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The High Key Portrait Series: Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

It was by luck of the draw that Tim Showalter became a Philadelphian. Having spent his childhood in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, the Strand Of Oaks frontman was sold on Philly by a childhood friend of his who’d already pioneered the relocation, and to hear Showalter tell it, it hardly even feels adopted, anymore.

He makes reference to that several times, in a recent interview with us, effusive in his affection for all he feels Philly has been able to offer him over the past decade and a half here. Wearing his beard long and his lumberjack coat red, Showalter reminisced warmly about wandering the Wissahickon, building out his band, getting to see Philly legend Jack Rose play hallowed local stages like Brenda’s — and then, with a sense of genuine gratitude, the good fortune of getting to later play them himself.

Showalter also talks “Winter Classic”: a lineup of several consecutive Strand Of Oaks shows that launches tonight at Boot And Saddle. On deck this week to celebrate a fourth year of these gigs with him are folk-singer Joe Pug, and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | 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.

About eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Morelli

Jake Morelli | 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.

About fifteen years ago, guitarist Jake Morelli met wife Donn Thompson, when he saw her perform with her vocal duo The Day at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester. “I actually purchased a CD [after the show] that didn’t exist at the time, I found out,” Morelli recalled recently during an interview with two of them at WXPN’s studio. Morelli is charming, easygoing and disarming, and seems to put a great deal of thought into his reflections. He continued in earnest, “I mean I was so moved by what I witnessed [that night] on a lot of levels, that I just [gave them] whatever they asked for — and I think it was very modest, six or eight dollars.”

Thompson interrupted his account with a laugh. “We weren’t thieves, can I just interject here? It was eight dollars. And we were embarrassed that we had taken your money!”

The chemistry between the two of them is evident, as they took turns recalling the origins of their relationship: how half a year later the “very basic CD-R” of The Day’s finished recordings that appeared in Morelli’s mailbox would become his favorite piece of music; how a call a few years later from the late Rich Nichols — The Roots’ producer and a friend of Morelli’s — would connect the two of them for a live musical project to promote a new record; how Morelli recognized her voice during the sessions immediately from that recording that he loved so much, even without realizing at first who the singer was with whom he’d be working.

Since arriving in Philly from New York City two decades ago, the third-generation musician has had his skilled guitar handiwork in projects of all kinds. He’d played regularly at the legendary Black Lily sessions at The Five Spot in the early aughts, a beloved Philly soul artist showcase of which Thompson had hinted at hushed murmurings of a revival. Morelli started a reggae project with renowned drummer Chuck Treece, and he’s played gigs and toured extensively with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Alma and Roberta Flack, citing the latter two as a major influences in helping him hone his recording and stagecraft skills. Morelli produced some of Thompson’s work too, as she records now under nom de plume DonnT, and started a record label with her that’s now distributed by Sony’s label group Red Music, out of New York. And he’s leant his guitar stylings to new music from Donn’s nascent project &More, a collaboration with Philly rap artist Chill Moody, He’s also produced their two singles, “My Own Light” and “Woah,” and will join the band when they perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on Saturday July 28th.

At the same time, Morelli’s been working on his own music as well, including new EP Good News, featuring Chuck Treece on drums and Nahla Bee on vocals. He’s constantly on the road as a touring guitarist, currently on a west coast run with Village People, and plans to launch a reggae/punk project called OnWa when he returns. He documents all of it on Instagram at @jmotone. Below, read our indepth conversation about his musical background, and how Philly helped amplify it. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Ivy Sole

Ivy Sole | 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.

This past September, Ivy Sole played a set at Philly Music and Arts Fest at World Cafe Live that showcased best the talent and skill that she’s honed for engaging her audience. Closing that night with “Life,” a track that’s maybe her best-known to date, the artist modulated several times from theatrical gesticulations to rap verses, and slipped seamlessly into song for her choruses too, a swaying audience in tow.

In this interview, recorded earlier that evening, the 24-year-old artist describes her relationship with the performing arts, and how a background with spoken word poetry may have informed the arc of her artistic development, ultimately lending an element of effortless elegance to her stagecraft.

Having returned from show dates in Berlin and London, and with a new EP out recently, Ivy Sole looks toward a full-schedule though this year, with a focus on video production and a new full-length on the horizon too.  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Donn T

Donn T | 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.

