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How Philly psych band Grubby Little Hands found destiny in the wake of tragedy

Grubby Little Hands (photo by Claire Abribat)
Grubby Little Hands | photo by Claire Abribat | courtesy of the artist

There’s a striking image present on “Dial Tone,” the first track off Grubby Little Hands’ forthcoming record Garden Party. Amidst lush swirls of psychedelics, songwriters Donnie Felton and Brian Hall paint a picture of the perfect garden party—at a pristine spot with “elegant shadows.” There’s only one thing missing:  the people. Instead, the party is seemingly automated: “The garden party starts right after we’re gone,” goes the chorus. “The automatic lights will turn themselves on.”

Read one way, it’s a metaphor for things not always being as they seem—a theme that recurs throughout Garden Party, which is built on the marriage of pop euphoria with dark subject matter. Read another way, it’s about the interplay between apathy and unease—about feeling disconnected, and going through the motions (another theme). But when you actually talk to the band—which I did, for this story—you start to realize there’s a third meaning too. It’s about time, and growth, and learning to take charge of your destiny. Garden Party is not only Grubby Little Hands’ best record yet—it’s them controlling their destiny. Continue reading →

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Sound and Place: Free Cake For Every Creature

free cake for every creature
Free Cake for Every Creature | photo by Hope Helmuth for WXPN

Sound and Place is a recurring series where we take Philly musicians to their favorite places in town. For this installment, we visit Katie Bennett of Free Cake for Every Creature at Satellite Cafe in West Philadelphia.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and Katie Bennett is reading a book. There’s a chill outside on Baltimore Avenue, but she’s cradled by the intersection of two red walls in a seating area just off of the register at Satellite Cafe in West Philadelphia. Bennett does this a lot–to clear her head, get a rush of caffeine, eat some of the coffee shop’s vegan treats and to write.

Her band, Free Cake For Every Creature is about to release their first full length, Talking Quietly Of Anything With You on April 15 on Double Double Whammy. Meanwhile, she recalls the first get together she hosted at her home nearby, the first place she’s lived since moving from Saratoga Springs in 2015, where she’d spent five years.

“We were having some friends over for a little barbecue that evening and I was sitting and thinking about how excited I was and how cool and how good I felt being here,” Bennett says. There’s a sheepish enthusiasm in her voice, much like the vocal style in which she sings–hushed and patient.

Continue reading →

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Vocals Only: Andy Hull on scoring a film using only his voice

Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra
Andy Hull | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Fans of Manchester Orchestra know that Andy Hull’s voice is sometimes at its most powerful when it’s quiet. Sure, he can push his volume and power over the sailing, distorted guitars, but it’s when he’s at his quietest where he lets much of his emotion come out through trembling melodies and rich harmonies. You can also hear it in his solo project—Right Away, Great Captain. Now, along with Manchester Orchestra bandmate Robert McDowell, Hull used the power of the voice, and the voice alone, to score the film Swiss Army Man, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano. And it was not easy. Continue reading →

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Wither Not: A conversation with Andrew Bird ahead of his Electric Factory gig

Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird | Photo by Reuben Cox | courtesy of the artist

“Get out your dictionaries,” Andrew Bird instructs us on the title track of Are You Serious, the debonair multi-instrumentalist’s thirteenth-or-so album (it’s difficult to know what counts). It arrives tomorrow, on April Fools Day – yes, seriously – in advance of his appearance at the Electric Factory on Monday.  Perhaps a sly callback to a similar line on “Measuring Cups” (from 2005’s landmark The Mysterious Production of Eggs), it’s also just sound advice when dealing this guy, as avid Bird-ers know well; as he muses self-reflexively earlier in the song: “[I] used to be so willfully obtuse – or is the word abstruse?”  

On Serious, though, without fully laying off the brainy science references and polysyllabic repartee – check his discursive, meta-romantic exchange with Fiona Apple on the bluesy “Left-Handed Kisses” – Bird offers some of his most plainspoken, disarmingly personal lyrics to date. Significantly, the album comes in the wake of both marriage and the birth of his now four-year-old son.  It also features some of his most driving, immediate music in ages, encompassing tense, meaty funk (“Capsized”), Afrobeat inflections (“The New Saint Jude”) and bright, punchy power-pop (the atom-smashing “Puma”) alongside his more typical rustic fiddlings and gypsy-jazz balladry.

Even at its peppiest, Bird’s brand of thoughtful, folksy indie rock isn’t typically the sort of thing that packs venues like the Electric Factory.  Performing solo and (as he does on this tour) with a band, he’s made his name with dazzling violin-work, live looping and uncanny whistling; it’s a subtly spectacular performance style that, for better or worse, benefits greatly from an intimate setting. When Key editor John Vettese caught up with him on the phone from a Nashville tour stop this week, Bird discussed the contrast of performing in big rooms versus small spaces, feelings of being on display in performance and writing, and how a virtuosic output keeps his chops from withering. He also reflected on his beginnings with the Music of Hair LP, which turns 20 this year.

Read the interview below and listen to Are You Serious in full via NPR Music. -K. Ross Hoffman Continue reading →

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A Spiritual Experience: The origin story of Philly power trio Ill Fated Natives

Ill Fated Natives
Ill Fated Natives | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

Otheni Thompson, Joseph “Joey Stix” Pointer and Bets Charmelus, collectively known as Ill Fated Natives, have brought soul-stirring, genre-blending music to the Philadelphia scene since 2013.

Heat, sweat, and adrenaline are all three things in no short supply at one of their shows. Ill Fated Natives’ performances are practically religious experiences, and their sets are highly interactive. It is as if there is a sort of ceremonious exchange of energies between the audience and the band. Each party feeds and fuels the other.

