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The Key Studio Sessions: Max Swan

The past few years have been a process of growth for Philadelphia sax player, composer, and producer Max Swan.

In the early 2010s, he was a recent graduate of UArts with a jazz saxophone performance degree, gigging around town. We first encountered him at Philadelphia’s Center City Jazz Fest in 2015, playing a set at Time that mixed soaring instrumental leads with electronic and hip-hop synthesizer textures. We heard more of it that autumn in his elegant single “So Much Chime,” a song driven by Swan’s R&B style vocals. As is happened, this was just the early stages of his dabbling in genre fusion; the beginning of his push to do more with his schooling than the humdrum traditional route.

This year, Swan released an album called The Fisherman, and it finds him stepping further away from jazz and into suave singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist mode.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Interminable

A fanfare greets you in the opening seconds of Interminable‘s Key Studio Sessions performance this week, and it has a very intentional effect. The sounds of two trumpets and a trombone immediately grabs any listener’s attention, and as the beat kicks in on “El Camino,” the band immediately comes together into a cool groove as frontperson and songwriter Ximena Viiolante sings about, well, coming together. Unity and forward-motion.

On the chorus, Violante’s voice soars with the line “Este camino es largo / Y lo llevaré en mi voz / Caminemos juntxs / pa’ que avancemos mejor,” which means “This journey is long, and I’ll carry that in my voice / let’s all walk together / so that we can move forward stronger.”

As a band, Interminable is a model of the sort of unity its lyrics aspire to. Violante has a background in son jarocho, a style of folk music from the Veracruz region of Mexico, and is also an educator who gives community workshops on the history and versatility of her chosen instrument, the jarana. Trumpet players Becca Graham and Marty Gottlieb-Hollis both play in the hip-hop ensemble Hardwork Movement, though Graham comes at it from a classical background, while Gottlieb-Hollis leans more jazz and experimental. Trombone player St. Clair Simmons III plays in jazz bands, salsa bands, cover bands — he’s a versatile musician as well, as is the rhythm section of Yeho Bostick (who also plays in the psychedelic ensemble Circadian Rhythms) and drummer Joe Perullo (who ranges from chamber rock with The Up and Ups to Latin jazz with Viva and the Reinforcements). Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Found Wild

For singer-songwriter Tim Arnold, the band Found Wild began as a journey of self-discovery.

Best known in the XPN universe as the energetic percussionist at the backbone of local indie folk-pop faves Good Old War, Arnold took a hiatus from his main band a few years back to step back from the brink that the hard-touring, regularly-partying lifestyle had brought him to. He sobered up, he and his partner had a child, and he began writing songs that, for the first time, were wholly his own. Songs were he was the focal point, not the backing vocalist singing harmonies over the drumbeat; songs about his life and experiences.

As he described it when I interviewed the band this summer, this newfound clarity opened the floodgates. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Gladie

Augusta Koch loves a poignant turn of phrase, no matter what the music backing her sounds like. You might know her best from her power trio Cayetana, and its jagged, guitar-bass-drums driven punk rock; her new project Gladie is built around softer, more serene synthpop and atmospheric electronic soundscapes; in both cases, the words are a crucial component to the music’s connectivity.

“I am angry, I am lonely, but I’m optimistic too,” she sings on “20/20,” a downbeat anthem about embracing the maddening uncertainty of life. On “The Problem Is Us,” she sums up the breakdown of interpersonal relationships so succinctly: “When it’s bad, it’s bad / when it’s good, it’s good / when you’re out, you’re out / just like I knew you would.” Koch doesn’t favor overly busy lyrics; she prefers an economy of words that get straight to the crux of whatever topic or emotion she’s seeking to illuminate, and she makes them an endlessly repeatable refrain. You hear it, you remember it, you feel it, you get it.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Joey Sweeney and the Neon Grease

Joey Sweeney has been a fixture on the Philadelphia scene for as long as I can remember. Back in my college days, he was a witty, sassy, no-bullshit columnist for the Philadelphia Weekly who also fronted the Wilco-tinged indie rock band The Trouble With Sweeney. He went on to found the revered cityblog Philebrity (which, sadly, seems to be on something of an extended hiatus), then returned to music in the 2010s: first with the wacky denimcore rock outfit Arctic Splash, then with the elegant Long Hair Arkestra. That’s to say nothing of the early ramshackle rock acts of his formative years, which I wasn’t around for, but I’m told The Barnabys were quite good, and their brief reunion at his 40th b-day gig Your Life is Calling, and tracks on its companion compilation, seem solid.

