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Unlocked: Darren Schlappich on the unexpected origins of Ataloft

Photo courtesy of the artist

“The last thing I was looking for was to start another band,” says Darren Schlappich. “It just kind of worked out that way.”

In fall of 2012, the singer and songwriter behind the new Reading-area six-piece Ataloft didn’t know Ataloft was going to exist a year and a half later. He didn’t know that it was going to release a fantastic pop-rock production of a debut LP, a far cry from his country-Americana roots. Schlappich was wrapping up a long stretch of activity with his other band, Frog Holler, in support of 2009′s Believe It or Not. He was pretty content that he’d kick back and take time to himself with no looming musical pressures, when his friend Bruce Siekmann gave him a call.

He had some free time in his Fleetwood, Pennsylvania studio, Amoeba Audio, and asked if Schlappich would like to record anything. Intrigued, Schlappich and his Frog Holler bandmate Michael Lavdanski showed up with an unrecorded tune called “Warning Signs.” It had a midtempo bounce and worked in a contemplative lower register; they recorded some guitar parts and vocal harmonies, then left for the day.

“A couple weeks later Bruce sent me a copy, and he’d added bass and keys, fleshed it out a lot,” says Schlappich. “And then it was another year before we talked about it again. He got in touch and said ‘Hey, did you want to revisit that song? It’s not really finished.’”

Schlappich, Lavdanski and Siekmann reconvened to put some finishing touches on “Warning Signs,” then moved on to another song – the plaintive “Heart Attack on the Holidays,” which kept things very tightly focused around acoustic strumming, an electric lead, and an understated bass part.

“I remember Bruce putting the first bass notes on it,” says Schlappich. “I was like ‘wow, we’ve gone outside of Frog Holler now.’” Continue reading →

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Cinderella Story: Reminiscing with the producers of the infamous “Pat’s Dogs” commercial

It’s been making the rounds for almost three years now: a 30-second commercial for a Delaware County hot dog franchise, featuring an original jingle by local soon-to-be glam metal stars Cinderella (who double as on-screen talent.). The 1983 video resurfaced on YouTube in 2011 and has made the rounds of local and social media ever since. Besides the obvious disjointedness of seeing a fairly famous pop metal band of yesteryear dance around, lipsynching, in front of a local hot dog stand, there’s a sweet nostalgia to the whole operation. Pat’s Dogs is long gone, and so is the kind of unselfconscious hyper-localism this video represents. (The stretch of Southeast Delaware County where the video was filmed, however, is virtually unchanged. So there’s that.)

Not content to merely wonder, The Key tracked down the guys responsible for shooting and editing the video. It turns out that local filmmakers Richard Haynie and Brian Kreider were brought on for the shoot by Cable AdNet, a Philadelphia-based company that sprang up in the early 1980s to produce commercials for cable television, then still in its infancy.

Haynie (now a New Media Specialist for Kaiser Permanente in California) and Kreider (who eventually went on to be Pennsylvania Film Commissioner) were kind enough to reminisce with us about the now infamous Cinderella “Pat’s Dogs” commercial.

The Key: How did you go about devising the staging and performance aspect of the commercial? Did you just let the band and the restaurant staff do their thing, or did you go in with a vision of what you wanted to capture?

Richard Haynie: We received a cassette tape of the jingle produced by Cinderella for Pat’s Chili Dogs just prior to the shoot. Brian, manager of the production department, and DP on this shoot, sat down with me and we gave it a listen It was catchy, 30 seconds, right to the point, with all the important information to serve the client. We had some general ideas of what we could do with it, but played it mostly by ear. We spoke to the owner, and only met the band when we arrived on location the night of the shoot.

TK: Did Cinderella do their own makeup? I’m guessing they did.

RH: As a matter of fact, that is one of the funnier stories from the shoot. Continue reading →

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What the end of jazz nights at Ortlieb’s means for Philly’s jazz community

Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at The Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen
Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at the Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen

Pete Souders owned Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus for 20 years, but learned in January that the establishment he built a reputation for would no longer be needing his services. His Tuesday Night Jazz Jam Session was canceled.

