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Go inside the studio as Restorations makes the most important album of its career

Restorations Jon Loudon records vocals at Miner Street | Photo by Mitchell Wojcik | mitchellwojcik.com
Restorations’ Jon Loudon records vocals at Miner Street | Photo by Mitchell Wojcik | mitchellwojcik.com

When a young music fan hears stories about their favorite bands recording new music, they often invent grandiose visions of the studio and its space. There’s a certain mystique inherent for those who haven’t stepped foot in one; like most unlived experiences it’s portrayed in our heads as distant, unattainable, a place where all-time art is created. A place where “regular people” don’t ever go. Of course, that’s not really true. Studios come in all shapes, sizes and budgets, from cavernous state-of-the-art compounds where million-dollar records are made, to dirt-floor basements walled with smoke-stained eggshell padding.

Philadelphia’s Miner Street Recordings, which has gone through several locations in its two decades of existence (and is no longer located on Miner Street, for the record – the name comes from its original location in West Chester), lies somewhere in between the two extremes of the studio spectrum. Situated at a central crossroads in Fishtown, it’s a nondescript, vaguely abandoned-looking building in a city full of them. Off-white and faded blue paint peels from the exterior walls, exposing bricks underneath. The only visual confirmation that it’s the right place is a small piece of black tape on the front door with the words “this is Miner Street” written on it.

Before spotting the “sign” though, there’s an aural confirmation; standing on the sidewalk outside, the sound of muffled, droned, noteless guitar strumming breaks through the walls. We’re here to observe Restorations as they record their third full-length and second for SideOneDummy Records, and even those distant, cacophonous non-notes are immediately identifiable with the band’s growing reputation for weaponizing sharp, bright melodies by weaving them into heavy, distorted riffs, an unassumingly thunderous rhythm section and the occasional organ, all of it anchored by the throaty vocals of Jon Loudon. Continue reading →

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Clocked In: A conversation about the difficulties of working and touring with Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner

little big league

I called Michelle Zauner on the phone a couple weeks ago and this is what she said to me: “I forgot this was happening.”

It is easy to forget things are happening, especially in the summer. Plus Zauner was on vacation, in Oregon, the state where she grew up and where she lived before attending college at Bryn Mawr, before making Philadelphia her home and before starting the band Little Big League.

It was recently announced that Little Big League signed with Run For Cover, the Boston label that released the new album by fellow Philadelphians Modern Baseball, You’re Gonna Miss It All. A new Little Big League LP, the follow-up to the well-received These Are Good People (Tiny Engines; 2013), is expected to arrive later this year.

In addition to her work as the singer and guitarist in Little Big League, Zauner also makes music under the name Japanese Breakfast. Last month, the Seagreen Records label released her cassette American Sound & Where Is My Great Big Feeling?

Zauner is clearly very busy with music, but when she’s not on tour, she works elsewhere. For this new installment of Clocked In, we spoke with Zauner about her non-music-related work history, from clerical work at her dad’s truck broker business, to bossing a grill at Bryn Mawr, to holding down the comic shop Brave New Worlds. Continue reading →

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Amir ElSaffar and Omar Dewachi bring traditional Iraqi music to the Random Tea Room tomorrow night

Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist
Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist

On their own, there’s nothing traditional about the music made by Amir ElSaffar or Omar Dewachi. An Iraqi-American trumpeter born in Oak Park, Illinois, ElSaffar has integrated Iraqi maqam with jazz in a series of stunning and unique hybrid projects. Dewachi is an Iraqi-born anthropologist and professor at the American University of Beirut who plays the oud in the free-improv and experimental band City of Salt.

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Watch Sympathy and the Lion’s heartwarming KettlePot Sessions and catch them at MusikFest August 6th

Photo via kettlepottracks.com
Photo via kettlepottracks.com

Lancaster folk duo Sympathy and the Lion will be playing at this year’s Musikfest. The group, which consists of John Shavel and Michael Burke, formed in 2011 via an advertisement on Craigslist. Last year, the band put out its first, self-titled album. The incredible mix of cello and tenor guitar evokes almost immediate nostalgia for lost country roads and wooded forests, especially on the first track “Diego”. The accompanying vocals create for a warm listening experience. Continue reading →

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21st Century Psych: Temples carry golden age traditions into the digital age

Temples | photo via www.facebook.com/templesofficial
Temples | photo via www.facebook.com/templesofficial

We are not experiencing a psychedelic revolution. Psych music, since its inception, has oscillated through pop culture. In the beginning, when love, drugs and the Beatles were free, the Byrds spun their dark web of bad trip/good trip to a lesser audience. The 70’s saw momentum from groups like T.Rex, with their fearlessly tripped-out glitz and glam rock. In the 80’s, I’m sure there were some dark underlords dosing people with anti-disco, and the 90’s had the Brian Jonestown Massacre, keeping the scene very much alive and kicking.