Donn Thompson Morelli is an author. She’s a theater and film actress. She’s a record label owner, having founded and launched Dtone Victorious records in 2014, on which she’s also a recording artist. She’s a singer and a songwriter who pens her own work and contributes to her husband’s as well, the Philly-by-way-of-New-York guitarist and producer Jake Morelli. She’s a committed multitasker and she doesn’t seem to want to stop.

These days she has her hands in a little bit of everything, from a new dreamscape of a collaboration with Philly rapper Chill Moody and producers Daru Jones and Ray Angry, to work with singer Kuf Knotz, to performing this past Spring in Prince Theater’s premiere of Japanese Azteroids, coming soon to Netflix. Earlier this month, Donn was a panelist and a headlining performer at a Behind The Song launch event, an anthology edited by K.M. Walton to which she contributed as well.

When you meet her, you get an immediate sense of just how busy she makes herself, how involved she is at every level of her artistry. What you notice most of all though is how hard a time she has keeping a lid on her exuberance for all of her many varied forays and interests.

Donn channels a rich family history in the arts, and in particular the arts in Philadelphia, and to spend half an hour asking her about it is to realize just how many more stories she’d have to relate if you only had another few weeks to talk. Raised in West Philly in the ‘70s by parents who were legendary performing artists in their own right, Donn and her brother Ahmir were both exposed from a young age to the power of wordcraft, and both followed their own distinct paths to prolific careers in the performing arts. She now goes by Donn T; her brother by Questlove — he started a band too.

DonnT talks about some of that here, and lays bare her reverence and gratitude for the eclectic influences with which she was imbued by her parents, and for the city that in her mind so uniquely and singularly supports such a variety of artistic style. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Matt Cappy

Matt Cappy | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Matt Cappy | 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.

Philly brass-man Matt Cappy will be dropping his debut album Church And State from Ropeadope Records on June 16th. It’ll be available everywhere digitally, but you can grab an advance hard copy at his CD release party at 2300 Arena in South Philly on June 8th.

Cappy cut his teeth at Philly’s jazz clubs, but has since blown a trumpet on everything from R&B, neo-soul, indie rock and ska, hip-hop and jazz records. He’ll kick off a tour next month supporting compatriot neo-soul singer Jill Scott, and representing Philly as far west as LA’s Hollywood Bowl. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Dominic Angelella

Dominic | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Dominic | 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.

There’s a bit of a music scene in-joke that circulates about Philadelphia psych-rock cult faves Lilys; so many people have contributed to that band in its 25-year existence that founder and songwriter Kurt Heasley probably couldn’t tell you all of them. Dominic Angelella has experienced sort of the opposite situation in his career; he’s founded, jammed with, recorded and parted ways with so many bands since coming to Philadelphia from Baltimore in 2005, there will probably never be a true and complete chronology of them all.

We’re pretty sure Angelella has never been in Lilys, for what it’s worth. But looking just his higher-profile projects: there was the long running DRGN King, which disbanded last year after two great records on Bar-None; there’s Lithuania, his longer-running punk duo with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog; there’s mewithoutYou, with whom he is currently a touring bassist; there’s Hop Along, where he was an early touring guitarist. And, of course, there’s Dominic.

That’s his first name, true, and it’s also the name of his first truly solo project, which releases its debut LP Goodnight, Doggies. this Friday on Lame-O Records. Back in the fall, The Key brought you the news of his new album alongside a wide-ranging conversation with his onetime bandmate / current roommate, Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan, where the two unpacked Dom’s musical journey. This week, we specifically talk Philly for his High Key Portrait Series spotlight. This interview took place in early 2016, and he shares favorite faces and favorite places in the city — and is our first interviewee to give a diplomatic answer about Philly beer! This Friday, February 3rd, Angelella headlines Johnny Brenda’s (his fav venue) to celebrate the release of Goonight, Doggies. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Dave Davis of Sun Ra Arkestra

Dave Davis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Dave Davis | 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.

This Monday, Johnny Brenda’s will host a show that’s become a standing Philly tradition: a spaced-out afrofuturistic psychedelic New-Orleans-style big band-tastic freaky Halloween celebration courtesy the Sun Ra Arkestra. The show is an outright spectacle as they try to find room not only for all the many Arkestra members, on the precious real estate of the Brenda’s stage, but for all the swinging horns as well.

