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This Is Us: In Conversation with Empress Of

Empress Of
Empress Of | photo by Adam Elramly | courtesy of the artist

As Empress Of, Lorely Rodriguez crafts precise, deeply personal electronic pop that’s both specific to her own life experiences and relatable for any number of listeners who have had their own. That ability for her music to take on more collective significance is mirrored and magnified with her sophomore album, Us, which found her branching out sonically and thematically to explore the fruits and feelings that come from working with and opening up to others after the emotional autonomy of her 2015 debut Me. Ahead of her show at Boot & Saddle this Wednesday, Lorely and I talked about that shift and all that went into and came out of it… Continue reading →

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Revisiting the road to Tomorrow with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten | photo courtesy of the artist

Sharon Van Etten makes me feel like I don’t do anything.

In the five years since her 2014 opus Are We There alone, it would be hard to find something she hasn’t done. In addition to touring behind that album, she performed and collaborated with countless other artists. She started scoring films. She branched out into acting and appeared on some of the buzziest cult television shows of the era. She even started pursuing her degree in Psychology. On top of all of that, she settled into a long-term relationship and became a parent. Oh yeah, and she wrote and recorded her latest masterpiece, the soaring, sobering Remind Me Tomorrow. Just typing all of that out makes me want to go back to bed, but Van Etten sounds as energized and dynamic as ever. While this album’s songs aren’t about these life events and achievements, specifically, they do accurately convey the emotions and perspective shifts that came with them. It’s a meditation on what it’s like to be happy during unhappy times, and how important and challenging it is to stay happy.

Ahead of next week’s performance at Union Transfer, Sharon was gracious enough to have a long chat with me about everything that’s been going on in the years leading up to Tomorrow, the work and influences that went into it, and how she stays grounded and positive through everything going on around us. Continue reading →

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Hello and Goodbye, Sagar Bumsweat: Philly basement show rapper closes up shop with Greater Fool Radio

Sagar Bumsweat | photo courtesy of the artist
Sagar Bumsweat | photo courtesy of the artist

Sagar Vasishtha’s weird and wonderful digital rap tapes first landed on our radar just over a year ago, in a late-2017 edition of the dormant Items Tagged Philadelphia project. Following up on the earlier release PROPERMEDITATION, Vasishtha’s home-recorded hip-hop project Bumsweat released an instrumental EP called BOOGSLOOPS1000, purporting that it was inspired by a legendary series of underground beat tapes that inspired him as a budding producer. Taking in by the mystique and taking him at his word for such, I praised the project’s “totally transportive Theviery Corporation / Faithless / Massive Attack vibrations” while acknowledging the obscure origins of its influence. Turns out the Boog’s Loops tapes were more obscure than I realized: as I learned in this interview, they were Vasishtha’s own projects, released as a teenager learning to navigate the world of DIY production. He’s been at this game for longer than we realized.

So what exactly brings us to this interview? For one thing, Sagar Bumsweat (as the project has gone for its last couple releases) has a new collection of music out today called Greater Fool Radio. It’s another set of dream-like synthesizer tapestries, fierce beats, and matter-of-fact flow that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Anticon-era Why? or Stones Throw Records luminary Peanut Butter Wolf. But enough with the reference points; the other reason we’re talking to Vasishtha is because after two years and change, he’s closing the book on Sagar Bumsweat as he prepares to leave Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Garnet Mimms

Garnet Mimms | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Early in 1971, Janis Joplin’s second and final solo studio record Pearl was released, and featured a number of what would ultimately become her best-known hits. Among them was “Cry Baby,” which she’d been featuring in live sets in the years prior, and which was released as a single in 1971 (b/w “Mercedes Benz”) that spent six weeks on that year’s charts.

Perhaps it was her notoriety, or her untimely death at age 27, just a few months prior, that helped to seal the popular association of that track so synonymously with Joplin, her withering blues-rock rendition reportedly a commentary on an ex-boyfriend’s departure. But, written by hitmakers Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy seven years earlier, the song had another life with its original performer, a gospel artist named Garnet Mimms. Backed by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston, Mimms put that song on top of the R&B and US pop charts in 1963, launching the singer into an international spotlight. Continue reading →

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The musical rehabilitation of Franky Hill’s User

Franky Hill | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

The first time I saw Franky Hill, I didn’t know what to expect from him. The show was last month at MilkBoy, and Hill was opening for one of the dopest hip hop artist in the city, Ivy Sole. But the moment he got on stage and touched the mic, I felt like I was watching someone going to pulpit and share their testimony with the congregation. The music was amazing, his energy was very contagious, and you could sense that every song Franky performed felt like a wounded spirit had been healed, and was spreading his newfound joy all throughout  the crowd.

