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Reclaiming Alternative: Why Don Giovanni’s festival is what the music world needs right now

Pinkwash
Pinkwash | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Joe Steinhardt doesn’t mince words. The way he sees it, music festivals are destroying music.

“What I’ll dub the festival industrial complex is the antithesis of what music culture – of what culture – really is,” says the co-founder of the New Brunswick, NJ based punk label Don Giovanni Records.

“It’s basically a bunch of corporate sponsors and corporate bands being shuffled around through a couple booking agencies,” he says. “And that’s why you’ll see, every city, every festival has the same lineup. It’s sort of feels like what happened with radio. Clear Channel bought up all the stations and radio feels the same everywhere. ‘Look at all these local festivals!’ But it’s the same goddam bands playing every one, right?”

Steinhardt thinks there can and should be another way. This weekend, the New Alternative Music Festival kicks off at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. A stacked lineup of DIY favorites will play the venue over the course of two days, with after-parties at Asbury Park Yacht Club and Angosta Lounge.

Appearing are indie scene heavy-hitters: Friday night’s bill is led by Screaming Females, Ought and a reunion of P.S. Eliot (the original project of sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Swearin’); on Saturday, Downtown Boys, Girlpool and Laura Stevenson cap off the event. Numerous Philly-regional acts are in the mix as well: Pinkwash, Trophy Wife, Moor Mother, Radiator Hospital.

Most notably: there are no corporate sponsorships. No stages “powered by” such-and-such energy drink. No car company logos on Snapchat filters and merch booths. Steinhardt’s goal was to create a true alternative to the corporate megafestival that has, over the past decade, come to dominate how fans experience live music — and how musicians make their living. Continue reading →

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Cinema and Community: Steve Gunn talks playing solo to benefit the Lansdowne Theater

steve gunn
Steve Gunn | photo by Constance Mensh | courtesy of Matador Records

When psych rock guitarist and songwriter Steve Gunn was growing up in Delaware County, the Lansdowne Theater was something of an anchor. It’s where he went to the movies as a child. Down the street is the telephone company where his mother worked for 40 years. Across the way is Todero’s Music, where he took guitar lessons.

“The theater closed in ’87, and it’s right on Lansdowne Ave, which is really the main thoroughfare of the town,” remembers Gun. “So when the 90s came around, things seemed a bit more muted, a lot of the older businesses started leaving. And things kind of changed.”

Lansdowne Theater | photo via lansdownetheater.org

At the time it was shuttered, the Lansdowne Theater had been operating for 60 years — a classic, single-screen movie house with brightly colored seats and ceilings and ornate architectural flourishes. The sort that thrived all across the country in the earlier part of the 20th century. The sort that then began universally disappearing and falling into disrepair with the advent of the multiplex age.

The catalyst in this particular theater’s demise was actually an electrical fire in a neighboring businesses that spread up the block — it happened during a screening of Beverly Hills Cop II, and the 100 patrons had to be evacuated — but repairing and reopening the space at that time was not an option. That same year, it received a designation on the national register of historic places, but sat dormant until about 2007, when a local nonprofit began raising money for the restoration. When Gunn caught wind of the project, he says he was super excited.

One of his best friends from childhood, visual artist Anthony Campuzano, helped connect him with the group campaigning for the restoration — Campuzano’s father is the mayor of Lansdowne — and through them, he coordinated a photo shoot for his most recent LP Eyes on the Lines inside the old theater. He also organized a benefit gig, and this Saturday night, Gunn will perform a solo set in the lobby, with proceeds benefiting the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Maxfield Gast

Maxfield Gast | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Maxfield Gast | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Making a career out of the musical arts is a hustle, and as hustlers go, Maxfield Gast stands out. A sax player raised on the instrument and daily rehearsals, Gast cut his teeth like so many musicians at Philly clubs like Ortlieb’s, and played prominent stages in Philly and New York City at a young age.

Over the years, Gast has produced three studio records. He’s contributed to soundtracks to film and TV, including the music for Louis CK’s Louie and his comedy specials, and the recently released finance thriller Equity, starring Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. He’s played every stage in the city, toured the country with his bands, and played shows alongside the likes of Cage The Elephant, Reggie Watts and Work Drugs, not to mention furnishing contributions to the albums of over two dozen celebrated artists as well.

