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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: ILL Doots

ILL Doots | Photo by Charlie Arnold | courtesy of the artist

This summer, for ILL Doots, has been all about preparation—like a volcano building magma before it explodes. “On the surface, it may seem like we’ve been kind of quiet,” explains Anthony Martinez-Briggs (stage name: Phantom) over drinks at Boot & Saddle. “But there’s so much going on behind the scenes.”

By “kind of quiet” of course he means “kind of quiet for ILL Doots,” who have spent the past 6 years playing, dropping tracks, and hosting workshops in Philly and beyond—with nary a sign of slowing down. Their “quiet” period included a handful of live performances, curating shows at their South Philly home, affectionately known as “Tasker House,” and writing and performing the soundtrack to the Wilma Theater’s production of An Octoroonin addition to recording and preparing for tour. Octoroon’s soundtrack drops later this week, and this Saturday they’ll kick off a 3-week, U.S. tour with a show at Boot & Saddle; while on the road, they’ll also host a series of free workshops teaching music to kids.

If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. But the dudes of ILL Doots—”ILL” being an acronym for “I Love Learning”—have never been ones to shy away from a challenge. Since coming together in the U Arts dormitories back in 2009, the Philadelphia eight-piece has consistently challenged expectations of what it means to be a hip-hop band today, marrying cool raps and fresh production with a focus on collaboration, community betterment, and positivity. Originally conceived as a jam sesh between roommates Jordan “Rodney” McCree (drums) and Scott “Sly Tompson” Ziegler (bass), the band added emcees Martinez-Briggs and Kirschen “Tex” Wolford soon after, then slowly grew to the monolith it is today.

These days, ILL Doots is a growing force on the local scene, whose stock continues to rise. Before heading out on tour, I caught up with 4/8th of the band—McCree, Ziegler, Martinez-Briggs, and guitarist Sam “BPAD” Borrello—to talk weekends in the Wissahickon, classic summer jamz, and what they’re most psyched about this fall. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Mercury Girls

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It’s been a brutal summer this year, the type of brutal that makes me wanna curl up on the couch in the air conditioning with my cat and watch re-runs while sipping a (whiskey) lemonade. (Some call it the dog days of summer, I call it the cat days). One thing that’s been helping me survive? Making playlists of my favorite songs, just like I did back in high school, when summers were alll about cruising through in town my ‘93 Taurus, windows down and cool jams on the tape deck. (Some of my friends had CD players, but I kept it old skool).

Philly five piece Mercury Girls are essential mix-tape material. The band burst onto the scene just 2 years ago, but has already morphed into one of the city’s brightest up-and-comers, thanks to a sparkling mix of warm vocals, playful guitars, and plenty of fuzz—earning props from everyone from Brooklyn Vegan to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Kip Berman, and sharing stages with Fear of Men, Beverly, and Allo Darlin’ (during Pop Fest ‘16). Earlier this year, their 7” “Ariana”/”All That Heaven Allows” dropped on Slumberland Records; later this fall, they will hit the road with Balance and Composure for a North American tour. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Queen of Jeans

Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney
Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney

South Philly in the summer doesn’t get enough credit. Sure, we don’t have the natural shade, or farmers markets, or outdoor screenings of other neighborhoods—but we have something else. There’s a certain summer vibe that seems to seep into the air when you cross Washington Ave; a sense of solidarity that’s palpable, as you sit on your stoop, air-conditioning units humming above. A few houses down, someone’s selling clothes and cookwear on the sidewalk; a block away the ice cream truck—not Mister Softee, but the South Philly ice cream truck that plays “Fur Elise”—is meandering toward you, offering temporary relief from the pounding sun.