From writing battle raps aimed at no one to writing poems to cope with the loss of his beloved mother, to creating his debut album Blurred Lines to his recent project User, it seems as though Franky Hill was destined to use music as a weapon to battle demons, whether they belong to him or others. I recently got a chance to sit with the 24 year old Camden MC to talk about his early beginnings and how User found its way into the world. Continue reading →

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Talking divine intervention, self-care, Bohemian Rhapsody and Magic Gone with Petal’s Kiley Lotz

Petal
Petal | photo by Katie Krulock | courtesy of the artist

Petal is the project of singer-songwriter Kiley Lotz, a Scranton native whose unflinchingly honest rock draws from some of her favorite singers growing up, including Freddie Mercury, Carole King, and Nina Simone. Her newest album, Magic Gone, takes Lotz’ struggles with mental health and questions about her sexual identity and crafts them into a series of beautiful and intimate punk songs with guitars and drums just as raw. Her live performances are nothing short of awe-inspiring, whether she’s bringing down the house with a full band shredding, or taking it solo and captivating crowds with her steady and transfixing voice. Ahead of her first headlining appearance at the First Unitarian Church, I spoke with Lotz just before the new year, and we talked about her new album, self-care while on tour, her college education in Theatre Arts, and the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. Continue reading →

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The colors of Chromelodeon

Chromelodeon | image courtesy of the artist

If the Marios were more super than your brothers and the sounds of video game music (VGM) was your EDM from the years 2000 to 2007, then the seven-to-nine collective membership of Philadelphia’s Chromelodeon was your cup of tea. When they reunite at PhilaMOCA this weekend – January 19 and 20 – for their first shows in 11 years, it will be for the love of the game, past and present, as well as for the mutual respect of its metal machine music makers.

“Video games were definitely an important part of all of our childhoods,” says bassist Denny Barron of a South Jersey youth that led each member (synth men Dino Lionetti and Ryan Soloby), guitarists Danny Tarng and Eddy Tsang, drummers Patrick “Bucky” Todd and Joseph Idell, accordionist David Chapman and visual artist Chris Singer) to the Chromelodeon center. “The sound of those games was always something that we carried with us as well developed as musicians throughout our lives.” Continue reading →

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Find Your Tribe: Hermit High Priestess makes punk ethereal on their heavenly, heavy new EP

Hermit High Priestess | Photo by Sarrah Danziger | via facebook.com/atreenamedturtle

“THERE’S ALWAYS MORE”– Hermit High Priestess on trauma, eclecticism, and the hope of being understood

The idea of “shattering the binary” is often a lofty one in music, especially in genres and scenes as insular as punk rock. On the one hand, punk has a reputation for being unabashedly free, artistically daring, its practitioners eschewing constraint and announcing themselves as “other.” Yet if you dig beneath the surface — past the bullet belts, gas station attendant jackets, and spiked hair — you’ll find a uniform orthodoxy that often holds the genre in stasis.

Hermit High Priestess are two wandering spirits informed by an idealistic re-imagining of punk rock, where magic and incantation are as much a part of the punk rock process as are cryptically scrawled black t-shirts. Dani and Anna play music that is heavy, yet still somehow heavenly, forgoing the three-chord stomp and bash of yet another Ramones or Discharge reincarnation. Instead their music, like on “The Rake’s Wave”, a standout track on their forthcoming EP, infuses warm strings, mischievous bass and xylophone lines, along with Anna’s determined, heartfelt vocals ruminating on the necromantic nature of systems that corrupt our dreams.

It’s almost as if the still-expanding underground music scene struggles to make room for HHP, yet still they persist, turning up on bills with aggressive punk bands, spoken word artists, R&B acts, metal bands — when you’re an ethereal, romantic, tribal folk band evoking Dead Can Dance, and Tori Amos as much as more obscure Crass Records bands like Tappi Tikarras, there’s a certain amount of work you’ve got to be prepared to do to find your tribe. Although they’ve yet to be embraced fully, HPP, with their latest work, are ready to start the ritual to affect the change they want to see in their world — non-binary, brilliant, and free of the trappings of genre.

We sat down and talked with them on the precipice of their latest release to find out what conversations they were having as a band that led them to create such rousing work. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ali Awan

“I kind of get stir crazy if I’m not out playing shows,” says Ali Awan. “I always have to be in a certain project, I love writing and working on stuff.”

In recent years, the Philadelphia psych rock singer-songwriter — WXPN’s Artist to Watch for the month of January — has played lead guitar in a handful of northeast bands, including Philly’s Needle Points and New York’s Jane Church. But his own solo material was always in back-of-mind, and the four songs populating his Bandcamp page, going back to his year-old debut solo release “Citadel Blues,” were all the result of downtime within other projects.

“I was pretty much writing a lot of this stuff as I was in those bands, but I never knew how I wanted to present it,” he says. “Should I get a band together? Is it just a recording project? Playing ‘Citadel’ live was the last thing on my mind, because as much as I love being a frontperson, I also love just playing guitar.”

It’s not a new obsession, either. Awan is 26 now, but he’s been playing music around Philly for more than a decade, going back to when he was a 14-year-old kid who would take the regional rail downtown from Abington to catch punk shows in basement venues with names like Disgraceland and Halfway House.
Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

It was by luck of the draw that Tim Showalter became a Philadelphian. Having spent his childhood in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, the Strand Of Oaks frontman was sold on Philly by a childhood friend of his who’d already pioneered the relocation, and to hear Showalter tell it, it hardly even feels adopted, anymore.

He makes reference to that several times, in a recent interview with us, effusive in his affection for all he feels Philly has been able to offer him over the past decade and a half here. Wearing his beard long and his lumberjack coat red, Showalter reminisced warmly about wandering the Wissahickon, building out his band, getting to see Philly legend Jack Rose play hallowed local stages like Brenda’s — and then, with a sense of genuine gratitude, the good fortune of getting to later play them himself.

Showalter also talks “Winter Classic”: a lineup of several consecutive Strand Of Oaks shows that launches tonight at Boot And Saddle. On deck this week to celebrate a fourth year of these gigs with him are folk-singer Joe Pug, and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel. Continue reading →