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The High Key Portrait Series: Steve Gunn

Steve Gunn | 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.

In June of last year, Philly-turned-Brooklyn rocker Steve Gunn released a dazzling collection of anthems for the modern American road-warrior. Eyes On The Lines is the sort of record that has the potential to become a local classic, the kind of music conducive to a little reflection and meditation on a sprawling state highway, a soundtrack to stumbling on interesting places even in what you may have used to think of as flyover country.

Originally from the suburbs west of Philly, Gunn graduated from Temple U and moved to Northern Liberties, as sort of a happy accident for him, back in the days just before it became the focus of developers, or a trendy place to move and invest in property. It was where Gunn got serious, as he describes it, about his focus on writing and recording music, where the prolific artist got started on what’s now a back catalog of over a dozen albums; among other topics, he talks  in this interview about the era of Philly indie rock in the time of the late Jack Rose.

The native son returns next Saturday, for a homecoming set at the World Cafe’s Philly Music and Arts Fest. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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Maximizing Time: Philly’s Justin Duerr on constant immersion in music, writing and visual art

Justin Duerr performs with Northern Liberties | photo by Yoni Kroll

You might know Justin Duerr from Resurrect Dead, the award-winning documentary he helped make about Toynbee Tiles, the colorful and mysterious messages embedded in roads in Philadelphia, NYC, and elsewhere. You might know him from his bands, including the long-running ‘ghost punk’ outfit Northern Liberties or the acoustic duo Get the Great Cackler he does with his partner Mandy Katz. You might have seen his one-of-a-kind art on a t-shirt or a show flyer or maybe hanging on your friend’s wall. Or you might just have seen Justin intently walking around Philadelphia, tattoos stretching from the side of his head to the tops of his hands – including a portrait of pop singer Cyndi Lauper gracing his left hand – and wondered, “What’s up with that guy?”

Opening Friday at the Magic Gardens on South Street, Time’s Funeral: Drawings and Poems by Justin Duerr is a gallery exhibition including small, stand-alone pieces and huge posters that are part of an on-going storytelling series that Justin has been working on for almost two decades. As an added bonus, he’ll be playing music at the opening night. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | 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 the past few years, Zoe Reynolds has been diligently crafting her gorgeous, poetic reveries, framed by the tastefully reverberating rhythm of her electric guitar, all packaged under the Kississippi brand. Sometimes touring on her own, sometimes with more rounded-out crew of other musicians she’s met at shows, her recordings and performances are evenly thoughtful and intimate, and she delivers her rich vocals with just enough empty space between the notes.

Having already produced two EP’s and a live recording, Kississippi is putting final touches on a new full-length, which Reynolds is excited to share. A crowning achievement for an eventful Summer that included her first trip up to Canada to play a few dates, Reynolds will play in the company of her compatriot artists the first weekend of Fall at World Cafe Live, taking her place in a lineup comprised exclusively of local musicians in a few weeks for September’s Philly Music Fest, in what will be her first full-band show with the all-new Kississipi lineup. Get more information on that performance at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read our interview with Reynolds below. Continue reading →

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Meet Philly fusion crew Interminable, see them Wednesday at Dahlak, or on tour this fall

Interminable | photo via facebook.com/interminablemusic

For the past two years, Philly five-piece Interminable has explored the meeting ground between folk music and jammy improv, working mainly in son jarocho — a regional style of music from Veracruz, Mexico — and incorporating elements of jazz, electronic music, and rock.

The band is comprised of Ximena Violante on jarana, violin, and vocals; John Cole on drums; Rodrigo Pichardo on bass; Brian O’Connell on piccolo bass; and Becca Graham from Hardwork Movement on trumpet. This summer, they recorded a new single, “Consecuencia,” with the folks at Weathervane Music that they plan to release ahead of their first-ever U.S. tour, which kicks off next month at The Lilypad in Boston and wraps up a week later at the AfroFuturist Affiar’s Time Travel Camp in Philly.

While we wait for it to roll around, you can catch Interminable plaing an acoustic duo show this Wednesday, August 30th, at Dahlak Paradise in West Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Son Little Plays Ball

Son Little | photo by Marc Lemoine | courtesy of the artist
Son Little | photo by Marc Lemoine | courtesy of the artist

When Son Little sings “I got the blue magic / And I rock you so savage” on his upcoming New Magic album, there’s a grit and a swaggering gamesmanship to his voice that wasn’t apparent in past such as 2014s Things I Forgot EP and his eponymously-titled 2015 album. That strut may not even have been there when Aaron Livingston (Little’s birth name) recorded with The Roots or with RJD2 as Icebird.

Did the multi-hyphenate neo-bluesman and seemingly professional lodger (LA to NYC to Philly to somewhere in New Jersey) get that ‘”oomph” producing an EP for legendary gospel goddess Mavis Staples (Your Good Fortune)? Or writing for electro-R&B saxophonist / DJ GRiZ? Does his newfound love (or display of affection) for baseball have anything to do with this soulful gloat as he’s taken to singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before National League games?

