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Taking shape with Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas

Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius | photo by Ebru Yildiz | courtesy of the artist

As Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas creates worlds and narratives on his albums that are as decadent as they are delicate. These worlds often serve as a sonic sanctuary for queer music fans that now, more than ever, are as life-saving as they are life-affirming.

No Shape, released earlier this month, is his best and biggest salve for the agony and ecstasy of the queer experience yet. If no family was safe when he sashayed on 2014’s Too Bright, he’s built himself, and us, a hell of a lot more walking room this time, lyrically as well as musically. Before he sashays onto the stage at Union Transfer this Thursday (a show that will be livestreamed via Pitchfork), Mike took a generous time out to talk about the album, the circular energy that can build at a show (including one particularly memorable night in Philly), and the importance of queerness in music and art in the current dark times. Continue reading →

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Cayetana take control with New Kind of Normal and Plum Records

Cayetana | photo by Jess Flynn | courtesy of the artist
Cayetana | photo by Jess Flynn | courtesy of the artist

The concept of Plum Records came in a dream. Well, the name of it did at least. The idea of putting out music themselves was something Cayetana had toyed with for a while. And it wasn’t a decision they made without lots of consideration.

“I think the decision mostly was born out of the idea that we wanted as much control over the timing of the record and how it was rolled out,” drummer Kelly Olsen says. “Because, you know, we have a lot of friends in bands who have done a lot of different things and worked with a lot of different labels. Through talking with people, we kind of realized that to have as much control over how the whole thing happens and how it rolls out, to have control over our own product and music and creativity, we decided that doing it ourselves made the most sense. And it’s been working out really well. We’ve been enjoying it.”

And from that, Plum Records was official, and would be the imprint for Cayetana’s new album, New Kind of Normal. It’s a fitting name for the circumstances around putting this album out. Learning how to run a record label is pretty tough, to put it lightly. There were a lot of things that they weren’t aware of or didn’t know how to do, but they learned by doing, and now are starting to feel comfortable with it. Continue reading →

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How Get Better Fest is delivering on the promise of hardcore and punk

Get Better Fest 3 | photo by Jeff Hersch | courtesy of Get Better Records
Get Better Fest 3 | photo by Jeff Hersch | courtesy of the artist

Alex Licktenhour wears their identity on their sleeve. Literally. The 27-year-old head of Get Better Records and the driving force behind the festival of the same name recently got the label’s logo, a sunflower bursting out of an upside down pink triangle, tattooed on the back of their arm. That logo, Lickenhour said, is a representation of, “Queerness [and] being non-binary.” Considering the history of the pink triangle being used to mark LGBTQ+ people in Nazi Germany, it also makes an obvious political statement.

This mixture of the personal and the political is reflected in their approach to running the label – going since 2010 – and booking the festival, which is happening for the fourth time at the end of this month. “I feel like through the label [and festival] I broadcast my politics,” Licktenhour explained. “Who is on the label, what I’m talking about. My politics are very open in terms of what I support and what I don’t support.”

Right now that includes a slew of releases from queer grindcore collective +HIRS+ (for whom Licktenhour is an occasional live drummer), rock n’ rollers Thin Lips, the post-G.L.O.S.S. band Tankini, and the final album from folk punk stalwarts Ramshackle Glory. Just as exciting is the recent announcement that the label would be putting out an album by Dark Thoughts, as well as the cassette release of Cayetana’s forthcoming New Kind of Normal.

What’s the unifying thread running through all these bands, outside of the fact that most are from Philadelphia? The label’s no-nonsense slogan addresses that: “DIY label. For the queers. No sexist, no racist, no transphobic, no homophobic, no apologist bullshit tolerated.”

The festival is a natural extension of that, especially since it serves as a fundraiser for progressive and radical non-profits. This year Get Better Fest – April 28th through the 30th – will be benefitting the Trans Assistance Project, Youth Emergency Services, and Women Against Abuse. Shows will be held at Glitter Galaxy, the First Unitarian Church and PhilaMOCA.

 

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Pissed Jeans

Pissed Jeans | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Pissed Jeans | 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.

Pissed Jeans kicked off their record release show at Boot & Saddle last month waiting on drummer Sean McGuinness, before he finally emerged from the bar, swam his way through the wall-to-wall bodies of the sold-out house, and climbed up onto the stage.

The set is an intractable inferno, furious and urgent, demanding the rapt attention of the hundreds of fans and friends who came happy to give it, as they sweated and moshed, crowd-surfed and stage-dived, in the pious tradition of rock worship of these esteemed ministers of “sludge-punk.”

