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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: Suzann Christine

Suzann Christine | 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.

Suzann Christine has earned a place for herself as an estimable Philly R&B artist, no small feat in a city whose arts and culture is defined largely by its legacy of contributions to R&B, hip-hop and soul music. A longtime student of that heritage, the singer and songwriter has been named “Philly’s Best R&B Artist,” shared stages with the likes of Wale, Musiq Soulchild and Frankie Beverly, and played to a packed Franklin Parkway when Pope Francis visited in 2015.

Recently, Suzann published a new project called Cup of Love, which is now available on all digital media outlets, along with her new hit song “Save Me.” In April, she released a collaboration with Dejure Hest, called “Don’t Rush it,” along with a new music video for the track.

Suzann works hard to give back to her community too. For the past eight years, she’s been diligently developing SCH Creative & Performing Art, Inc., a non-profit organization that she founded and incorporated, where her “Fly Star” program was conceived as a way to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in middle and high school kids in Philly who were interested becoming professional musical artists. And this Thursday, June 7th, Christine performs at 2018 Redemption Week, a community concert and candlelight vigil to support One Day At A Time, a service organization helping low-income and homeless Philadelphians affected by HIV/AIDS. More information on that event can be found here. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Shannen Moser and Julia Peters

Shannen Moser and Julia Peters | 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.

A little over a year ago, Philly folk singer Shannen Moser released a debut studio full-length, Oh My Heart, on Philly-based indie record label Lame-O.

Moser is open about how emotional attachment  affected everything from the approach to recording it to stagecraft. While her first tour in support of the material last summer was with a full band, her set at last fall’s Philly Music Fest — where we conducted this interview — was stripped down to herself and cellist Julia Peters, who’s worked closely with Moser since Peters moved to the area a few years ago. Continue reading →

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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 →