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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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Oh, Harry: The multifaceted Harry Connick Jr. talks about jazz, the Big Easy, and all things music

Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Connick Jr. | photo courtesy of the artist

There will always be two Harry Connick Jr.’s. There is the one who, since the 2000s, has made himself well-known and beloved in sit-coms (the first go-round of Will & Grace), children’s film fare (A Dolphin’s Tale), as judge and foil to J-Lo (American Idol), and as a talk show host (Harry).

The other Connick Jr. is a consummate musician, arranger, orchestrator and vocalist whose love and encyclopedic knowledge of Tin Pan Alley standards and the New Orleans music of his past and present make him a treasure still, even if you’ve paying more attention to the mass mediated Harry. The second, better one will play at the Mann Center on June 16 – celebrating New Orleans’ 300th birthday – for his first area live appearance in well over a decade. The second, better one is who The Key spoke with, exclusively, about music. 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: Rare Form

Rare Form | via rareformhc.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.

Rare Form / Philadelphia, PA
rareformhc.bandcamp.com

For the final preview of this weekend’s Break Free Fest, we spoke with Kayla Bastos, singer of Philadelphia hardcore band Rare Form who will be playing their final show at The Rotunda on Sunday.

Despite only being around for a couple years, the band managed to accomplish a lot. From touring the West Coast to opening up for a bunch of legendary acts including Madball to putting out a fantastic album to … having their song “Not Ur Baby” covered by Radigals, a feminist hardcore band from Singapore? Yup, that happened, and it’s amazing.

So watch that video, listen to the Rare Form album (it’s short and sweet and will take about 10 minutes), read this interview, and get yourself pumped for Break Free Fest! Continue reading →

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Todd Rundgren’s Shifting Utopias

Todd Rundgren's Utopia Group | photo by Danny O'connor | courtesy of the artist
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Group | photo by Danny O’connor | courtesy of the artist

The last time audiences caught a Todd Rundgren (and there are many to choose from), they were treated to a sound more in league with his sumptuous, blue-eyed soul past (such as 1972’s epic Something/Anything), teamed with the often caustic lyricism of, say, 2004’s Liars, the result of which was 2017’s White Knight, and its singularly humorous Trump-bashing “Tin Foil Hat.”

Now, in 2018, Rundgren is returning to an occasionally more peaceful (or existentially humanist) set of lyrics and a Technicolor progressive rock-ist sound with his ensemble Utopia, a box set of collected works and a tour that brings him home to Upper Darby and the Tower Theater on May 5.

“When I first formed Utopia in the 70s, a lot of it had to do with the fact that as a songwriter working primarily at that time on the piano, that I had put aside the guitar,” said the man whose 60s instrumental roots were in the bluesy Woody’s Truck Stop and the psychedelic The Nazz. “I started getting the feeling after Something/Anything, that I was losing my chops. I hadn’t created the opportunity as a songwriter or producer for the sort-of guitar playing I wanted to do.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Shannen Moser and Julia Peters

Shannen Moser and Julia Peters | 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.

A little over a year ago, Philly folk singer Shannen Moser released a debut studio full-length, Oh My Heart, on Philly-based indie record label Lame-O.

Moser is open about how emotional attachment  affected everything from the approach to recording it to stagecraft. While her first tour in support of the material last summer was with a full band, her set at last fall’s Philly Music Fest — where we conducted this interview — was stripped down to herself and cellist Julia Peters, who’s worked closely with Moser since Peters moved to the area a few years ago. Continue reading →

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Curiosity and Chaos: Zwei Mann Orchester finds readymade music in the sounds of every day

Zwei Mann Orchester | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

“You are seated in the cockpit of a fantastical, Rube Goldberg-like machine. All around you is a forest of strings, rods, levers and all manner of other movable elements. Using your hands, feet, body, and head, even the smallest gesture to set forth a visible chain reaction of producing the entire timbral range of the orchestra.” – From the introduction to Bowerbird’s performance of Mauricio Kagel’s Zwei Mann Orchester

The room is massive. You can tell that the second you walk in. But the musical contraptions spread out everywhere seem to fill it up top to bottom. There are guitars balanced seemingly precariously over drums, a cello held in place on top of a rocking chair with a rope and pulley attached to one leg, a huge harp mounted on top of a piano with what looks like some dryer tubing wrapped around it, and … is that a sewing machine?! According to Bowerbird Director Dustin Hurt, who is overseeing the construction of Mauricio Kagel’s Zwei Mann Orchester that’s premiering tonight, the idea behind the composition is that, “Music is not just limited to what we do in the concert hall. Music can be found in everyday objects and in sort of the sounds of things that we already hear everyday.” Continue reading →

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Dirty Harmony: Boogieman Dela draws from many musical pillars to create Future Currents

Boogieman Dela | via boogiemandela.com

Opening with the faint sound of birds chirping and oddly-metered “Doo-Doo-Doo-Dooo-Doo-Doooo” scats, “Believe” — the first track from West Philly MC/Singer Boogieman Dela’s latest EP Broken Watch 02: Future Currents — properly encapsulates the projects fresh, breezy spirit.

Once the over-sized kick drums hit, Boogieman enters with a slick, melodic flow and lyrics urging listeners to wake up and self-actualize. We caught up with him to chat about his beginnings in hip hop, his process, and the Gospel upbringing that helped shape his rich, soulful sound. Continue reading →

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Unplugged with Balmour

Balmour | Photo courtesy of artist

The 24 year old Yeadon crooner Balmour has been singing all his life, from first singing publicly in the church to honing his musical abilities during his time at Shippensburg University.

Since then, the young R&B singer has been quietly making a name for himself in the local scene, performing covers of different genres of music such as songs by Daughters, The Beatles and John Legend. However with his band Emötae‘s recent single “Missing Piece,” and the release of his debut EP Unplugged — which features vocal assistance and production from his brother Dan Goode — Balmour’s name seems to be growing within the past couple of years.

I recently sat down with him to discuss his band, his new EP, and how he feels about the local scene in Philadelphia. Continue reading →