But, he can’t say he didn’t expect it.

After growing exhausted of the hectic lifestyle of running a night spot and music venue, Souders sold Ortlieb’s in 2007, and after a bouncing around of owners, it was purchased by Four Corners Productions.

“I decided to sell it because I thought I was really getting tired,” Souders said.

Under its newest ownership, Ortlieb’s has shifted gears from its once-smooth atmosphere to a place of socialization, drinks and indie rock. It’s also dropped the “Jazzhaus” portion of its name.

The newest owners asked Souders to come in to host his Jazz Night upon opening, but Souders said he saw major flaws from the get-go.

When he owned Ortlieb’s, Souders said a large, acoustic piano sat center-stage which amplified the room, but once the newest owners came in, they hired a engineer who wired various mics for the jazz performances taking over the piano, which Souders said he thought was “unnecessary.”

Real jazz, Souders said, is able to fill an entire room without the need of any additional equipment.

But then again, Ortlieb’s is now hosting more than jazz performances, necessitating a more involved setup.

But Souders said he saw more concerns than just the equipment. Right before Christmas, the owners told him they  “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half.” They also asked his to cut the session back from its 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. slot so it wrapped up by 11:30 p.m. The owners told him they “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half,” Souders said.

He said that the new owners at Ortlieb’s told him they wanted to attract a better bar crowd at midnight, and Souders’ smooth tunes weren’t cutting it. It boiled down to a business issue.

“I had mixed emotions,” Souders said. “…[the situation] was anticlimactic.”

The current owners declined multiple requests for interviews.

So is the the current state of Ortlieb’s and what happened to its long-standing tradition a reflection for what might happen across the city’s jazz community? Continue reading →

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Explore the world of percussion with Man Forever at Kung Fu Necktie tonight

Man Forever | photo by Lisa Corson
Man Forever | photo by Lisa Corson

As related in a Zen koan, Ryonen was the name of a Buddhist nun who lived in the early 19th century. The granddaughter of a famous Japanese warrior, Ryonen was inspired to study Zen when the empress she served died suddenly. Several Zen masters rejected her because of her beauty, so she burned her face with a hot iron.

More importantly, if Google’s search results are any indication, Ryonen is the name of a thin, large-eyed nude model. “I was excited to see that,” says John Colpitts with a laugh, “but it had nothing to do with the piece.”

Ryonen (Thrill Jockey), the latest release by Colpitts’ Man Forever project, was indeed named for the more philosophically-oriented of the two beauties. The album features two lengthy, intense all-percussion compositions written by the drummer (better known as Oneida’s Kid Millions) and performed by him along with the renowned So Percussion ensemble. He’ll perform an expanded 30-minute version of the album’s opening track, “The Clear Realization,” with Brooklyn-based percussion trio TIGUE at Kung Fu Necktie Wednesday night, on a bill with Stoner Boner DJs.

On the CD, “The Clear Realization” floats Colpitts’ hazy, ethereal vocals over intricately interlocking polyrhythms, building to a mesmerizing, almost spiritual, pitch. Live, he promises, the piece is “heavier in terms of the patterns and the impact. It’s more evolved and a little less raw.”

Man Forever was born at the suggestion of Ben Swanson at the now-defunct vinyl-only label St. Ives, an offshoot of Secretly Canadian. “Ben said, ‘I’d like to hear a solo drum record from you. We’ll put it out if you get it to us.’ I hadn’t even considered doing something like it,” Colpitts recalls. He was at a loss as to how to even approach such a project until hearing Fireworks Ensemble performing a chamber rendition of Lou Reed’s polarizing Metal Machine Music in 2010.

“I saw that and thought it would be really interesting to try to do something like Metal Machine Music but with drums,” he says. “So I had some conversations with Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about tuning drums to just intonation and different pitches and I recorded [the first album] by myself.”


