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The High Key Portrait Series: Stan Davis

Stan 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.

For almost 20 years now, musician Stan Davis has toured with artists at every level of stardom, from local to international, and put down bass tracks on almost every stage across Philly. He’s proficient with several other instruments as well, and the versatility has afforded him the opportunity to play with diverse musicians in genres from jazz to hip hop to gospel.

Having established himself on both his musical talents and sweat equity, Davis has earned the right to be able to advise — which, from his perspective, is most important. In this interview, Davis reflectively returns several times stress to the importance of work ethic for young musicians looking to build a name for themselves in the music industry. At the same time, he looks back, through memories and stories — from his time studying music at Central High to being prepped for a show by Lauryn Hill — on the colorful career in the musical arts that he’s grateful to have.

This year, Davis is active as ever — he’s done shows with national R&B artists Syleena Johnson, Vivian Green, and Tia McNeil, and worked on Tia’s debut album, due out soon. He’s also in the process of completing his own album, and expects to have some news to share about it soon. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog

Jake Ewald | 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.

Jake Ewald would position the dissolution of beloved hometown heroes Modern Baseball more as an indefinite hiatus. One of the most heralded band of recent Philly history, MoBo played three sold-out goodbye-for-now sets at Union Transfer last Fall. Just before that, the below interview was recorded backstage at the inaugural Philadelphia Music Fest, where Ewald played a set with his new project, Slaughter Beach, Dog.

In the time since, Ewald has kept busy touring behind and gigging locally in support of Birdie, the second full-length for that band, and confounding music writers everywhere with Slaughter Beach, Dog’s unanticipated comma. The band trades pop-punk for a more acoustic-centered approach to Ewald’s unique brand of storytelling, and was recorded at his Fishtown studio The Metal Shop, a setup asselmbed with fellow MoBo-er Ian Farmer and Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher over the past four or five years, in a space he found on Craigslist. In this interview, we got Ewald’s perspective on straddling the space between one band winding down and another winding up, the scene that he discovered upon moving to Philly six years ago, and the ups and downs of different neighborhoods.

Explore more by reading on, and catch Slaughter Beach, Dog playing a gig on the 23rd of this month, at West Philly spot Hole Foods. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Raj Haldar of Lushlife and The Skull Eclipses

Raj Haldar | 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.

At last September’s Philly Music and Arts Fest, Philly rapper Raj Haldar and Austin-based producer Botany debuted material as The Skull Eclipses. Haldar brought some fire that night, piquing interest for his new project, though to be fair current fans of his other nom de plume Lushlife were already plenty familiar with the level of focused intensity and urgency in Haldar’s lyrical delivery, and all the thoughtfulness with which he crafts a verse.

In the below interview, conducted later that evening, Haldar seemed more than satisfied with their first outing. He was just a bit opaque about this project back then, by necessity, but at the same time you could see him wrestling a bit to keep his exuberance for it pent up. He talked openly about his work as Lushlife, and about what he described as an organic transition from being a recording auteur to now entrusting the beats to the capable hands of a skilled producer. Haldar shared his thoughts on Philly, too, from the perspective of an artist who’s spent significant amounts of his life and recording career in London, New York, and Los Angeles as well, and the unique position to be able to comment on the pros and cons of life both as an aspiring and professional recording artist informed and impacted by those communities.

Prior to their stage premiere at World Cafe last Fall, The Skull Eclipses had issued their first single, “Totality Piece,” featuring Philly native Mary Lattimore on harp, having timed it as a soundtrack for viewing the solar eclipse in August. This year, they’ve lined up international tour dates in support their upcoming record release, including a performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Friday, March 9th. More information can be found here. 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: Chris Smith

Chris Smith | 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.

When you speak with Chris Smith, you don’t get the impression that it’s a nervous energy, so much, that drives the discursive discourse — or even that the discursiveness is necessarily a negative quality, in his case. Rather, you immediately understand that he just has so much to say about all of his rich experiences, that he’s thought so deeply about it all: from the city streets he’s stomped for his decades living here, to the venues he’s played, the neighborhoods he’s called home, and most of all to the expansive community of musicians and artists and friends that he clearly feels so fortunate to have.

Smith is a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge — for all music, sure, in the way you might expect or hope any passionate musician to be — but specifically and profoundly for Philly’s scene. He can’t seem to be able to say enough in his adoration for what this city’s managed to cultivate, over the past twenty years and even earlier, and parts of the conversation can begin to  trend toward extemporaneous encomium.