Thompson refers to the band’s origin as a “tribal fire” that began when their previous quintet, And The Nameless, dissolved into three members. Although the collective is a small one, their chemistry was so tight that the music packed a heavy punch.

The sound the newly birthed band had lies somewhere in the crossroads of a black baptist church on a Sunday morning and Woodstock in ‘69, their most notable and obvious influences being the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Continue reading →

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Get to know Kerry Hallett, the Philly singer-songwriter behind Heart Harbor

Heart Harbor 0 Jessica Kourkounis
Heart Harbor | Photo by Jessica Kourkounis | courtesy of the artist | Kourkounis.com

It’s not every day that a Facebook post from a nationally-renowned musician points you to an emerging artist from your own city. Last fall, Erin McKeown raved to her fans that she was very excited about the production work she was doing with the band Heart Harbor, who hails from right here in Philadelphia.

We here at The Key immediately checked the band out, and loved what we heard. The project of Kerry Hallett hearkens back to some of the best singer-songwriters in recent memory: Brandi Carlile, Passenger, Tegan and Sara, with a Jenny Lewis-ian sense of arrangement and fearless genre hopping. Recorded with McKeown last summer in Fishtown, the Tender Trap EP boasts immaculate production and infectious tunes; they’ll stick around, and you won’t mind one bit. Continue reading →

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Give Me TV, Give Me Something: The melancholic intensity of Aphra’s Rebecca Way

Aphra
Aphra | photo by Megan Matuzak | courtesy of the artist

It’s 10 p.m. and Rebecca Way is crouched in fetal position in the middle of a frigid, musky Philadelphia warehouse. The spacious room is filled with an eclectic assortment of objects befitting a garage sale – an antique dinner table, a dusty sofa, a potted cactus, a stack of books, an old Epson scanner. The building releases a deep rumble every few minutes as the nearby Market-Frankford El passes by. Suddenly, Way, clad in an all-black outfit that matches the color of her hair, pops up and begins to nimbly roll her way around the cold concrete floor. She’s in the middle of rehearsing her music video for “Geranimo,” the first single from Sadness Is a Gesture – the debut EP from her one-woman project Aphra, set to be released this spring.

Way barks commands to her backup dancers, a group of three hip twenty-somethings: “Pump! Pump! Frankenstein! Frankenstein! Body roll!” But in between run-throughs she also casually ruminates on twerking with one of the dancers, asking, “Don’t you have to be able to like, vibrate?” They share a laugh, and the rehearsal continues.
Continue reading →

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A conversation with ILL DOOTS, Philly’s most idealistic hip-hop collective

Ill Doots
Ill Doots | Photo courtesy of the artist

Philly hip-hop collective ILL DOOTS wants to start a movement. An ILL movement.

The ILL is an acronym, and according to Anthony “Phantom” Martinez-Briggs – one of the group’s emcees – it has three different meanings: “I love living,” “I love learning,” and “I love lessons.”

“We feel as though we can’t help but be creating this often, really having interactions with people that honor what their natural impulses are in life,” Phantom explains. “And it doesn’t just have to be art. We don’t want to alienate a member of our audience who writes, plays basketball, or who wants to be a great mother. If that’s what makes you feel alive, if that’s what gives your life worth, that’s what our music is all about.”

ILL DOOTS first began in a stuffy dorm room at the University of the Arts with Jordan “Rodney” McCree and Scott “Sly Tompson” Ziegler jamming together and playing lots of J Dilla. Over time, the group slowly added more members – Sly Tompson discovered Phantom at a UArts open mic, Phantom brought along Kirschen “Tex” Wolford, and so the chain continued until the band reached its current tally of nine members. Continue reading →

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Sound and Place: Shelf Life

shelf life
Shelf Life | photo by Hope Helmuth for WXPN

Sound and Place is a recurring series where we take Philly musicians to their favorite places in town. For this installment, we visit Scotty Leitch of Shelf Life in his apartment.

There’s always a party at Scotty Leitch’s house. At any given time, the pad’s six residents, temporary guests and affiliated friends can be seen strewn about the general living area couch, playing pool on the table in the middle of the room, sitting around the kitchen table with a bottle of wine or hosting band practice upstairs.It can feel a bit hectic with this ever-revolving door of welcome guests and visitors, but Leitch doesn’t mind it at all. He thrives off of this sort of communal living.

“It’s wonderful, it’s joyous,” Leitch says with pride. “I have worked very hard to surround myself with these people that I care for so much.”

Elements of personality are evident in all areas of the house. One of the front room’s couches is actually a row of seats from a van. There are posters and colorful illustrations hung or even drawn on the walls. In the kitchen, sunflower printed wallpaper lines the bottom portion of the wall; the upper half features hand drawn cigarettes. There’s even a jack-o-lantern stealthily tucked on top of the cabinets.

Continue reading →

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The Key Presents: Lithuania

Lithuania | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo racheldelsordophotography.com
Lithuania | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo racheldelsordophotography.com

Rock and roll just feels damn good. Like an ice cold beer on a scorching summer day, it quenches a deep-seated human thirst. Longtime veterans on the Philly rock scene front, both Eric Slick and Dom Angelella know this fact instinctively.

Ten years in the making, their collaborative project Lithuania hits the spot — hard. It’s no-nonsense, no-frills rock and roll for the everyman. Their debut record Hardcore Friends (out last year on Lame-O Records) took a scorched earth policy towards songwriting: Go hard and leave it all on the table. Live, it’s even stronger. After seeing them open up for a Districts/mewithoutYou secret show in late 2014, I knew Lithuania was gonna be the Philly band to beat in the near future. Continue reading →