Point being: Sweeney has been ingrained in the city’s music and culture for so long that he probably needs no introduction. And now that I’ve gone and spent all this time introducing him, we arrive at the question: why? What keeps us returning to Mr. Joey Sweeney two decades into his career? Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Wallace

Lancaster’s Wallace Gerdy first showed up on the Philadelphia scene as the lead shredder in basement show regulars Mattress Food. Then, back in January of this year, she ventured out on her own with a short set of demos that were heavily informed by her love of classic rock. The instantly likeable “Sunny Monday” (with its undeniable debt to “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground) caught my ear during the December edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia, I checked out the project’s full band debut at Ortlieb’s, and Wallace — as it’s eponymously called — was officially on The Key’s radar. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Thin Lips

“I was going to tell you what this song is about,” Chrissy Tashjian told a sold out crowd at PhilaMOCA last month, “but you’re smart. You’ll figure it out.”

The jam in question, a two-and-a-half minute rager called “South America” from the latest Thin Lips record Chosen Family, doesn’t require a ton of decoding. It wears its message very much on its sleeve — or rather, in its hook: “And now you’ll go to South A-MER-I-CA / with a woman that you only met last month.” So it’s a very literal breakup story, yes, but the telling of it is much more complex than such a label would imply, exploring themes of incompatibility, impatience, rejection, and unappreciated emotional labor: “let’s hear the line / the one that goes ‘Chris, I’ve never seen you try.’ / The line, the one that goes / ‘All I do is try.'”

I mentioned that its a rager, yeah? In the hands of Tashjian and her Thin Lips bandmates, the story behind “South America” becomes a soaring emo anthem, a song with interlocked instrumental complexity that’s incredibly fun, even as it unpacks personal lows. But that’s what this band has been all about since emerging on the Philly scene back in 2013 with the Gemini Moon EP — Tashjian took the name Thin Lips for her band because she is terrible at keeping secrets, and in their telling, she transforms them into something uplifting and pure.

Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Sheena and Thee Nosebleeds

Riff-wrangler Kermit Lyman III has been walking that Motörhead line between punk rock and heavy metal over the past couple decades in the Philadelphia scene, making noise in bands like Wally, Slumlord and the original incarnation of Thee Nosebleeds. And then he met Sheena Powell.

A punk rocker at heart with a love for The Stooges and The Ramones, Powell’s voice is vibrant and versatile. She can soar along to the strange keys of 80s metal — I definitely hear some of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson in her — but she can also belt the blues with gusto. After some jams, the chemistry was undeniable, and Sheena and Thee Nosebleeds was born.   Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Orion Sun

Few artists have captured the spirit of the scene over the past year as much as Orion Sun.

The Jersey-born, Philly-based singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Tiffany Majette released her breathtaking project under that celestial banner just over a year ago; A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams mostly made its way around by word of mouth, but as soon as listeners heard it, they were instant converts. The music is immersive and full of feeling, drawing inspiration from by Frank Ocean, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West and Daniel Caesar. The lyrics, however, come from such a deeply introspective place that Majette told The Key this winter that she almost didn’t release the project because it felt so personal.

“It was during a time when everything was falling through and I had very few people to talk to about it,” she says. “So when I was sitting down, writing for myself…it just became a very spiritual kind of thing for me. It was very meditative, so I’ve been trying to channel that energy more and more.”

That energy made its way to low-key Orion Sun gigs at places like Space 1026 and Johnny Brendas, a self-contained setup with Majette using her laptop to play beats from Ableton, while accompanying herself on electric guitar as she sang and rapped. But as the profile of Orion Sun grew, so did her vision for the live show, and for this week’s Key Studio Session, we are ecstatic to welcome the Orion Sun seven-piece band into WXPN Studios.   Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: RunHideFight

“I’m gonna sing you a little song about what it was like growing up in West Virginia, looking like me.”

RunHideFight frontwoman Geeta Simons says that in a long disaffected drawl on the simmering intro to the Stooges-esque “What Are You Talking?,” and we can take it a couple ways. Certainly, she was an 80s punk rocker in the Mountain State, a person whose style and artistic / cultural inclinations stood out from her conservatively-attired and -minded peers. But no, that’s not the whole story; not by a longshot. Simons’ family is of Desi heritage, and she grew up in a region that is — to put it bluntly — kind of blindingly white. And not the most tolerant, either.

“As a first gen, Indian American woman; I was busting up all kinds of cultural/gender norms by not finishing a pre-med track, having a green Mohawk and tattoos, playing in punk bands at skate parks, openly dating before marriage,” Simons recalled in an interview earlier this year with The Key’s A.D. Amorosi. “I was so angry and I desperately wanted to be heard and seen by a world which resisted that.”

Music was her outlet, continuing through her move to Philadelphia and her immersion in its indie community during the 90s and early 00s, when she played with Khyber regulars Swisher, Los Angeles, and Rockula. She stepped back from the scene for about a decade when she had children, but returned last year with a vengeance to form RunHideFight, a project born out of Simons’ heartache at her mother’s passing, her frustration at Donald Trump’s election, and the generally frayed-nerve state of the world. Continue reading →