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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Morelli

Jake Morelli | 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.

About fifteen years ago, guitarist Jake Morelli met wife Donn Thompson, when he saw her perform with her vocal duo The Day at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester. “I actually purchased a CD [after the show] that didn’t exist at the time, I found out,” Morelli recalled recently during an interview with two of them at WXPN’s studio. Morelli is charming, easygoing and disarming, and seems to put a great deal of thought into his reflections. He continued in earnest, “I mean I was so moved by what I witnessed [that night] on a lot of levels, that I just [gave them] whatever they asked for — and I think it was very modest, six or eight dollars.”

Thompson interrupted his account with a laugh. “We weren’t thieves, can I just interject here? It was eight dollars. And we were embarrassed that we had taken your money!”

The chemistry between the two of them is evident, as they took turns recalling the origins of their relationship: how half a year later the “very basic CD-R” of The Day’s finished recordings that appeared in Morelli’s mailbox would become his favorite piece of music; how a call a few years later from the late Rich Nichols — The Roots’ producer and a friend of Morelli’s — would connect the two of them for a live musical project to promote a new record; how Morelli recognized her voice during the sessions immediately from that recording that he loved so much, even without realizing at first who the singer was with whom he’d be working.

Since arriving in Philly from New York City two decades ago, the third-generation musician has had his skilled guitar handiwork in projects of all kinds. He’d played regularly at the legendary Black Lily sessions at The Five Spot in the early aughts, a beloved Philly soul artist showcase of which Thompson had hinted at hushed murmurings of a revival. Morelli started a reggae project with renowned drummer Chuck Treece, and he’s played gigs and toured extensively with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Alma and Roberta Flack, citing the latter two as a major influences in helping him hone his recording and stagecraft skills. Morelli produced some of Thompson’s work too, as she records now under nom de plume DonnT, and started a record label with her that’s now distributed by Sony’s label group Red Music, out of New York. And he’s leant his guitar stylings to new music from Donn’s nascent project &More, a collaboration with Philly rap artist Chill Moody, He’s also produced their two singles, “My Own Light” and “Woah,” and will join the band when they perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on Saturday July 28th.

At the same time, Morelli’s been working on his own music as well, including new EP Good News, featuring Chuck Treece on drums and Nahla Bee on vocals. He’s constantly on the road as a touring guitarist, currently on a west coast run with Village People, and plans to launch a reggae/punk project called OnWa when he returns. He documents all of it on Instagram at @jmotone. Below, read our indepth conversation about his musical background, and how Philly helped amplify it. Continue reading →

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Strange Parts reaches across years and time zones to create its debut LP

Strange Parts | photo by Emily Carris | instagram.com/carrisbears | via facebook.com/strangeparts

“I want to be in that band.” That was the shared sentiment between Attia Taylor and Corey Duncan when they first met and heard each other play back in 2012. At the time, Duncan had close ties to Girls Rock Philly where Taylor was participating as a camper; he was also releasing music in the Oh! Pears project, while Taylor dropped a series of solo EPs on Bandcamp. Fast forward six years later, Taylor and Duncan combined forces to release their first full length project under the name Strange PartsOh God, What a Beautiful Time I Spent In The Wild.

The album, which was released on June 8, includes 12 tracks of what Duncan describes as psychedelic art pop. The debut track “Treasures”  offers listeners a folky yet dreamy vibe that is accompanied by languorous vocal pairings of both Duncan and Taylor. The closing track “Glorious Things” is a free spirited song that makes one reminisce on listless summer days with minimal responsibilities. The entire project is simply, effortlessly cool. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Algiers’ Franklin James Fisher and Lower Interiors’ Maggie Brannon

Algiers | photo by Joe Dilworth | courtesy of the artist // Lower Interiors | photo by Maggie Brannon | courtesy of the artist

The sonic experimentalists of Algiers and Lower Interiors have different axes to grind when it comes to the music they make, they melodies they parse, and the rhythms that allow each to steer their own individual lyrical ship. For Algiers and its leader/lyricist Franklin James Fisher, there is a sense of holy rolling soul and cranky gospel tones. For Lower Interiors’ Maggie Brannon, there is a steelier, sinister, yet more playful sound to be found in her work.

This Friday June 29th, Algiers and Lower Interiors will come head-to-head (after coming face-to-face for the first time mere days previous) at West Philly’s The SoundHole to test the limits of their Dada-ist sensibilities. We caught up to both Fisher (with the rest of Algiers) and Brannon (all by her lonesome) driving separately into Nashville for the first gig of their co-joined tour dates. Continue reading →

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Tending soil with serpentwithfeet

serpentwithfeet
serpentwithfeet | photo by Ash Kingston | courtesy of the artist

Experimental pop-star serpentwithfeet is an artist who knows how to power clash, both sonically and emotionally. His music is at once vulnerable and volcanic as influences from the baroque to the Björk collide with each other. On stage, his presence is imposing yet inviting. His debut full length soil, out now on Secretly Canadian and Tri Angle Records, finds him wearing these occasionally messy dualities like finely tailored couture as he sings about the comforts and complexities of queer love. It’s somehow more expansive than his 2016 EP Blisters and more incisive.