For this installment of High Key we caught up with Dave Davis, who’s blown a trombone with the Arkestra for over twenty years, and who never misses a gig. Davis is decidedly soft-spoken and understated, and as he spins tale after tale about his history and career among Philly arts giants you lean in, and hang on his words. He’s engaging, charming, the personified illustration of the benefits of pursuing your dreams and following your heart, and he has this wide-eyed-kid-from-Kansas exuberance about having lived in and loved Philly that, for him, makes even the advantage of big city public transit something to be excited about without a trace of irony. With a slow, easy smile, Davis manages to share that infectious, refreshing exuberance so relatably, both in his words and in his music.

Philly’s beloved Arkestra suffered the passing of its founder in 1993, but the now 92-year-old maestro and director Marshall Allen hasn’t lost a step yet in keeping up the traditions, from international stages to regularly local engagements all over the city as well, from the Art Museum’s “Art After 5” Program to local jazz festivals to favorite Philly clubs like Brenda’s. Although this holiday’s event at is already sold out, as always, opportunities to catch them live in Philly abound, as the band continue to be as prolific and active on the touring circuit as ever.

To this day, the Arkestra still convenes for rehearsals at Sun Ra’s West Philly home, and when asked about the latest horizons, Davis notes at the wealth of the untapped archives that the band is still combing through and bringing to life. “He has a stack of music that’s never been played,” says Davis of the late composer and bandleader Sun Ra. “He wrote a tune everyday for The Creator. He has a lotta tunes that he recorded on tapes, so we’re constantly playing new Sun Ra music.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: goldenSpiral

goldenSpiral | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
goldenSpiral | 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.

Adrian Palashevsky’s been hard at work. Over the past few years, the hip hop producer, multimedia artist and DJ — better known as goldenSpiral — has been fashioning beats, collaborating with his Philly music compatriots, and staying up late.

A taste of the results of all that sweat equity is available this week, with the release of the Dark Matter EP at goldenSpiral’s Bandcamp site, where it will be featured exclusively for two weeks prior to international distribution via Empire and Redeye. Published by Kyle Taylor’s Philly-based blog-turned-label Funkadelphia, the EP is a diverse sampling of the producer’s talents and influences, and features vocals from the ethereal Alicia Talia, and rappers Calvin MC, and Voss, whose standout single “NightVision” will have a music video directed by Pipus The Wise out later this Summer.

In the Fall, goldenSpiral will drop a full-length LP that he considers to be definitive work that he’s excited to share, a magnum opus called Waveformation which will also be published on the Funkadelphia label. The album will boast two music videos including single “Eternal Life (dub),” spotlighting vocals from Philly reggae darling Sonni Shine, in case you’ve missed her (and you should have) since The Underwater Sounds called it quits earlier this year.

In the meantime, Dark Matter is live as of noon on Tuesday, July 12th, and Palashevsky is offering the EP on a name-your-price basis, or for fair trade for just an email address. So all you hip hop/glitch/dub-heads, just click on that link and hit refresh, refresh… Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Birdie Busch

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

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.

Birdie Busch’s new record Thunder Bridge is beautiful, meditative, with an attention to production details and sonic textures that would make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Jeff Tweedy envious. Recorded in Germantown, Busch’s sixth LP sees the introduction of longtime friend Jaron Olevsky as keyboardist, as well as co-producer along with her partner, bassist Todd Erk. It’s a pensive, reflective collection of eight tracks that might remind you of Lucinda, Feist, or the moods of Beth Orton, and you’ll be comforted to know that Busch is a local Philly girl too.

What’s more, on June 18th, the Philly songstress will host a record release party at Boot & Saddle in celebration of the new work (get tickets and more info here). She’ll also be around town with a handful of show dates this summer, and come Fall, Johnny Brenda’s will host her seventh annual Philly Opry, a night of music cultivated by Busch, and conceived to mix-and-match local and traveling acts.

In her interview with us, Busch related her eclectic influences, her love for the city and its arts community. She speaks thoughtfully, poised with deliberation and without calculation, and throughout shares her contagious outlook of renewal and rejuvenation, whether it’s with reference to her relationship with live performance or just walking or biking the city’s streets and neighborhoods. Continue reading →