“I’m not really too concerned [with labels],” remarks frontman Matt Korvette. “That’s fine. Whatever people wanna call you, you’re stuck with.” Adds guitarist Brad Fry, “it seems very generic but yeah, it’s just rock music. But taken from all elements of rock — punk, metal, garage rock.” Fry, bassist Randy Huth, Korvette, McGuinness and I are sitting in a cramped in a “green room” — the venue’s euphemism for a basement storage closet behind the kitchen with a sofa and a lamp — in advance of their show that night. I’d later wish I’d gotten the opportunity to interview them after the show rather than before, just because I wanted to ask about why Korvette would make a demonstration that night of destroying several vinyl copies of some of my favorite Beatles albums on stage.

Why Love Now is the band’s fifth full-length album, and their fourth on Sub Pop. “It was crazy. We were shocked. Totally shocked,” remembers Korvette about being signed to the label, established in Seattle in the mid-eighties and made famous by Nirvana. The label took notice of them “organically,” to hear Korvette tell it, and having originally brought them in just for a single, their deal was broadened to include one LP, before Sub Pop decided to keep them on board for the duration. “But even doing a single was shocking,” Korvette reflects, “because we weren’t, like, looking for labels. That was never part of our thought process.” Adds the singer with a characteristically dryly delivered irony, “they just had good taste.”

On stage and off, the four of them share an obvious and genuine chemistry, the intangible pixie dust that tends to elevate a band to more than a band. They juggle families, day jobs, responsibilities and commitments, and a commute to connect with Fry, too, who doesn’t live in the immediate vicinity. But the arrangement works for them, and they see no reason to change things at this point, after almost a decade-and-a-half. “There’s no reason to really stop. We’re all friends. We’re just playing music with our friends.”

As we talk, McGuinness wanders upstairs and we wait for a few minutes for him to return before we get to the questions, but he never does. I ask if they were ok getting started without him, for now. “Yeah,” Fry replies. “He’s not that important.” Continue reading →

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Under new management, Drexel’s reimagined Flux fosters community

Drexel battlefest at Flux Space | photo by Marshall Woodruff | courtesy of the artist
Drift performs at the Flux-curated Battlefest | photo by Marshall Woodruff | courtesy of the artist

Everybody’s heard the philosophical question about the tree falling in the forest, and frankly, I could care less about figuring it out. Why should I care if some random tree in some random forest is making noise? It’s a tree. With that being said, when you apply the same question to an up-and-coming band, the answer becomes a lot more interesting and a lot more clear-cut. Yes, of course they can make a sound, but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun if someone was around to hear it?

Before you headline Madison Square Garden and save the world with your music, you just need to find a community that’s willing to give you a chance. For a lot of bands, that community is the school they’re going to—just ask R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, Slowdive, Radiohead, and countless others. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the more supporting and accommodative that somewhere is, the easier it is to get your feet off the ground. As a student and musician currently finishing up my undergraduate at Drexel, I understand this all too well, but for much of my college career, the campus has lacked a place like-minded friends and I could call home. It wasn’t always that way, though.

About six years ago, a Drexel student received a grant for over $90,000 in top-of-the-line sound equipment. It was eventually installed in the basement of the James E. Marks Intercultural Center, resulting in the birth of Flux, the university’s premier concert venue. For the next few years, the space hosted performances from student, local, and touring acts, including Modern Baseball, The Districts, The Front Bottoms, and more. It was the community-centric space I had always dreamed of in high school, but just as I was beginning to feel optimistic about the future, things took a turn for the worse.

Midway through 2014, “The Man” had his manly say.  It’s announced that the Intercultural Center is being torn down to build a hotel, and shortly after, Flux hosts its last show.  The team spends the ensuing months searching for a new space to no avail. With no venue, they lose funding, the students involved graduate, and just like that, Flux disappears completely. Continue reading →

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Interview: Jay Som mastermind Melina Duterte on the long road to the whirlwind of Everybody Works

Jay Som | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Jay Som | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

It’s still only March, but we’re already expecting Everybody Works — the sophomore LP from Oakland indie rock project Jay Som — to rank high in year-end lists come December. It’s an impressive showing from singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Melina Duterte, dabbling in brisk and reflective dream-pop as readily as full-throttle garage punk. Released via Bay Area indie imprint Polyvinyl, its sonic textures fondly recall the spirit of that label’s late 90s / early aughties roster — Ida, Matt Pond PA, Rainer Maria — but Duterte’s approach is very much her own, very much of the now.

