Digging For Something: Lushlife’s Raj Haldar on sample mixing, musicology and No Dead Languages

Lushlife | photo by Megan Matuzak for WXPN
Lushlife | photo by Megan Matuzak for WXPN

For the past decade-plus, rapper / producer / DJ Raj Haldar has built up a catalog of music unlike any in of hip-hop. Working under the stage name Lushlife, Haldar has carved out a very particular sonic space in the pop cultural landscape. On full-length projects like Cassette City, Plateau Vision and 2016’s Ritualize, Lushlife has explored the seemingly improbable fusion of the flossy, stream-of-consciousness approach you hear from rap outsiders like Camp Lo and Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah with electronic beats and dense, ornate baroque-pop arrangements reminiscent of Beach Boys’ auteur Brian Wilson.

His latest, No Dead Languages, is a unique detour back into the artist’s musical history. Compiled of recordings made at the turn of the millennium, the EP is a suite of dense, sample-heavy instrumental hip-hop and electronica of the sort that ruled the late 90s / early 2000s.

Speaking from the road in the midst of a tour with underground rap pioneers Blackalicious, we spoke with Haldar about sample / crate-digging culture, his creative process and his formative years spent bent over a drum machine, trying to find a way to fuse the disparate sonic locus points into a whole and natural musical cosmos. We’re also stoked to bring you the premiere of the title track to No Dead Languages, which you can listen to below. Continue reading →


Interview: Anthony Green shares his experience with mental health, offers hope and light amidst the darkness

Anthony Green
Anthony Green | photo by Andrew Swartz | courtesy of the artist

It’s undeniable that Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green has been one of the most influential musicians not only in the Philadelphia music community, but also within the post-hardcore and progressive rock scenes for over than a decade now. But he’s also something of an advocate.

I spoke with Green in the midst of several calendar events intended to draw awareness to mental health issues. September is the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. October 10th is the World Federation of Mental Health’s World Mental Health Day. And this Sunday, October 2nd, is the American Foundation for Mental Health’s Out of the Darkness Walk at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Advocates that work for these organizations are constantly striving towards improving suicide prevention and destigmatizing mental health issues – since these issues are not uncommon. According to NAMI, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. – nearly 44 million or 18.5% – experiences mental illness issues in a given year.

In the past few years, Green has become more open with his personal struggle with mental health and addiction. Ahead of his headlining appearance at Union Transfer tomorrow, he was gracious enough to speak with me not only about his music and tour, but about his story, how music has been therapeutic for him. Green offers up some advice to those currently going through similar struggles – read our conversation below. Continue reading →


Mixtape Master: Get to know Philly’s F. Woods before he opens for Dead Milkmen at Laurel Hill

F. Woods | photo courtesy of the artist
F. Woods | photo courtesy of the artist

Make sure you arrive early to the sold-out Dead Milkmen show at Laurel Hill Cemetery this Friday night, because you’ll see a mixtape master at work. F. Woods is known around the Philly scene for being a founding member of Mercury Radio Theater, the zany and subversive troupe informed by eastern European folk sounds and early 20th century radio plays.

Woods also played in Farquar Muckenfuss, a comical and surf-rooted band that made the rounds in in the late 90s Philly punk scene.

As Woods said when I caught up with him by phone earlier this month, it’s pretty simple – he likes a lot of music, and he wants to play it all. His first-ever solo album, Found On Road Dead, came out via Bandcamp last November, and it’s a varied and eclectic set. There’s a bit of surf, a bit of math rock complexity, some tunes reminiscent of the airy pop production of the pre-rock-and-roll 40s and 50s.

It’s basically a collection of stuff that together feels very unified, even though the songs are individually distinct. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of a Tarantino soundtrack, or a really good compilation. Below, read my interview with Woods about his musical origins and outlook. Continue reading →


Interview: Bleeding out with Jenny Hval

Jenny Hval | photo by Jenny Berger Myhre | courtesy of the artist
Jenny Hval | photo by Jenny Berger Myhre | courtesy of the artist

Jenny Hval is smart as hell. The kind of smart that makes you want to know everything she knows about art and life. Over her recent run of records, she’s explored issues of gender politics and sexuality in a manner that’s as playful as it is provocative. Her latest and maybe greatest effort, Blood Bitch, continues to investigate both through what is arguably one of their most primal and oddly taboo sources: menstrual blood. While some might be unfortunately quick to turn away from such subject matter, Hval expands on it to explore ideas of identity and eternity, all in the form of some of her more accessible yet challenging songs yet. See? Smart.

She’ll be showing off those smarts live at PhilaMOCA this week. I had the privilege of chatting her up beforehand, discussing her influences for the record, getting awesome film and book recommendations, and reflecting on how she brings her ideas to life on stage. Continue reading →


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

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 →


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

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 →


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

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.

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 →


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

Carol Cleveland Sings | photo via

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 →


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

Somos | photo by Nick Karp | via

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 →


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 →