“There have been bands every decade who’ve revived what’s good about that Golden era of music and kind of carried it on to the next generation,” says Thomas Warmsley of the UK-based psych-pop group Temples. It’s a few hours before the group’s set at London’s Latitude Festival, and we’re on the phone discussing the past.

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Tales of the Open Road: Get Real Gang leader Juston Stens on riding his ’72 Triumph cross-country to write and record Share the Road

Juston Stens | Photo by Ellie Tremple | courtesy of the artist
Juston Stens | Photo by Ellie Tremple | courtesy of the artist

About 45 minutes before I’m supposed to meet Philly pop rebel Juston Stens for a poolside cocktail at North Shore Beach Club, I get a text: “Kate, I’m so sorry. My van broke down in South Philly. Should we reschedule?”

I’m headed back to South Philly myself, and his van just so happens to be near my neighborhood. So I tell him no worries, we can do the interview as he waits for a tow. It’s about 90 degrees out and by the time I reach him, he’s already been waiting 4 hours. “They sent a guy out already, but the trailer bed wasn’t big enough,” he quips, gesturing towards his monolith of a vehicle.

Considering how long he’s been waiting, he’s in a surprisingly good mood. He apologizes profusely for ruining our pool plans, then eagerly starts describing his new record. When the tow truck arrives, he chats with the driver, then helps push the van into a parking spot post-tow. “I work as a mover, part-time,” he tells me, unphased by its enormity. “This is nothing.” Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Keeping mountain minstrelsy alive with Marah

Marah | Photo courtesy of the artist
Marah | Photo courtesy of the artist

The underdog set of this XPoNential Music Festival belongs to Marah – one known as a raucous Philadelphia rock band, now a raucous Central Pennsylvania folk band. Led by Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith, its project of late is the excellent 2014 offering Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, where the six-piece recorded its own rearrangements and renditions of songs collected in 1931 by folklorist Harry Shoemaker.

This is where the underdog aspect comes in: as Dave explains, the songs they drew from – while they are as striking and resonant in a modern context as I imagine they might have been three-quarters of a century ago – are nonetheless the music of the people, everyday real people, the sort that cultural critics might tend to eschew and not anthologize in favor of somebody more…I don’t know…poetic. But this is poetry nevertheless. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Catching up with Our Griffins

Our Griffins | Photo by Daniel Jason Savage
Our Griffins | Photo by Daniel Jason Savage

Atmospheric rock ensemble Our Griffins released its debut full-length Michael Boyd in September and has spent the ten months since establishing its presence in Philly and beyond. Led by Easton’s D.J. Brown, the band has sharpened its game as an evocative live act – some moments recall Bon Iver, others explode like The Appleseed Cast – appearing on the Communion Music showcase in the spring and being spotlighted in Root Down in the Shadow’s Cover Club series. “It’s been solid,” Brown tells us. “I definitely learned a lot from the whole cycle of things.” Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Strand of Oaks talks prepping for tour, summer hangouts and the songs that didn’t end up on Heal

via instagram.com/strandofoaks
via instagram.com/strandofoaks

It’s pretty much impossible to miss the gleeful buoyancy in Strand of Oaks frontman Tim Showalter’s voice when chatting with him. Maybe it’s something encoded into his personality, or maybe he’s still riding the waves of critical and commercial acclaim that the fourth Strand of Oaks record, Heal (Dead Oceans), has been generating since its release last month. Regardless, his cheer is infectious, and that acclaim for HEAL, an examination of catharsis steeped in the burst and bloom of a decades-spanning rock ‘n’ roll (as opposed to “rock”) tradition, is well deserved. But in that month since its release, Showalter has been taking this summer relatively easy, and was happy to catch up with The Key to chat about HEAL, how he manages his songwriting, and his (lack of) preparation for a nearly three-month tour, which starts this Saturday at the XPoNential Music Festival.

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Meet Commonwealth Choir, Fishtown’s new kids on the block

Commonwealth Choir | photo by Mike Bucher
Commonwealth Choir | photo by Mike Bucher

We’ve got a lot of great new local talent to look forward to this weekend, and Saturday will start off with one of the newer bands on the block.  Commonwealth Choir is closing out a year of “XPoNential” growth – even before the release of its debut Shirtless EP last fall, the band’s single “Rest” was placed in XPN’s rotation.  Since then, they’ve sold out shows at MilkBoy multiple times (including New Year’s Eve), opened for New Sweden’s record release show and recorded an incredibly popular Key Studio Session.  I spoke with Commonwealth Choir’s lead vocalist / guitarist Davis Jameson Howley to find out how the band got its start, what this past year has been like and what it means to them to be playing the XPoNential Music Festival. Continue reading →