But although the multi-instrumentalist’s psych-folk outfit Espers were a beloved staple of Philly indie music back in their heyday, some 15 years ago now — back in the days when he wore his straight hair a lot longer — you don’t catch Smith dwelling much on that, beyond a passing reference, even if you might have hoped for a tale or two. In fact, he never even really references or plugs his own band’s really remarkable catalog and achievements at all, but instead directs almost of all of his acclaim outwards. From his accounts, you end up with a much broader picture of a reverie that wanders between the actual brick-and-mortar record stores of South Street record stores, through recurrent Philly occasions like First Fridays, his exploits and encounters with local artists and poets, and into a cheap rental property in the mid-’90s with his indie-rock compatriot Steve Gunn for a snapshot of the sometimes-controversial revitalization the Northern Liberties. And on top of all that, Smith is uniquely poised to be able to offer both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the Philly’s arts culture, as well as both a successful musician’s and a successful indie-record-label-owner’s perspectives on how to enable yourself to be both — even in a place that artists can sometimes have the tendency to malign as unconducive to that sort of professional growth.

At one point in this interview, after all of that, Smith catches himself, and feels the need to advise you that he’s not usually an unbridled optimist, lest you begin to feel your Philly-stiffened upper lip start to soften on the spot from all of his exuberance. Frankly, you really don’t buy his reminder.

Still kicking around in Philly, Smith is mostly focused these days on continuing to build remotely his record label, Paradise of Bachelors, based outside of Durham, NC, in partnership with co-founder and Carolina counterpart Brendan Greaves. The label has been blowing up lately, most recently offering new releases from The Weather Station and Gun Outfit — not to mention this fantastic and seasonally relevant sci-fi literature review. ”Paradise of Bachelors,” declares Smith after the interview ends, “Just check it out!” True to form, he adds after a short pause, “That’s about it . . . I’m so bad at plugging myself.” 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: Steve Gunn

Steve Gunn | 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.

In June of last year, Philly-turned-Brooklyn rocker Steve Gunn released a dazzling collection of anthems for the modern American road-warrior. Eyes On The Lines is the sort of record that has the potential to become a local classic, the kind of music conducive to a little reflection and meditation on a sprawling state highway, a soundtrack to stumbling on interesting places even in what you may have used to think of as flyover country.

Originally from the suburbs west of Philly, Gunn graduated from Temple U and moved to Northern Liberties, as sort of a happy accident for him, back in the days just before it became the focus of developers, or a trendy place to move and invest in property. It was where Gunn got serious, as he describes it, about his focus on writing and recording music, where the prolific artist got started on what’s now a back catalog of over a dozen albums; among other topics, he talks  in this interview about the era of Philly indie rock in the time of the late Jack Rose.

The native son returns next Saturday, for a homecoming set at the World Cafe’s Philly Music and Arts Fest. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | 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.

For the past few years, Zoe Reynolds has been diligently crafting her gorgeous, poetic reveries, framed by the tastefully reverberating rhythm of her electric guitar, all packaged under the Kississippi brand. Sometimes touring on her own, sometimes with more rounded-out crew of other musicians she’s met at shows, her recordings and performances are evenly thoughtful and intimate, and she delivers her rich vocals with just enough empty space between the notes.

Having already produced two EP’s and a live recording, Kississippi is putting final touches on a new full-length, which Reynolds is excited to share. A crowning achievement for an eventful Summer that included her first trip up to Canada to play a few dates, Reynolds will play in the company of her compatriot artists the first weekend of Fall at World Cafe Live, taking her place in a lineup comprised exclusively of local musicians in a few weeks for September’s Philly Music Fest, in what will be her first full-band show with the all-new Kississipi lineup. Get more information on that performance at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read our interview with Reynolds below. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Joie Kathos

Joie Kathos | 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’s Joie Kathos has had a busy year. In June, she performed at Delaware’s Firefly Festival; back in March she was showcased on both the iStandard Beat Battle and in Washington DC’s SheROCKS event. She’s got her hands in several ongoing projects, having released singles for Comin Home With Me (CHWM) on iTunes late last year. And come September, she’ll open up at the Electric Factory for Young M.A.

The Philly native’s star is on the rise, but her head seems to be planted squarely right here at home, in a city that’s imbued her with a deep cultural tradition going back to her parents’ love for arts and music. In this interview, she recalls childhood memories attending local concerts with her father, and all of the music that continues to fuel her own creative energy. She’s inspired and informed by hip hop touchstones like The Roots and KRS-One, and one of her personal heroes, Bahamadia, invited the young rapper to perform at her #KOLLAGE tribute show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. “We sat in the studio and talked and she was droppin’ jewels,” Kathos reminisces about the collaboration. “I’m grateful for her.”

As she describes CHWM, she evokes more cherished memories of ‘90s music media culture. “Remember back in like the ‘90s when they used to release singles on CD, and then there would be like the ‘radio edit,’ and three different house mixes.. I just wanna keep it true to that.” You’ll be quickly laughed off and contradicted, though, should you try to point that she couldn’t possibly “remember the ‘90s” because she’s only 25: “I’ve always been into music. My start in music was way back when, when I was a baby! My mom sang, and she danced, and my uncle sang, and I was just around it. So I’m a little bit ahead of my time, a little bit old-school too.” 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 →