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New journeys with Hoots and Hellmouth

Hoots and Hellmouth | photo via facebook.com/hootsandhellmouth

Philly roots scene favorites Hoots and Hellmouth emerged from a stretch of semi-hibernation earlier this fall with In The Trees Where I Can See The Forest. It’s the band’s fourth, and finest album — a true evolution of its sound into something spacious and spectral, atmospheric and engaging. The acoustic bootstomp folk rock that they built their name around has given way to sensitive electric jams, with the stunning “Diction” acting as a centerpiece. On the one hand, it’s the same Hoots and Hellmouth you’ve always known, but on the other hand, they’re more grown up than ever.

The band — which features Sean Hoots on guitar and vocals, Rob Berliner on mandolin and vocals, Todd Erk on bass and Mike Reilly on drums –went on a U.S. tour this fall. It was their first run in a few years, and wasn’t without its challenges: a van break-in after a St. Louis gig left them with gear and personal items stolen, while shows in markets they never played before were on the underwhelming side.

When I caught up with Hoots via phone this week, he admitted that it took the band a minute to find their footing on this run, but it had its transcendant moments as well (including a performance for the OpenAir sessions at Colorado Public Radio), and he remains optimistic about the next leg of the journey. Tonight, Hoots and Hellmouth brings it home at Ardmore Music Hall; get tickets and more information on the show at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read my interview with Hoots below. Continue reading →

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DJ By Night, Educator By Day: Getting to know James Sauppe’s MontCo Music

James Sauppe at a MontCo Music workshop | courtesy of the artist
James Sauppe at a MontCo Music workshop | courtesy of the artist

James Sauppe is known by many in the city’s underground electronic dance music scene as the genre-challenging DJ / producer RVLVR. During the day, Sauppe applies his knowledge of electronic music as a teacher. As a professor of Music Technology at Community College of Philadelphia, Sauppe uses state-of-the-art music software to guide students through the intricacies of modern music making. He also takes on private students, teaching drumming and music production. Throughout it all, education remains at the center of Sauppe’s creative life.

In February of this year, after coming down with severe flu-like symptoms, Sauppe was diagnosed with diverticulitis, a digestive disease which causes inflammation in the digestive tract. After extended hospitalization, several intensive abdominal surgeries, Sauppe found himself in a tough financial spot. In response to this unfortunate turn of events, Sauppe’s students, friends and family rallied to his aid. “My students started a GoFundMe page for me and raised quite a bit of money to help with medical expenses and lost income. Some of them even continued to pay for monthly lessons, even though they knew they wouldn’t receive them. It was amazing how they came together for me and I’m eternally grateful.” Sauppe says.

It was this act of deep compassion from the community around him that not only provided him with the material support required to get back on his feet, it also inspired his next endeavor, one that would help him continue his mission of spreading music through education. Stated simply: “Their generosity and concern inspired the idea for MontCo Music.” Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: Dominic debuts with “Birthday Song,” hear him interviewed by Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan

Dominic | photo by C.J. Harvey | courtesy of the artist
Dominic | photo by C.J. Harvey | courtesy of the artist

Philly’s Dominic Angelella has been in more bands than anybody else I know. Going back a decade to his time in Dice Raw’s Nouveau Riche, his versatile chops have carried through Zoe Kravitz’ first band Elevator Fight, his own long running DRGN King project and Lithuania, his punk duo with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog. Not to mention his stint playing guitar in Philly favorites Hop Along.

This winter, Angelella is releasing music under his own name for the first time, first name only; Dominic‘s Goodnight Doggies drops on Lame-O Records on February 3rd. You can pre-order a vinyl copy here, and get a digital pre-order here. It was recorded with Brendan Mulvihill of Norwegian Arms, who plays in his current live band along with Andy Molholt of Laser Background.

The record has an eclectic and super lively vibe, very much reminiscent of another prolifc and fun artist, Harry Nillson. The first single, “Birthday Song,” is out today, and we’re excited to bring you a first listen to it below. Continue reading →

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How homemade instruments and 20th century history cross paths in BalletX’s new Sunset, o639 Hours

Rosie Langabeer, center, with Andrew Mars and Josh Machiz and the BalletX crew | photo by Isaac Stanford | courtesy of the artist
Rosie Langabeer, center, with Andrew Mars and Josh Machiz and the BalletX crew | photo by Isaac Stanford | courtesy of the artist

“Do you realize it took us an hour and a half to break down?”

Joshua Machiz asks this of his fellow Philadelphia musicians Isaac Stanford, Andrew Mars and Rosie Langabeer as they walk down a hallway at South Philly’s Rock School for Dance Education. They’d just packed away the last of their gear – several curious contraptions of spinning metal circuits and intertwining cables home-fashioned by Baltimore experimental artist Neil Feather, along with three prepared speakers the instruments were connected to. These are normal speakers that have been augmented with various objects to alter their sound, making them more resonant, or maybe more percussive.