Lately, Gast is focusing his efforts on expanding the capabilities of his Roxborough-based label and recording studio, Militia Hill, founded in 2009, the studio does mixing and editing and voiceover recording, and specializes in custom composition for movies, TV and radio.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this player spends all his time sitting at home these days. In February, Gast was a featured artist on PhillyCAM, a Philly Jazz Project production that showcases live jazz musicians. The session will be released digitally as the artist’s first live band EP, available on iTunes and Spotify, among other outlets. And he’s excited too to share an upcoming single, a collaboration with Philly artists Kuf Knotz, Tony Catastrophe and Jeremy Grenhart. Continue reading →

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“An Art Project With Multiple Layers”: Getting to know Carol Cleveland Sings ahead of their new album Effervescent Lure

Carol Cleveland Sings | photo via facebook.com/CarolClevelandSings

Thomas Hughes and Gretchen Lohse are longtime creative collaborators in the regional music scene, the former a solo artist and former leader of the indie-folk ensemble Yellow Humphrey, and the latter a member of DE indie pop favorites The Spinto Band. Over the past year, they’ve worked together under the banner Carol Cleveland Sings – a delightful synthpop outfit with a penchant for dazzling, retro-stylized music videos.

Fans of The Magnetic Fields will find a lot to like in their sound, but the look of their project is just as crucial, and the Carol Cleveland Sings Vine channel is clever, fun and very popular. Hughes and Lohse, both visual artists in addition to musicians, use it to tease song ideas while also playing on pop culture touchstones like Pokemon and Stranger Things.

With its visual identity firmly established, Carol Cleveland Sings is stepping out with its first full-length of recorded music this fall. This morning, it announced the release of Effervescent Lure on Humble Twin Records. To mark the occasion, we’re premiering the song “Black Canvas” – which was teased in six-second format this spring on Vine. Lohse says it generated a lot of excitement and questions about when the full track would be available. Listen to it below, and read an interview between Hughes, Lohse and myself about the genesis and scope of Carol Cleveland Sings. Continue reading →

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Talking risks and rewards with Boston punks Somos ahead of their Foundry gig

Somos | photo by Nick Karp | via facebook.com/SomosMA

When Boston punk four-piece Somos released their new LP First Day Back back in February, the big headline was the different approach they took.  In contrast to the chugging guitars and driving beats on its 2014 debut Temple of Plenty, the band’s latest – and first release for Hopeless Records – is textured, soundscapey and a little electronic. A review on PunkNews compared it to Hozier – and it wasn’t a bad review, per se, as much as confused. Like as if to ponder what sounds like this were doing in punk.

Then again, it’s 2016. The punk umbrella stretches far and wide, and is inclusive of many sonic angles. First Day Back is not an outlier anymore; just listen to the new single from Balance and Composure. Or consider the recent Hotelier tour that was supported by the melodic melancholic minimalism of Told Slant and the lush soundscapes of Bellows. Those bands don’t fit the narrow definition of what punk is supposed to sound like, but it was absolutely a punk tour.

When I mention this over email to Somos, singer / guitarist Michael Fiorentino responds “Absolutely. Just to add to last list a bit, I’d say Crying is another example of a band incorporating electronic elements in a way that’s highly effective. I think it’s great that there is a whole wave of bands who are comfortable taking those types of risks; there will be swings and misses, but I think the net result is more interesting and adventurous music.”

With the band in town tonight for a gig at The Foundry of The Fillmore Philadelphia, Fiorentino and I traded questions and responses about the band’s growth, the rapport with its audience and the nostalgia dig of its new single “Eternal Yesterday.” Continue reading →

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Interview: Fresh Cut Orchestra turn new page with Mind Behind Closed Eyes

fresh cut orchestra
Fresh Cut Orchestra | photo courtesy of the artist

When the Fresh Cut Orchestra returns to the Painted Bride, the venue that started it all, the occasion was always planned to be both homecoming and celebration, falling just one day after the release of the ten-piece ensemble’s second CD, Mind Behind Closed Eyes on Ropeadope Records. As it turns out, though, the show has also become a farewell, as trumpeter and co-leader Josh Lawrence made the move to New York City earlier this week.