He’ll be realizing these narratives on stage at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly next week. It’ll be a semi-homecoming for serpentwithfeet (born Josiah Wise), as he attended The University of the Arts in Philadelphia before ultimately moving to New York. To prepare for his return, I had the chance to chat him up about what motivates his creative output, how and when to exorcise one’s inner should, and what parts of Philly he always remembers to visit when he’s back in town… Continue reading →

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Road trip ranting with Angelo Moore and friends

Angelo Moore
Angelo Moore band | photo courtesy of the artist

This story is so juicy, and zesty, it falls off the bone and melts in your mouth: a conversation with occasional Fishbone-r Angelo Moore, Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr., Ashish “Hash” Vyas  of Thievery Corporation fame, and the rest of the sampladelic-soulful Brand New Step brain trust – in one car – driving out of New Orleans and into Atlanta. Their mission: to get to Philly by June 15’s Johnny Brenda’s gig in order to play its new hot jazz-funk cut “Pendulum Swings” and other songs from its sophomore album due out before 2018’s end.  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Suzann Christine

Suzann Christine | 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.

Suzann Christine has earned a place for herself as an estimable Philly R&B artist, no small feat in a city whose arts and culture is defined largely by its legacy of contributions to R&B, hip-hop and soul music. A longtime student of that heritage, the singer and songwriter has been named “Philly’s Best R&B Artist,” shared stages with the likes of Wale, Musiq Soulchild and Frankie Beverly, and played to a packed Franklin Parkway when Pope Francis visited in 2015.

Recently, Suzann published a new project called Cup of Love, which is now available on all digital media outlets, along with her new hit song “Save Me.” In April, she released a collaboration with Dejure Hest, called “Don’t Rush it,” along with a new music video for the track.

Suzann works hard to give back to her community too. For the past eight years, she’s been diligently developing SCH Creative & Performing Art, Inc., a non-profit organization that she founded and incorporated, where her “Fly Star” program was conceived as a way to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in middle and high school kids in Philly who were interested becoming professional musical artists. And this Thursday, June 7th, Christine performs at 2018 Redemption Week, a community concert and candlelight vigil to support One Day At A Time, a service organization helping low-income and homeless Philadelphians affected by HIV/AIDS. More information on that event can be found here. Continue reading →

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IamBNJMIIN is your new favorite recording engineer

iamBNJMIIN
iamBNJMIIN | photo by Joseph V. Labolito for Temple University | photo used with permission

From TyDolla$ign to Jazmine Sullivan, Benjamin Thomas’s portfolio as a music engineer spans to some of the biggest names in the industry, and he is only twenty two years old.

Whether working on location at Studio Breed in Philadelphia, or in his own home studio, Thomas — iamBNJMIIN in his credits — is the type who gives his all to the music he mixes.

“You can work smarter and harder, but if you choose to just work smarter; I’m just going to outwork you.” Thomas says.

Thomas is a Harlem native, and moved to Philadelphia when he was in early teen years. This was around the time when he was also introduced to music. “A lot of people would say ‘Yeah,  I remember this song when I was five,’” he says. “And I don’t, but my mom liked CDs a lot.”

Instead of listening, he would take his mother’s CD collection, and use it for room decoration.

Thomas admits that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are really the two things that introduced him to music as a child. After learning to master those video games, Thomas began playing bass in the sixth grade, but didn’t learn about engineering until later when one of his junior high teachers introduced him to it as a hobby.

“I got thrown into the fire in 8th grade when I was told to run this twelve microphone setup,” Thomas recalls. From there, the music hustle never stopped even as Thomas began his college career in Finance. Continue reading →

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Break Free Fest Spotlight: Melanin

Melanin | via facebook.com/melaninchicago

After a successful inaugural year, Philadelphia’s Break Free Fest returns to The Rotunda this weekend for two days, bringing POC and other marginalized voices in the punk scene together and to the front. All week long leading up to the event, we’re highlighting some of the performers on the bill.

Melanin / Chicago, IL
melaninpunk.bandcamp.com

Melanin has been ripping up the Chicago scene for the past year. As they explain in the interview below, they are very much “catchy punk rock” in their sound. But unlike all those soulless punk bands of yesteryear that just had songs about getting dumped and drinking beer, Melanin not only has a lot to say but the musical –  and lyrical – ability to make you want to listen and care. Continue reading →

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Break Free Fest Spotlight: Kind! Crew

Kind Crew | photo via kindcrewhc.bandcamp.com

After a successful inaugural year, Philadelphia’s Break Free Fest returns to The Rotunda this weekend for two days, bringing POC and other marginalized voices in the punk scene together and to the front. All week long leading up to the event, we’re highlighting some of the performers on the bill.

Kind! Crew / Boston, MA
kindcrewhc.bandcamp.com

Kind! Crew is a Boston youth crew hardcore band. Their music is fast and heavy and their socially conscious lyrics – “Spreading a message of love, equality, and well-being” according to their Bandcamp – are delivered in both English and Spanish. Break Free Fest is their first time playing Philadelphia. For this interview we spoke with guitarist Seth. Continue reading →

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Break Free Fest Spotlight: Complex

Complex | via complex.bandcamp.com

After a successful inaugural year, Philadelphia’s Break Free Fest returns to The Rotunda this weekend for two days, bringing POC and other marginalized voices in the punk scene together and to the front. All week long leading up to the event, we’re highlighting some of the performers on the bill.

Complex / Philadelphia, PA
complex.bandcamp.com

Complex is a hardcore punk band from Philadelphia who has been gigging around the city since 2016. Their first release, the Modern Mutants cassette, came out last year. This is the second time they will be playing at Break Free Fest. For this interview we spoke with lead singer EJ. Continue reading →