Continue reading →

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Belgium’s Ignatz channels heartland America, plays Pageant: Soloveev Gallery on 4/22

Ignatz-01-©-Mark_Rietveld1
Ignatz | photo by Mark Rietveld

 In George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comics, Ignatz is the main antagonist, a belligerent mouse whose habit of hurling bricks at the title character’s head only endears him to her. His anarchic aggression seems an ill fit for Belgian guitarist and vocalist Bram Devens, who adopted the name Ignatz for his spare, Appalachian folk-inspired performances.

“I used to draw comics myself and collect them,” writes Devens, who earned a Master’s degree in comics from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design in Brussels, via email. “Krazy Kat is one of my favorite comics. I love the drawings and the language. For my first recordings as Ignatz I used to speed up the tape, so my voice would sound higher pitched and more cartoony. With this in mind, and the references to old pre-war music, it seemed a good match to call myself Ignatz.”

He then adds, “Ignatz the mouse is also a bit of a dick in the comics, and I can relate to that.”

Whatever the reasons behind the name, Ignatz offers a unique approach that emulates the sound of early 20th-century American folk and blues forms as played on a warped 78-rpm record, electronically manipulated and altered. He’ll play a solo show at the Pageant: Soloveev Gallery on Tuesday night, focusing on new songs and material from his latest CD, Can I Go Home Now? (Fonal). The program, presented by Alabaster Museum, also features Philadelphia guitarists Mark Feehan and Mitch Esparza.

Continue reading →

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Philly punk party Rockers! returns to showcase diversity in a multisensory weekend festival

Rockers! founder Camae Defstar, left, performs at an event in 2011 | Photo via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers
Rockers! founder Camae Defstar, left, performs at an event in 2011 | Photo by D1L0 via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers

Few events can sustain themselves for periods of over 10 years. Few shows offer such diversity in terms of people, genres, and art. That’s what makes Rockers! so unique; it has both.

A long-running music and art showcase that promotes diversity, Rockers! began because of a desire to see more bands of color playing punk shows.

Camae Defstar is one of the founding organizers of Rockers! and books almost all of the shows. Defstar started Rockers! around 2005 with her friend and band member, Rebecca Roe.

Growing up, Defstar didn’t see people of color in punk music. They didn’t receive recognition. She felt like she was the only one into the punk scene. She says Rockers! showcases bands who have something to say and don’t fit the traditional mold of their respective genres.

“We wanted our band, the Mighty Paradocs to play. We didn’t know too much about booking, so we said ‘Hey let’s book an event with bands we like and want to play with.”

Rockers began at the now-defunct venue Aqua Lounge that was located near Front and Girard Streets. The series then moved to Tritone on South Street, where it grew and created a community.

“There [at Tritone] we started to have a community of artists that were trying to play but didn’t have the access or connections to do so. That’s how Rockers started getting steam,” said Defstar.

Tritone was the host location of Rockers until the venue closed in 2012. During that year, Kung Fu Necktie became the frequent site of Rockers.

Joe Jordan, right, performs at a Rockers show at Kung Fu Necktie | photo by D1L0 via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers

Joe Jordan, former Mighty Paradocs drummer, has been a part of Rockers since its inception. Now, he creates music under the name the Joe Jordan Experiment. He still is a “regular” at the shows as a performer and spectator. He said Rockers gave him a sense of community.

“It’s like a home for a lot of us bands,” Jordan said. “I’d liken it to CBGB’s during its punk heyday. No fighting, just high-energy excitement. Usually people of color. [but] it’s all-inclusive. People of colors… any color…white, black, red. It’s about unity,” he said. Continue reading →

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Hear the scoop on the University of Pennsylvania’s Year of Sound

Year of Sound Logo

Each year, the University of Pennsylvania sponsors a series of events around a theme chosen by faculty, staff and students. This year the theme is the Year of Sound, an opportunity to explore sound and the many ways it shapes our lives. Some of the themes being explored include the role sound plays in defining a culture and an art form, In learning how to read and speak, and In the functioning of the brain or the heart.

WXPN’s XPN’s Bob Bumbera spoke with David Fox, the Director of New student Orientation and Academic Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, and the person in charge of Penn’s “Year of Sound.” Listen to the interview below.