On the phone from his rapidly emptying Philly place a few days ago, occasionally interrupted by movers pushing past on their way out the door, Lawrence insisted that the move wouldn’t cause any drastic changes for the FCO. “It basically means the mail’s gonna go to Jason instead of me now,” he shrugged, referring to bassist Jason Fraticelli, “but that’s really the only difference.”

Given the challenges of keeping a large ensemble together in today’s financial and musical climate, an extra couple hours’ commute is hardly the biggest hurdle that Lawrence, Fraticelli, and co-leader Anwar Marshall face in maintain the adventurous orchestra. The fact that they’ve kept the band active for nearly four years now is all the more remarkable given the fact that they were put together by Painted Bride music curator Lenny Seidman to celebrate the Vine Street venue’s 40th anniversary of presenting jazz in 2012, not by their own initiative.

Continue reading →

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Q&A: Charlie Hall talks Miles Davis and his Get Up With It project

get up with it
Charlie Hall | photo courtesy of the artist

Charlie Hall is many things. He’s a drummer (you might recognize him from The War on Drugs), he’s the leader of an incredible a cappella group (check out The Silver Ages next January), and he’s a pretty knowledgeable Miles Davis enthusiast. On Wednesday, August 24th, the Philadelphia resident will combine two of those talents when he performs with Get Up With It, a group of musicians from Philly and NYC who will bring Davis’ music to Johnny Brenda’s for a rare live appearance.

We caught up with Hall over email to hear about his nearly life-long exploration and education of Davis’ catalog, how that morphed into a live ensemble and where he finds Davis’ legacy in contemporary music; read what he has to say below, and pick up tickets for the 21+ show here. Continue reading →

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From Philadelphia to New Orleans, Carsie Blanton talks recording her latest album So Ferocious.

Carsie Blanton | Photo by: Bobby Bonsey Photography
Carsie Blanton | Photo by Bobby Bonsey Photography

Carsie Blanton spent eight years in Philadelphia – the longest, the Virginia-born songwriter says, that she’s lived in one place as an adult. She arrived here as a teenager, forged strong and lasting connections with the local songwriting community, played a key role in developing the city’s swing & blues dancing scene, and just generally won our hearts with her captivating warble, her sprightly metaphors and her signature flower-adorned curls. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Mercury Girls

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It’s been a brutal summer this year, the type of brutal that makes me wanna curl up on the couch in the air conditioning with my cat and watch re-runs while sipping a (whiskey) lemonade. (Some call it the dog days of summer, I call it the cat days). One thing that’s been helping me survive? Making playlists of my favorite songs, just like I did back in high school, when summers were alll about cruising through in town my ‘93 Taurus, windows down and cool jams on the tape deck. (Some of my friends had CD players, but I kept it old skool).

Philly five piece Mercury Girls are essential mix-tape material. The band burst onto the scene just 2 years ago, but has already morphed into one of the city’s brightest up-and-comers, thanks to a sparkling mix of warm vocals, playful guitars, and plenty of fuzz—earning props from everyone from Brooklyn Vegan to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Kip Berman, and sharing stages with Fear of Men, Beverly, and Allo Darlin’ (during Pop Fest ‘16). Earlier this year, their 7” “Ariana”/”All That Heaven Allows” dropped on Slumberland Records; later this fall, they will hit the road with Balance and Composure for a North American tour. Continue reading →

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YJY provides the perfect end of summer soundtrack with a new EP, The Same Noise

YJY | photo by Jill Hendershott | courtesy of the band
YJY | photo by Jill Hendershott | courtesy of the band

Jersey alt wunderkinds YJY just released their sophomore EP The Same Noise — and it’s anything but. Hurdling the band into more refined territory since debut EP Couch Surfin’ USA, piecing together four tracks with diverse qualities and standing out from the rest of the scene, YJY’s The Same Noise is the result of being unabashedly true to yourself and your craft — a mentality that simply couldn’t end in the status quo. Comprised of surf-tinged opener “Summer Lifeguard,” quirky pop “Past My Prime,” the anecdotal “Through Being Hip” and light as air closing track “Evergreens,” the new EP captures a mood and translates it amongst several different sounds and styles. Continue reading →