is Jazz Appreciation Month and with it the City of Philadelphia’s Philly Celebrates Jazz, a spotlight on our deep and fascinating connection with the music and culture. This includes lectures, exhibitions, films, and of course live performances. It was all kicked off a week ago in City Hall with the presentation of the annual Benny Golson Award to acclaimed electric bassist and North Philly native Jamaaladeen Tacuma.

Tacuma’s storied career is intertwined with Philadelphia and the jazz scene here. The Thomas Edison High School graduate passed on a scholarship to Berklee School of Music to start playing with local organist Charles Earland and then go on an extended European tour with the great Ornette Coleman and his band Prime Time. This was in 1975, when Tacuma was just 19. He recorded with Prime Time and other Coleman bands for the following decade, cementing his tight relationship with the late saxophonist and his music. Continue reading →

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The Road to RFA: Chatting with the Philly rock faves about their newly-released debut LP

RFA | photo by Olivia Cummings | courtesy of the artist
RFA | photo by Olivia Cummings | courtesy of the artist

Local rock four-piece RFA hit our radar almost four years ago with an unassuming demo of timeless, asskicking songs. Our writer Katrina Murray compared them to The Strokes and said “their passion and potential is nearly tangible.” Turns out the band was a lot newer to the scene than we thought — they recorded the project as high school seniors — and not only have they stuck around, they’ve grown. Continue reading →

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Kississippi on sad songwriting, feeling powerful, and the beauty of boxed wine

Kississippi | photo by Megan Thompson | courtesy of the artist

On a summer night in 2014, Zoe Allaire Reynolds was driving from Tennessee back home to Philadelphia with a carful of people she didn’t really know.

Reynolds hadn’t released any music as Kississippi yet, but that night, as she often does, she put what was going on in her head into words. She wrote about that specific moment in time, about who was with her and who wasn’t: “In the backseat of Max’s car / Philadelphia gobbles up the stars / A thousand miles from where you are.”

These lyrics would become the song “Googly Eyes,” which would later appear on Kississippi’s first EP, 2015’s We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed. Continue reading →

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Fight Fire With Fire: Philly’s Luxe is a force of change for LGBT fans in hardcore punk

Luxe
Luxe | photo by Andrew Restrepo | photo courtesy of the artist

Although the image of a winking anime character popping out of a turquoise background adorning their self-titled EP may indicate otherwise, Philly’s Luxe is a kinetic, highwire act of a punk band, all nasally irreverence and brash thrash.

The band dutifully marries an artistic elegance (their Bandcamp is found under “haus of luxe”, a shout to the LGBT vogue houses that undoubtedly inspire them) with the clandestine insurgency of a rogue cabal hopped up on Amebix bootlegs. Still, even with all of their poisonous barbs, coated in guitar shrapnel disguised as noise, poised to do open battle with society’s isms, there hangs above the quintet a veil of mystery.

After seeing them shred at the suddenly hip Danny’s bar in West Philadelphia, I knew I had to take a closer step towards unraveling their secrets. Of particular interest was drummer Joey Ross, who acts as the band’s catalyst, its center. Joey’s presence online and in the South Philadelphia streets the band calls home, articulates a passionate, deep-seeded longing for an equity not often found in hardcore punk. We sat down with the enigmatic percussionist as well as vocalist Justin Hyduk to talk punk, passion and the paranoia that comes with trusting your friends. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog

Jake Ewald | 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.

Jake Ewald would position the dissolution of beloved hometown heroes Modern Baseball more as an indefinite hiatus. One of the most heralded band of recent Philly history, MoBo played three sold-out goodbye-for-now sets at Union Transfer last Fall. Just before that, the below interview was recorded backstage at the inaugural Philadelphia Music Fest, where Ewald played a set with his new project, Slaughter Beach, Dog.

In the time since, Ewald has kept busy touring behind and gigging locally in support of Birdie, the second full-length for that band, and confounding music writers everywhere with Slaughter Beach, Dog’s unanticipated comma. The band trades pop-punk for a more acoustic-centered approach to Ewald’s unique brand of storytelling, and was recorded at his Fishtown studio The Metal Shop, a setup asselmbed with fellow MoBo-er Ian Farmer and Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher over the past four or five years, in a space he found on Craigslist. In this interview, we got Ewald’s perspective on straddling the space between one band winding down and another winding up, the scene that he discovered upon moving to Philly six years ago, and the ups and downs of different neighborhoods.