Before Livingston heads into a busy autumn — beginning at this week’s Afropunk festival in Brooklyn, extending to the September 15th New Magic release and a two-night stand at Boot and Saddle at the month’s end — we caught up with him via phone so he could address some of these burning questions. Continue reading →

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Speaking the truth with Philly punk visionaries Soul Glo

Soul Glo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Soul Glo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

For many rockers of color, finding films like AFROPUNK — James Spooner’s groundbreaking documentary about minority involvement in punk and hardcore movements — was and is a critical milestone in their development. As a young black and queer punk rocker immersed in the community, watching this film’s scenes unfold, bearing witness to ideas, perspectives, and experiences expressed in the film that were so wildly different, I realized something: each one of those perspectives, from both the youthful, energetic dayglo punk who “didn’t want to be defined by their race” to the raging political hardcore kid using the genre towards black liberation, at some point I had felt similarly, at least in part, to all of the interviewees. The lived black punk rock experience was given a voice. In that documentary’s wake the legions of weird yet still culturally impactful black music has practically given birth to new ways of discovering music through blogs and social media. This wave has infiltrated community centers and Shriners’ hallls, as well as taken to the stages usually reserved for all white bands.

Philadelphia is a city ripe for a black and brown punk reclaiming. Entire movements have thrived for more than a decade dedicated to promoting art and music by marginalized people. Enter Soul Glo, a band etching dark, interpersonal screeds on ancient parchment cut from the skin of the rotting corpse of hardcore punk. Their music travels pedal-driven through lush, dense shoe-gaze forests, bursting out of the other side screaming. Lead singer Pierce Jordan’s voice is an unmatched wail that snakes through the band’s wiry punk orchestration as a truly exhaustive vessel for his trauma-informed lyrics. While their name — taken from a parody product from the cult 80’s Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America, said to give black folk luscious, wavy jheri curled hair — may come across as comedic, it’s important to remember that the moniker choice is all a part of the intricate cultural interplay and relevancy that truly revolutionary, unbothered and alternative black acts have traditionally embraced. From Parliament’s colorful renditions of life on the mothership to Odd Future’s notorious hyper-cartoon troll Tyler the Creator’s transformation into a living meme, there’s certainly room for jest in this revolution. The sentiment is most aptly put by an interviewee in the AFROPUNK doc when she casually intones: “I don’t feel less black because I’m less normal”

We sat down with Soul Glo to discuss the contradictions, struggles and even empowerment of speaking the truth of the black lived experience to a punk power structure that often values the social capital of whiteness over others. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Joie Kathos

Joie Kathos | 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.

Philly’s Joie Kathos has had a busy year. In June, she performed at Delaware’s Firefly Festival; back in March she was showcased on both the iStandard Beat Battle and in Washington DC’s SheROCKS event. She’s got her hands in several ongoing projects, having released singles for Comin Home With Me (CHWM) on iTunes late last year. And come September, she’ll open up at the Electric Factory for Young M.A.

The Philly native’s star is on the rise, but her head seems to be planted squarely right here at home, in a city that’s imbued her with a deep cultural tradition going back to her parents’ love for arts and music. In this interview, she recalls childhood memories attending local concerts with her father, and all of the music that continues to fuel her own creative energy. She’s inspired and informed by hip hop touchstones like The Roots and KRS-One, and one of her personal heroes, Bahamadia, invited the young rapper to perform at her #KOLLAGE tribute show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. “We sat in the studio and talked and she was droppin’ jewels,” Kathos reminisces about the collaboration. “I’m grateful for her.”

As she describes CHWM, she evokes more cherished memories of ‘90s music media culture. “Remember back in like the ‘90s when they used to release singles on CD, and then there would be like the ‘radio edit,’ and three different house mixes.. I just wanna keep it true to that.” You’ll be quickly laughed off and contradicted, though, should you try to point that she couldn’t possibly “remember the ‘90s” because she’s only 25: “I’ve always been into music. My start in music was way back when, when I was a baby! My mom sang, and she danced, and my uncle sang, and I was just around it. So I’m a little bit ahead of my time, a little bit old-school too.” Continue reading →

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Live from The Cave with Second Womb

Second Womb | photo courtesy of the artist
Second Womb | photo courtesy of the artist

One of the most important things to do as an upcoming artist is to stay consistent no matter what. There will be trials and tribulations that make some feel alone at times, and feel like praying for the perseverance to not quit, but one’s self-confidence makes them refute the idea of giving up. That type of consistency allows the craft to be perfected, more work to be displayed and a hunger for success to constantly expands. This type of consistency can be seen by Jersey’s duo Dookie Brown, an MC, and Father Earth, a producer, collectively known as Second Womb. I recently got the opportunity to speak with Dookie Brown about the Garden State hip hop duo’s beginning, work ethic and their latest EP Live From The Cave Vol: 19.    Continue reading →

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Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes has a new band in Bermuda Triangle

Alabama Shakes | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

Anyone who attended last year’s XPN Fest knows quite well how amazingly talented Brittany Howard is. As the vocalist for the Grammy-winning Alabama Shakes, she packs a vocal punch rivaled by no one. So the news that found its way through the interwebs this week was sure to excite: Howard has a new band and they’re debuting live in Nashville next week. Continue reading →