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Debauchery and Determination: The long road to Creepoid’s swan song

Creepoid | photo by Megan Matuzak for WXPN

On a faded yellow bridgewater style couch, Sean Miller and Anna Troxell make room as Pat Troxell, sporting a classic Stone Roses lemon t-shirt, settles in. Pete Urban is in arm’s reach, with only his beer-stocked cooler separating him and the rest of Creepoid. It’s uncomfortably warm for mid-January, but the band is practically on top of one another.

Over past nine years, Anna, Pat, Sean and Pete have survived numerous calamities: party-centric producers, broken down vans, various Sean injuries, countless tours and the struggles of the DIY scene. They’ve also survived one other.

Creepoid’s most recent release in 2016, Burner, is a three-track sonic hellstorm of raw energy and the band’s most accurate studio portrayal of what it’s like to see them live. Much like 2014’s Wet, the EP was self-recorded, but in the studio, rather than in the cozy basement of the Troxells’ Tulip Street basement. Little did the band know, it would be their last release. Following their March 30th show at Now That’s Class in Cleveland, Ohio in 2017 at the tail end of a cross-country tour, Creepoid decided to call it quits.

“I would like to be remembered as a band that worked really hard,” Anna, bassist and vocalist, says. “A band that worked hard and took it seriously.” Continue reading →

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Musical Collage: Little Strike soaks up influence in the sounds of her surroundings

Little Strike | photo by Natalie Piserchio | <a href="http://nataliepiserchio.com" target="_blank">nataliepiserchio.com</a>
Little Strike | photo by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | nataliepiserchio.com

When you’re first presented with the idea of electronic world folk music, it may be an odd concept to wrap your head around. But once you hear the music of Middle Eastern born, Philly-based singer and songwriter Little Strike, the genre makes a lot more sense.

Tamar Dart, the force behind Little Strike, has been popping up on concert bills over the past few years – last year included a performance Pub Webb and a set at Apiary Magazine Issue 9 launch party. Her sound mixes charming, unhurried guitar melodies, beats made from found sounds, and cutting, introspective lyrics that relate to themes of travel, and world strife.

“I sort of approach that (music) kind of how I approach my visual art – it is a collage,” said Dart. “The collage will change depending on what’s around.” Continue reading →

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How Philly’s Perry Shall went from basement show punk to in-house artist for Dan Auerbach

Perry Shall
Perry Shall | photo by Alyssa Tanchajja | courtesy of the artist

You might not know Perry Shall by name, but if you’re a music fan in Philadelphia, you’ve almost certainly heard the longhaired rocker in one of his many bands or seen his art gracing the albums and t-shirts of some of your favorite acts. You might have even heard him on WFMU’s The Best Show – he has the show’s slogan WE GET IT / THEY DON’T tattooed on his wrists – or seen the wildly popular SuperDeluxe video about his immense vintage t-shirt collection, 1400 and counting.

He is the very definition of a man about town, though these days that town isn’t just Philly: Shall has been doing much of the art and design work for Nashville-based label Easy Eye Sound, run by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Don’t worry, he’s not leaving us for the Music City. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who loves this city as much as Perry does and I suspect he’ll never live anywhere else. Continue reading →

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Kimbra’s Primal Heart wins out

Kimbra at The Roots Picnic | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

It’s hard not to embrace an interview subject who enters the conversation laughing before the first question is lobbed. That’s Kimbra: the New Zealand soul singer whose albums before 2018 (The Golden Echo, Vows) were cheerfully cluttered, genre-mixing experiences marinated in the meaty juices of dance-pop.

Her newest album following her recent move to NYC, Primal Heart, is due in April, and takes a different tact in that the whole of the album is a windier, more minimalist experience, which allows her emotional lyrical perspective to shine through to a greater extent than in previous sonic settings. Before she appears at Union Transfer on January 31, Kimbra chatted about golden echoes, gods and Gotye. Continue reading →

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When Springsteen Came to Haddonfield: New Jersey photographer Frank Stefanko reflects on working with The Boss

Bruce Springsteen in Haddonfield | photo copyright Frank Stefanko | used with permission

Looking at the cover art, you’d probably guess that the iconic photo of Bruce Springsteen on Darkness on the Edge of Town was shot in his native Asbury Park. Or maybe in nearby Homdel, New Jersey, where he bought a farmhouse to write the album in.

That speaks to how well The Boss and South Jersey photographer Frank Stefanko were simpatico. The front and back cover images for Darkness, with a tousle-haired Bruce standing against venetian blinds and floral wallpaper, gazing in the lens with a mix of world-weary ennui and quiet confidence, were actually shot in Stefanko’s home in Haddonfield, New Jersey, a cozy borough just 25 minutes east of Philadelphia. They were two of the first photographs Stefanko took of Springsteen, from a test shoot that would precede their main portrait sessions. And with The Boss presenting an everyman character in his poise – whether intentional or accidental — the image connected hugely with the songs he was crafting at the time.

As Stefanko told Pitchfork in a 2010 interview, “We were trying to recreate these middle America, working class families; guys that were looking for redemption. It could have been done in the 70s or 50s or even the 40s. The idea was that these people transcended time or space. But we were trying to get something to look like an old Kodacolor snapshot. There were a lot of black and white photographs taken in those sessions too which were very striking in their own right. But the idea of this color photograph that could have been a snapshot in somebody’s drawer worked for the album.”

As it turned out, many famous images of Springsteen were also taken in and around Haddonfield, by Stefanko. The artwork for The River. The cover of his memoir, Born to Run. This fall, Stefanko released his own book, a massive new photo collection called Bruce Springsteen: Further Up The Road. The book chronicles the two Jersey boys’ four decades working together, from the sessions for Darkness and The River through the Nebraska years and up to Springsteen’s tours in 2012 and 2016. It features photos, proof sheets, and lots of lore, and to commemorate the year they began working together, is released in a limited edition of 1,978 copies.

“Bruce was looking for a certain feeling, a certain look,” Stefanko said when I caught up with him via phone last month. “And to my great pleasure, the images I created were the ones that he felt represented the characters he was writing about.” Continue reading →

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The Power of the People: Kamasi Washington on artistic freedom and intellectual expansion

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington | photo courtesy of the artist

If you listen to current jazz and its proponents, you’d think the landscape would be wrought with dark cynicism, mired in the sometimes tenuous relationship that jazz, in an attempt to stay in the millennial zeitgeist, has had to build with scenes like noise or experimental music. Scenes where a bleaker outlook is fostered at the expense of spiritual liberation.

Enter Kamasi Washington, a beacon in the modern iteration of jazz and avant garde music. He exists as a portal to another time where African dashikis and proud Nubian brothers holding spears atop wicker chairs, or black astral travelers conjuring up sounds rocking “spiritual tuning fork as headdress,” were the norm. With his band locked in with the force of a hadron collider and bursting with kaleidoscopic vision, the native Los Angeleno manages to bring together genres seamlessly with two highly acclaimed albums– 2015’s The Epic and this fall’s Harmony of Difference. While he has enough room in his heart for both Art Blakey and Grover Washington, both Wayne Shorter and George Benson, the key to this grand synthesis of sound, where orchestral moments like Epic‘s opening track “Change of the Guard” lift through the atmosphere only to descend gracefully, tapering out with an effortless cool that evokes a hungry Miles Davis, is simple: it’s in the power of the people. Continue reading →

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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 →

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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 discussing Cooper’s personal and creative journey – through drugs, depression, and breakdowns – to their new album Messy, released this week. Continue reading →

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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 →

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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 →