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Time Capsule: Miriam Devora of Queen of Jeans discusses the evolution of “Moody”

Queen of Jeans | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com
Queen of Jeans | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

Last January, Queen of Jeans was born. I remember because around that time the long-standing Passyunk Avenue King of Jeans sign was rumored to be in danger of coming down. At first, I saw Queen of Jeans to be social media’s answer to the handful of people distraught about losing this icon—which featured a shirtless man in Springsteen-tight jeans, kissing a lady who’s passionately crouched down in front of him. But that was something different—a collaboration between street artist Kid Hazo and general Philly-loving t-shirt designers of South Fellini.

And at the same time that these jokers putting up signs insinuating that maybe it was time for ladies to rule the hood, a group of them were already working on it.

Queen of Jeans is also the name that songwriter Miriam Devora gave her then-brand-new project which included guitarist Matheson Glass, bassist Nina Scotto and drummer Patrick Wall. And yes, the group is from South Philly, but they’ve got a sweet and sour ‘60s surf style that couldn’t sound further removed from that part of town with its wiz-covered potholes, hoagie shops and sexed-up Greaser signage.

In this month’s edition of Time Capsule we spoke with Miriam, lead singer, guitarist and original conspirator behind Queen of Jeans.

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Five Philly bands that made Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. want to make music

Into It. Over It.
Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. | photo by Cameron Witting | courtesy of the artist

Over the past several years, Chicago indie rocker Evan Weiss has made a solid name for himself with the emo-tinged outfit Into It. Over It. The band tours relentlessly – a current run of dates is under way in support of Standards, its excellent third LP – and it has amassed a devoted fan base across the country and internationally. But before he planted roots in the midwest, Weiss grew up locally, finding inspiration in the regional music community from his Cherry Hill, NJ vantage point and playing in The Progress.

This Sunday night, II.OI. returns to Weiss’ old stomping grounds to headline the famed TLA on South Street with The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, The Sidekicks and Pinegrove. Ahead of the show, I asked Weiss to reflect on the music from the Philly region that inspired him. Here’s what he had to say. Continue reading →

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Eight questions with Philly rapper Tunji Ige

Tunji Ige
Tunji Ige | photo courtesy of the artist

We’ve been fans of Philly rapper Tunji Ige here at The Key ever since first putting our ears to The Love Project, his debut mixtape that dropped in late 2014 when he was 20 years old. He’s an MC at heart, but paints his music with a broad brush – it incorporates elements of dance pop, psychedelia and experimental rock. A couple years down the pike, we’ve been totally enthralled with the direction he’s taken his career, from gripping music videos with longtime collaborator Glassface to guest spots with emerging Parisian pop outfit Christine and the Queens.

This spring, Tunji dropped Missed Calls, a seven-song set that you can stream below. Is it an EP? Is it a full length? I don’t know, but it’s good. We caught up with him on the phone last week, and basically asked him everything we’ve wanted to know more about over the past two years. Read our interview below, and catch Tunji tonight when he opens the show at Underground Arts for JUMP Philly’s Red Bull Sound Select party.  Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: A master class in songwriting on Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties’ “Green Like The G Train”

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties
Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties | photo by Mitch Wojcik | courtesy of the artist

Many moons ago, punk scene vet Dan Campbell was playing a festival gig in Florida when a chance encounter with another artist on the bill planted the seeds for his next project.

It was 2010, and Campbell recalls bouncing from stage to stage around the St. Johns County Fairgrounds, taking in the eclectic lineup of the Harvest of Hope Festival, when he found himself simply bowled over by a solo performance from The Mountain Goats. Intending to just check out a couple songs and move on, he was immediately hooked, and an hour later, he’d watched frontman John Darnielle play his entire set.

“He was so unbelievably human, without ego or pretense,” Campbell recalls. “Just a person with a guitar playing songs that meant a lot to him.

“His ability to craft stories,” he continues, “was what made me want to do Aaron West in the first place.” Continue reading →

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Talking Miles Ahead with Philly jazzman Josh Lawrence

Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The idea of Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis has been floating around for at least a decade, ever since the legendary trumpeter’s son, Erin Davis, and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., proposed the idea while inducting Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The notion finally came to big-screen fruition this year as Miles Ahead, in a form different than anyone might have expected (it opens at the Ritz Five on tonight).

Doubling as director, Cheadle deviated from the standard biopic format to create a heist-movie fantasia with Miles at its center,aiming for the spirit rather than the factual reality of its subject. I wondered how the film might look to someone directly influenced by Miles’ music, so I invited trumpeter Josh Lawrence, co-founder of the Fresh Cut Orchestra and host of the Thursday night jazz series at Jose Garces’ Volver Restaurant, to attend a screening with me and discuss the film afterward.  Continue reading →

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Vocals Only: Andy Hull on scoring a film using only his voice

Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra
Andy Hull | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Fans of Manchester Orchestra know that Andy Hull’s voice is sometimes at its most powerful when it’s quiet. Sure, he can push his volume and power over the sailing, distorted guitars, but it’s when he’s at his quietest where he lets much of his emotion come out through trembling melodies and rich harmonies. You can also hear it in his solo project—Right Away, Great Captain. Now, along with Manchester Orchestra bandmate Robert McDowell, Hull used the power of the voice, and the voice alone, to score the film Swiss Army Man, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano. And it was not easy. Continue reading →

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Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek talks music, danger, and what the band once did at the First Unitarian Church altar

Chairlift
Chairlift | photo courtesy of the artist

Caroline Polachek, vocalist, songwriter, and one-half Brooklyn pop duo Chairlift, has for many years now earned a reputation as one of indie’s most mesmerizing front women, thanks to her smart lyrics, strong pipes, and ability to completely immerse herself in a performance. Together with band-mate Patrick Wimberly, Chairlift has helped refine and defy expectations about pop music for over a decade, moving from a trendy band in an Apple commercial to an innovative musical force, whose repertoire includes everything from re-appropriated action-flick music to choose-your-own-adventure-style music videos—and has continued to grow and evolve with time.