I’ve lived in South Philly for 3 years now; Philly rock band Queen of Jeans live here as well (in fact singer/guitarists Miriam Devora and Matheson Glass are practically my neighbors). Their name, Queen of Jeans, is both a re-appropriation of, and commentary on, the iconic (if misogynist) “King of Jeans” sign that hung on East Passyunk Ave. at 13th Street for 21 years, before being removed in 2015.  It’s a sweet name for a (mostly) girl band from South Philly, but it’s also more—as if adopting the name, the band acknowledge the sign’s legacy, while at the same time offering their own (non-misogynist) alternative. Also it’s pretty funny. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Church Girls

Mariel Beaumont and Rob Dywer of Church Girls perform at Ortlieb's | Photo by Charlie Wrzesniewski | Courtesy of the artist
Mariel Beaumont and Rob Dywer of Church Girls perform at Ortlieb’s | Photo by Charlie Wrzesniewski | Courtesy of the artist

Hello there, it’s me. Your good friend summer. I’m here to tell you: congratulations on making it through fall through spring. It’s been a tough row, for sure: the pumpkin-flavored everything, the bulky coats and jackets, the “April showers” that last well into May. The good news is: the worst is over. From here on out it’s nothing but music festivals and going down the shore; water ice and jean shorts and cocktails with tiny umbrellas. Isn’t that what this column is all about?

It’s true. This is year THREE of Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds, our seasonal foray into summer drinking and summer vibes, where we kick back with our favorite bands, share a drink, and wax poetic about summers past and present. For our first 2016 edition, I meet up with rising Philly band Church Girls, whose cathartic basement rockers bring back memories of sweating it out at DIY punk shows in Jersey, on summer nights when the only thing holding you back was your imagination and your car (a ’93 Taurus for me) – your ticket out of the suburbs and into something real and raw.

Church Girls formed in 2014 in Philadelphia, around singer/songwriter Mariel Beaumont, a soft-spoken beauty who comes alive when performing. Prior to our interview, I catch Church Girls Saturday night at Boot & Saddle (appropriately, opening for first ever Sips band, Work Drugs)—and am impressed by her passion and talent. Especially striking is a cover of Modest Mouse’s “Custom Concern,” Beaumont closing her eyes as if feeling every lyric.

2016 has been a big year for Church Girls. Their debut full-length, Thousand Lives, dropped this January (listen here on Spotify); post-release they gigged regularly in Philly and NYC, earning the requisite blog buzz along the way. It also saw some changes, such as the departure of original members Jack Firneno and Max Beaumont—the latter Mariel’s twin and confidant (read about it here) —and the addition of new members James Udinsky and Will Schwartz. As for Mariel herself, 2016 has been a year of growth—she tells me she recently quit her job to focus on Church Girls full-time, and has been writing songs with longtime guitarist Robert Dwyer.

For our interview, I meet up with Mariel and Rob at South Philly’s Cantina—in between margaritas and tequila sodas, we talk summer soundtracks and summers spent skating and lounging. Read on to discover what tunes are on their summer soundtrack, their best and worst summer vacations, and why they’ll never be able to re-capture the exuberance of summers past, no matter how hard they try. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Commonwealth Choir

The author, with Commonwealth Choir (via @BookishKate's Instagram)
The author, with Commonwealth Choir (via @BookishKate’s Instagram)

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today, as summer gives way to fall, we catch up with Fishtown band Commonwealth Choir.

I wasn’t very cool in high school, and for the most part I used to hate waking up for class in the mornings. But I remember feeling oddly liberated come summertime, when there were no cliques stalking the hallways and I could lounge around the backyard or go on drives with my friends—usually to the diner (it was Jersey) or down the highway to see Saves the Day or Ben Folds at the Starland Ballroom.

Commonwealth Choir (mostly) hail from Doylestown, PA, where members Davis Jameson Howley, Nick Cislak, and Wil Chamuris went to high school together (Maurizio Mazza hails from Brick Township, NJ and Andrew Torre—who’s not present for our interview—is from Philly). They too spent summers driving around the suburbs, looking for trouble—or at least a spot to grab pizza, and maybe bowl a few games. Years later, it’s clear they still value these same experiences—spontaneous, joyful nights with friends. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: The Bul Bey

The Bul Bey
The Bul Bey

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today we catch up with rising West Philly emcee The Bul Bey.

South Philly’s the best around the holidays, when row homes battle for “brightest” and “most festive,” and Old City’s gorgeous in the spring, when the national park gardens come alive. But I’ll take West Philly in the summer hands down, when everything is green and lush and farmers’ markets dot Baltimore Ave., yet the bars remain comparatively empty, the college kids and shore-goers all away for the season. Is it a coincidence that The Fresh Prince, in West Philadelphia born and raised, chose summertime as the subject of his epic, seasonal anthem?  Is there anywhere east of 40th you’d rather than be than your friend’s giant, wrap-around porch, drinking a beer, after Ethiopian / Eritrean / Vietnamese food at Gojjos / Dahlak / Vietienne?