“A speaker cone vibrates, and when you put things in there, they rattle,” explains Langabeer. “Or if you put a big drum overhead, it changes the tone. So we’ve experimented with different ones, found combinations we like.”

They all have different names, too, like Trampy and Ping Pong. Or Mr. Coffee, which actually has a can sitting and pinging from atop the middle of the speaker.

“This is definitely the skilled labor part of being a musician,” says Langabeer.

“Something like fifty inputs into the board,” adds Stanford. “It’s insane.”

“It’s the blessing and the curse of being the most complicated show any of us have ever worked on,” admits Machiz.

The show in question is called Sunset, o639 Hours, the centerpiece of BalletX’s Fall Series, opening tonight and running through Sunday at the Wilma Theater on Broad Street. It is a collaboration between the contemporary ballet company, choreographer Matthew Neenan, and these four musicians, led by Langabeer; together they interpret the true story of Captain Edwin Musick, a pilot charged with the first trans-Pacific airmail flights in 1938, whose plane tragically exploded mid-air before reaching its final destination in New Zealand. Continue reading →

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Guided by Venues: Drummer Leah Shapiro on the continuing evolution of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | photo by James Minchin III | courtesy of the artist
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | photo by James Minchin III | courtesy of the artist

It’s been three and a half years since west coast psychedelic power trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club last stepped onstage in Philly.

Their May 2013 appearance at the TLA on South Street was in the midst of a mammoth tour in support of Specter at the Feast, the band’s seventh album of garage rock noir; the run had been going on for several months already, and continued for several more.

“It’s pretty normal that our touring schedule is quite intense,” explains drummer Leah Shaprio. “The record comes out and we’re out for a good year or year and a half.”

Normally, returning home means hunkering down to write the next album, but at the end of this tour, things nearly fell apart for B.R.M.C. Shapiro was diagnosed with a brain condition, Chiari malformations, which affects balance and muscle strength. Time off was imperative, and in the fall of 2014, fans helped raise over $33,000 to help offset her medical costs.

Six months later, Shapiro was back on the drum throne, playing select festival dates and scattered shows with B.R.M.C. – this fall, the band embarks on its first full-scale tour since Specter, going out on the road with fellow aughties indie rockers Death From Above 1979. This Monday, the tour makes its way to The Fillmore Philadelphia, and word on Facebook is B.R.M.C. is using these shows to tease material from the eighth album in the works. We checked in with Shapiro via phone to get the lowdown on how things are progressing. Continue reading →

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Interview: Philadelphia Drum & Percussion brings gear and beats to Fishtown

The Cymbal Room of Philadelphia Drum and Percussion | via facebook.com/philadelphiadrum

The days of driving out to Sam Ash or waiting for Amazon deliveries are almost over for drummers in Philadelphia.

Friday, November 4th marks the grand opening of Philadelphia Drum & Percussion, the city’s first dedicated gear shop of its kind. Owner Brandon Pfundt has spent the last couple of months stocking the Fishtown storefront with everyday necessities (Remo drumheads and D’Addario sticks) and special boutique items (Low Boy beaters and A&F shells), so it’s ready for its big debut later this week.

We caught up with Pfundt ahead of the opening to get his thoughts on the benefits of independent shops, his favorite item in the store, and his own drumming background. In addition to the opening day highlights mentioned below, the store has partnered with Philly Drum Project to host a Beats, Brews, and Banter event featuring The War on Drugs’ Charlie Hall.
Continue reading →

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A lesson in DIY with Nashville’s Natural Child

Natural Child | photo courtesy of the artist
Natural Child | photo courtesy of the artist

Natural Child printed a fresh batch of merchandise in September for a string of West coast tour dates. They were prepared with t-shirts, patches, buttons – what’s typically found on a merch table at a rock show. However, after only a few nights on the road, the country-leaning punk band was out of almost everything. Luckily they have some friends in high places.

“We hit up Burger [Records] and asked them if they knew anyone that could print stuff in like 24 hours,” guitarist and singer Seth Murray says over the phone from his Nashville home. “They were able to find someone quickly and they hooked it up. They’re the best dudes and would do a favor for anybody.” Continue reading →

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Nothing Is Exclusive: Exploring the double-identity of Philly punks Mannequin Pussy and their new LP Romantic

Mannequin Pussy | photo by Scott Troyan | courtesy of the artist
Mannequin Pussy | photo by Scott Troyan | courtesy of the artist

“You don’t need to feel tied to one sonic identity.” Those words, spoken by Mannequin Pussy vocalist and guitarist Marisa Dabice, echo what seems to be the central tenet of her band. “You don’t need to be one thing in order to be easily defined.”

The Philadelphia-based four-piece, which started as a duo of friends Dabice and guitarist Thanasi Paul in the early 2010s, releases its sophomore album Romantic today. Following the punk stomp of Gypsy Pervert (GP for short) — which was initially released in 2013 and re-released to greater distribution a year later — Romantic bears the fruit of its members’ expansive musical ethos. Continue reading →

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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 →

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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 →