Explore more by reading on, and catch Slaughter Beach, Dog playing a gig on the 23rd of this month, at West Philly spot Hole Foods. Continue reading →

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Two To Tango: Kristin Hersh and Grant Lee Phillips

Kristin Hersh | photo by Peter Mellekas // Grant-Lee Phillips | photo by Denise Siegel

A co-headlining bill with the one-time front persons for Grant Lee Buffalo and Throwing MusesGrant-Lee Phillips and Kristin Hersh – could be, for lesser artists, a trip backwards and something indicative of our current obsession with the 90s. Yet neither of these moody singing songwriters have ever bothered to wallow or follow. Phillips’ new Widdershins album is exquisitely timed and tuned to our torturous political climate, and Hersh’s most recent album is the delicately poetic Wyatt at the Coyote Palace from 2016. The two old friends hit Boot & Saddle on Wednesday March 14. Before that, however, they played Two to Tango. Continue reading →

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Navigating Sound: Kilamanzego on the journey from hardcore punk to experimental beatmaking

Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist
Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist

From the opening notes on “Picking My Kalimba from a Distance” with its bright, high-pitched samples and tribal stutter-step, the listener can tell that they’re not just in the presence of a beat-maker: they’re witnessing magic by Philly’s Kilamanzego.

Imagine a dusty warehouse in West Philadelphia, stocked to the brim with old, rusting pianos, pitbulls with mange and orange bandanas, and a whole lotta white people wearing black clothes and rocking dreadlocks. This was the scene when I first heard Kilamanzego cast auditory spells, lifting the crowd with euphoric organ swells only to pummel them with roaring bass drop after bass drop. That night, Kilamanzego — armed with Ableton Live triggered from a laptop and an infectious energy — wasn’t just playing a beat set; they were opening portals to realms from which I don’t think I’ve ever returned. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying: that sounds like a lot of music guy talk, and the big lofty words volleyed about to describe what’s being thrown down don’t impress you. The thing is, while that performance might have been a welcome surprise — that so much powerful, trance inducing sound could be conjured by a petit yet tough former hardcore punk, black girl in a west Philly punk rock basement — Kilamanzego’s next performance I witnessed? It was a revelation. There is no doubt that we are dealing with one of Philly’s most creative musical minds.

And for Kila, it’s a long time coming. Kilamanzego has created a tightly wound catalog of entrancing beats, mini-séances that invoke both their time spent toiling in Philly’s underground and their Ghanaian roots. At once tribal and atmospheric, Kilamanzego has etched new sounds on the beat-based landscape. With their series backyardbxss that they curate as part of the smth savant collective, they’ve helped cultivate a movement that bridges scenes and communities in the spirit of Hip Hop. For Kilamanzego though, that spirit doesn’t seem to want to be tamed. With a hypnotic new single called “Stay Floated In The Tribe” out this week and upcoming shows including Get Better Fest at the First Unitarian Church, we sat down with Kila to discuss beats, life, and sonic ritual texture. Continue reading →

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Sweet Talk with Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto
Beth Ditto | photo courtesy of the artist

Beth Ditto is the kind of artist where one’s fandom can and often does feel like friendship.

From her tenure as the formidable frontwoman of iconic queer punk band The Gossip all of the way through her recent debut solo album, Fake Sugar, listening to her songs possess a fun but familiar feeling to them, like you’re having a conversation with a friend you either just met or haven’t seen in forever. That intimacy becomes even more immediate when you see her do her thing live, which she’ll be doing at Union Transfer this Sunday.

It felt more instant still when I had the pleasure of chatting with her on the phone last month. It was freewheeling discussion that covered a lot of topics both mundane—we commiserated over our dirty laundry piles and the state of my shoe collection—and more relevant to her music, her philosophies about life and work, and what she gets from both. The highlights from the latter can be found below. Continue reading →

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Philly Supports Beano: The local R&B underdog comes into his own

Beano French | photo courtesy of artist

Philly supports Philly, but not just because the person or thing is coming out of Philly, but because what is being presented is genuinely dope. Philly will support what they like, and when they find out that what they like is homegrown, the City of Brotherly Love will show an extreme amount of love to their brother/sister…and right now no one should know this better than R&B singer Beano French.

Whether killing stages or collaborating with other local artists, the West Philly crooner has always had the support of his friends and neighbors, so once Beano finally dropped his debut project Just Beano EPit was no surprise how excited fans were to hear and see how Beano could stand on his two feet as an artist. I was able to sit down with Beano and talk about his early beginnings, his debut EP and what he has in store for this year — including a headlining appearance at Coda a little later on this month. Continue reading →