Amir Richardson, who performs under the name The Bul Bey, is like Smith in that he grew up in West Philly; unlike Smith, he still lives there now. In fact, his neighborhood is the subject of his breakout music video “Where I’m From,” a lively and complex portrayal of a place where, yeah, you better lock your doors—but where there’s also a real sense of community, whether hanging with your crew at a house party or laughing at your drunk uncle’s block party dance moves. The video, with its bright colors and enthusiastic participants (Bey tells me he did not instruct the kids to dance; they just did it) is sort of the ultimate tribute to summers in Philadelphia. So who better to talk summer vibes with than Richardson, who not only created a new summer classic, but is also one of our very fave rising hip-hop artists in the city right now? Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Cheerleader

Cheerleader
Cheerleader

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today we catch up with indie pop group Cheerleader; read on for our adventure.

I have very fond memories of summers circa 5th or 6th grade, hanging with my best friend Katie N., pouring over the class yearbook and selecting summer crushes, then planning to casually bump into them at the pool—and taking quizzes in Seventeen magazine with titles like “What kind of a flirt are you?” (not an answer: an awkward one).

Our favorite music back then was Madonna, Celine Dion, and The Crystals, and the soundtrack to Grease—songs about romance and young love, which seemed like the Most Important Thing Ever at the time. Cheerleader weren’t a band yet back then—but if they were, I imagine we would have adored them, their airy melodies and yearning choruses an elegant reinterpretation of our own tween angst. (Also we would have thought they were dreamy).

Cheerleader first caught our attention a little over a year back with carefree single “Perfect Vision” (read our 2014 interview with them here), then proceeded to hold us captive with a burgeoning collection of perfect pop gems. Their new record The Sunshine of Your Youth is a breezy collection of tunes inspired by “the nostalgic gloss you put on the past”; it’s also essential listening for Sunday drives and sunny mornings and anytime you need a pick-me-up. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: The Pretty Greens

The Pretty Greens, from L to R: Julia Green, Carly Green, Kool Schmool (photo via Facebook)
The Pretty Greens, from L to R: Julia Green, Carly Green, Kool Schmool (photo via Facebook)

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out editions 1, 2, and 3, featuring Work Drugs, Cruiser and Chill Moody, here). Today we catch up with Philly’s The Pretty Greens; read on to experience the adventure.

One thing I love about The Pretty Greens is that their take on “summer” music is delightfully multi-faceted. They’re not writing music to escape, or bliss out to; and they’re not writing ragers to sweat out to in some basement. No, The Pretty Greens are writing music that’s visceral and tough to characterize, incorporating bits of surf, garage, Brill Building pop, punk, new wave, and more, into a warm blend of sounds that’s perhaps more evocative of the real complexities of life.

Not surprisingly, people have started to take notice. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Chill Moody

Chill Moody | Photo by John Vettese
Chill Moody | Photo by John Vettese

There’s something about old-school hip-hop that just oozes summer in the city—whether it’s DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince  celebrating chicks at Fairmount Park or Snoop paying tribute to his favorite bev—and the videos, with their beach chairs, bbqs, and wild block parties—only drive this home. Summer in the city is not like the other seasons: people go wild and indulge, as if their inhibitions melt under the summer sun.

West Philly rapper Chilly Moody is no stranger to summers in the city. The up-and-coming rhyme-spitter grew up in Philly, and has proven himself a master of all things SUMMER—whether ruling it on stage on the festival circuit, mixing up a perfect cocktail, or even (yes) having the coolest swim trunks this side of the Schuylkill. He’s also responsible for one of this summer’s flyest bangers, the bbq-ready “Concrete Jungle” – which makes a nice nod to Bob Marley, another summertime staple.

Every year to celebrate summer, Chill hosts a #nicethings Weekend (#nicethings is his catch-all catchphrase), complete with bbq, bowling, and a pool party at a mystery location. This year’s #nicethings event runs August 22 through 24. Curious about the event—and his summer go-tos in general—I met up with Chill at one of his fave Center City bars, Time, to talk Will Smith, cocktails, and how he’d spend his ultimate summer in Philly. Continue reading →