She made a national splash last year, a whirlwind 12 months following a decade of studying music, and that activity was in part due to a solo tour in support of Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, as well as a run opening for Honeyblood as a four-piece band. The latter is how we’ll see Jay Som tomorrow night at Boot and Saddle, playing alongside The Courtneys. I caught up with Duterte by phone to talk about studying music from a young age, nerve-wracking solo gigs and the process of making Everybody Works. Continue reading →

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Interview: Craig Finn talks Hold Steady anniversary, Seth Meyers, and his new solo record We All Want The Same Things

Craig Finn | photo via Partisan Records

Craig Finn may have spent years as the bar-band king of The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller, but the Minneapolis son has always primarily been a songwriter. Finn releases his third solo record, We All Want The Same Things, this Friday, March 24th, and it’s an exercise in both eloquent lyrical imagery and textured melodic phrasing. It’s only been a short while since his last solo outing, 2015’s Faith In The Future, but Finn has kept busy writing like he always does best: Pulling apart his specific characters and the exact moments from their daily life to tell a grander story. Whether it’s hanging in the park drinking dark Bacardi, fumbling through the jitterbug, or waiting on a savior to come, Finn writes slice of life epics that bring you with him.

His US tour with Japandroids ended a couple days ago, but I got a chance to sit down with him before their show at Union Transfer last month. We spoke about his thought process going into the new record, his residency with the house band on Late Night With Seth Meyers, the Boys And Girls In America anniversary shows, and more. Finn will be returning to Philadelphia this Saturday to play a free in-store performance at Main Street Music, open to fans who pre-order his new record. Read our conversation below. Continue reading →

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Laura Stevenson talks cover songs, creative streaks, constant touring and making a live record for Planned Parenthood

Laura Stevenson | photo by Kenneth Bachor | courtesy of the artist
Laura Stevenson | photo by Kenneth Bachor | courtesy of the artist

Laura Stevenson has been quite busy. Over the past year and a half, the punk scene songwriter fave released her excellent fourth LP, Cocksure, via Don Giovanni Records and went on several back-to-back-to-back laps touring the U.S. and abroad in support of it. She hit the festival circuit last summer, released a live album this winter, and appeared on the Don’t Stop Now covers compilation to benefit the ACLU. Somewhere along the way, she found a minute to marry her bass player, Mike Campbell.

Live At the Vera Club came out in December, with 100% of the proceeds being donated to Planned Parenthood. It captures a night at the storied club and community creative space in Groningen, situated in the North of the Netherlands. The crowd was small, Stevenson recalls in the album notes, and she couldn’t speak Dutch, so she wasn’t as chatty as usual, but the show rules — the band sounds tremendous, from the uppers like “Torch Song” and “Runner” to the slow burn of “Out With a Whimper” and “Renee,” and a delightful cover of “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements.

Stevenson and her band — Campbell, Alex Billig on accordion and keys, John Burdick on guitar, and Sammi Niss on drums – just headed out on an east coast tour that brings them to Boot and Saddle Thursday. When I caught up with Stevenson via phone from the Hudson Valley home she’s lived in for the past few years, she had just gotten back from a solo tour of Australia with the frontpersons of various down-under DIY acts: Iona Cairns of Shit Present, Lucy Wilson of The Sugarcanes and Wil Wagner of Smith Street Band. We began by discussing this photo of them cuddling a chill koala named Waffles at the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane. Continue reading →

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Indigenous Rhythms and Rage: Ottawa DJ trio A Tribe Called Red on bringing pow wow step to the masses

A Tribe Called Red | photo via utatouring.com

On my twenty seventh birthday, A Tribe Called Red, a first nations DJ trio from Ottawa, played a show at Silk City. I waited for hours before they performed at midnight. The summer night was sweltering, and over watered down drinks, my boyfriend and I considered leaving. Finally, the group took the stage. They started out where the previous DJ had left off, playing a bland party track. And then — up surged the deep bass, the heavy drums. Jolted from exhaustion — my entire body began to shake.

I found that I danced in a new way that night.

Four years and one Juno award later, the band is now playing bigger venues – like The Foundry of The Fillmore Philadelphia this Thursday, March 16th. Practitioners of what they call pow wow step, ATCR’s music is about something as elemental as a heartbeat, and as modern as dubstep. Ian Campeau, or DJ NDN, explains that “people hearing pow wow for the first time felt that same thing that indigenous people have always felt hearing pow wow.” The group matured at club nights in Canada’s capital city, where Native kids could go out, have fun and connect with each other. Continue reading →