Case-in-point: the band’s third full-length Moth, which dropped earlier this year and might be their best record yet. A glistening, sun-soaked journey through lows and super highs, Moth navigates vulnerabilities and triumphs while always remaining firmly planted in the groove. This month, the band will bring Moth to Philadelphia, playing Underground Arts on April 12. In advance of the show, we rung up Caroline to talk writing, tour, and what Chairlift once did at the First Unitarian Church altar. Continue reading →

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How Jonathan Richman – stone-mason, meditator and my personal rock’n’roll hero – became my pen pal

Jonathan richman | photo courtesy of the artist
Jonathan richman | photo courtesy of the artist

Jonathan Richman will forever be best known, among a certain perennial segment of cool kids, for The Modern Lovers, a collection of disowned demo tapes by his teenage rock band that, depending who you ask, possibly maybe invented punk music.  2016 happens to mark the 40th anniversary of that record’s 1976 release (although it was recorded several years earlier.) 

But it’s hard to imagine an artist less likely to commemorate such a milestone, in today’s customary, backward-gazing fashion.  Richman turned his back on anything resembling punk as we know it – while deeply, radically embodying its contrarian ethos – with the light-hearted ‘50s-style ditties and goofy, childlike glee of Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – which was also released in 1976, and which possibly maybe invented indie pop – and he’s never looked back.

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Wither Not: A conversation with Andrew Bird ahead of his Electric Factory gig

Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird | Photo by Reuben Cox | courtesy of the artist

“Get out your dictionaries,” Andrew Bird instructs us on the title track of Are You Serious, the debonair multi-instrumentalist’s thirteenth-or-so album (it’s difficult to know what counts). It arrives tomorrow, on April Fools Day – yes, seriously – in advance of his appearance at the Electric Factory on Monday.  Perhaps a sly callback to a similar line on “Measuring Cups” (from 2005’s landmark The Mysterious Production of Eggs), it’s also just sound advice when dealing this guy, as avid Bird-ers know well; as he muses self-reflexively earlier in the song: “[I] used to be so willfully obtuse – or is the word abstruse?”  

On Serious, though, without fully laying off the brainy science references and polysyllabic repartee – check his discursive, meta-romantic exchange with Fiona Apple on the bluesy “Left-Handed Kisses” – Bird offers some of his most plainspoken, disarmingly personal lyrics to date. Significantly, the album comes in the wake of both marriage and the birth of his now four-year-old son.  It also features some of his most driving, immediate music in ages, encompassing tense, meaty funk (“Capsized”), Afrobeat inflections (“The New Saint Jude”) and bright, punchy power-pop (the atom-smashing “Puma”) alongside his more typical rustic fiddlings and gypsy-jazz balladry.

Even at its peppiest, Bird’s brand of thoughtful, folksy indie rock isn’t typically the sort of thing that packs venues like the Electric Factory.  Performing solo and (as he does on this tour) with a band, he’s made his name with dazzling violin-work, live looping and uncanny whistling; it’s a subtly spectacular performance style that, for better or worse, benefits greatly from an intimate setting. When Key editor John Vettese caught up with him on the phone from a Nashville tour stop this week, Bird discussed the contrast of performing in big rooms versus small spaces, feelings of being on display in performance and writing, and how a virtuosic output keeps his chops from withering. He also reflected on his beginnings with the Music of Hair LP, which turns 20 this year.

Read the interview below and listen to Are You Serious in full via NPR Music. -K. Ross Hoffman Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore

Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <A href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

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 fans of Philly’s local music scene, it hurts a little to have to use the word “former” to describe Meg Baird’s residential whereabouts. The singer uprooted from her longtime home here about four years ago and settled into San Francisco, a transition she reviewed briefly with The Key for an interview last August, in advance of a show at Johnny Brenda’s where she shared a stage with friend and frequent collaborator, Philly-based harpist Mary Lattimore.

Luckily for Baird’s fans, whatever coast she’s living on, she has been as prolific as ever. Last year saw the release of her third solo album, Don’t Weigh Down The Light, where she was accompanied throughout by Charlie Saufley for a return more toward the fuller sound of records made with her Philly-based band, Espers. Baird premiered a music video for the title track from that record on NPR last December.

Lattimore is celebrating the release of new music of her own as well. Her new record At The Dam hit stores on March 4th – it’s an album of experimental harp music that she improvised as a document of recent trips in California and Texas. Having recently garnered a Pew Fellowship, Lattimore is looking forward to an upcoming tour playing a number of European dates. Though she’d played throughout Europe before — as a duo along with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler, opening for Steve Gunn, or as part of Thurston Moore’s band — Lattimore looks forward to the autonomy and accolade of this tour as her first international venture as a solo headlining artist. Continue reading →