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The High Key Portrait Series: Pissed Jeans

Pissed Jeans | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Pissed Jeans | 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.

Pissed Jeans kicked off their record release show at Boot & Saddle last month waiting on drummer Sean McGuinness, before he finally emerged from the bar, swam his way through the wall-to-wall bodies of the sold-out house, and climbed up onto the stage.

The set is an intractable inferno, furious and urgent, demanding the rapt attention of the hundreds of fans and friends who came happy to give it, as they sweated and moshed, crowd-surfed and stage-dived, in the pious tradition of rock worship of these esteemed ministers of “sludge-punk.”

“I’m not really too concerned [with labels],” remarks frontman Matt Korvette. “That’s fine. Whatever people wanna call you, you’re stuck with.” Adds guitarist Brad Fry, “it seems very generic but yeah, it’s just rock music. But taken from all elements of rock — punk, metal, garage rock.” Fry, bassist Randy Huth, Korvette, McGuinness and I are sitting in a cramped in a “green room” — the venue’s euphemism for a basement storage closet behind the kitchen with a sofa and a lamp — in advance of their show that night. I’d later wish I’d gotten the opportunity to interview them after the show rather than before, just because I wanted to ask about why Korvette would make a demonstration that night of destroying several vinyl copies of some of my favorite Beatles albums on stage.

Why Love Now is the band’s fifth full-length album, and their fourth on Sub Pop. “It was crazy. We were shocked. Totally shocked,” remembers Korvette about being signed to the label, established in Seattle in the mid-eighties and made famous by Nirvana. The label took notice of them “organically,” to hear Korvette tell it, and having originally brought them in just for a single, their deal was broadened to include one LP, before Sub Pop decided to keep them on board for the duration. “But even doing a single was shocking,” Korvette reflects, “because we weren’t, like, looking for labels. That was never part of our thought process.” Adds the singer with a characteristically dryly delivered irony, “they just had good taste.”

On stage and off, the four of them share an obvious and genuine chemistry, the intangible pixie dust that tends to elevate a band to more than a band. They juggle families, day jobs, responsibilities and commitments, and a commute to connect with Fry, too, who doesn’t live in the immediate vicinity. But the arrangement works for them, and they see no reason to change things at this point, after almost a decade-and-a-half. “There’s no reason to really stop. We’re all friends. We’re just playing music with our friends.”

As we talk, McGuinness wanders upstairs and we wait for a few minutes for him to return before we get to the questions, but he never does. I ask if they were ok getting started without him, for now. “Yeah,” Fry replies. “He’s not that important.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Kuf Knotz

Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Kuf Knotz | 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.

It’s hard to try to classify the music of Kuf Knotz, to describe or dismiss it with labels. There’s a little bit of everything here, in Kuf’s work, from pop samples and sensibility to hip hop hooks. There’s a little soul, a little jazz and reggae. There’s a little Philly (where he’s from), a little Brooklyn (where he lives), and a little Netherlands, where he spends a lot of his time recording. As soon as you think you know what he’s all about, this former high school athlete and self-proclaimed jock will politely push on that envelope.

The closest he’ll get to a cohesive theme, though, is the pervasive positivity in his messaging, a spirit of transcendence offered up on everything from 2011’s “Sunny Philadelphia,” to the title track of his last LP “Positive Light,” to “Unstoppable,” the anthem he put together with G. Love and Chuck Treece for the 2008 hometown-hero Phillies team.

Kuf just got home from Holland and Jamaica, where he was at work putting the finishing touches on his newest record, expected to be out early this summer. This one’s more of a “throwback,” as he describes it, “very current, with a heavy 90’s feel,” and will come with a supporting tour. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Bahamadia

Bahamadia | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Bahamadia | 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 contributions to hip hop stretch back to the roots of the form, but few artists manage to become icons of the elements of style and with an impact and influence as far-reaching as our own Bahamadia.

Having gotten her start as a DJ in the 80s, Bahamadia had the opportunity to hone her craft right in the cultural crucible of a small Southwest-Philly-based production studio — an unassuming outfit that helped train and produce the likes of KRS-One and Boyz II Men. By 1993, Bahamadia debuted her unique brand of steady, potent cadence with her first hit single, “Funk Vibe,” and with championship from Gang Starr and The Roots crew moved on more hit records, and collaborations with the likes of Talib Kweli, Morcheeba, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill.

Here, Bahamadia talks candidly about the early days in the gauntlet of underground performances, and about grateful and proud she is to be a Philly artist. She’s paying it back to her community, too, working now with disenfranchised kids from her neighborhood.

And as an artist who describes herself as “built to do what I do,” Bahamadia is still touring, still working on new music, still entertaining all the requests from fans for deliveries of her catalog of hits. “They always wanna hear it that traditional way,” she marveled, with a chuckle, “they don’t wanna hear you remixin’, they wanna hear it just like the record every night.” She observes of her fans, “people process and interpret things way different than you do! You just give your interpretation for how you internalize and express things, but somebody writes a lyric, and your supporters will come up to you like ‘yo! When you said that it touched my soul!,’ and that gives me more insight! And then I think too as you grow as an artist and as an individual, the lyrics mean something totally different than they did when you first created them.”

“It’s the illest thing, but that happens a lot.” She adds, “It’s cool, ‘cause it keeps the conversation going.”

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: Sadie Dupuis

Sadie Dupuis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Sadie Dupuis | 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, meet your new neighbor Sadie Dupuis. Oh sure, you know her best as the frontwoman of Speedy Ortiz, the now-veteran award-winning attention-getting indie-rock darlings of every music writer from Noisey to Pitchfork, who’ve been around the touring block with the likes of Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, and the sisters Deal. You know. NBD.

But what you might not know is that, as mononymous solo artist Sad13 (and yes, that’s “Sad Thirteen”), Dupuis has moved from the heart of New England right to our backyard. With her debut record Slugger racking up the critical acclaim, she’s already on tour, and you can catch her at Girard Avenue’s Everybody Hits tonight.

As she settles into life in Philly, Dupuis compares and contrasts for us her experiences in Philly and Boston and tips you local vegans off to the best tofu hoagie in town. You’re welcome. 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: The Harvey Sisters

The Harvey Sisters | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The Harvey Sisters | 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.

Cassia and Myanna Harvey have been quietly building a small empire of string music instruction. Music is a family affair for sisters raised in an Oak Lane home rich with the influences of art of all genres, and for the past twenty years Harvey String Teaching has been making proper players of hundreds of cello, violin and viola students of every level, from the prodigal four-year-old to septuagenarian novice.

Beyond local studio lessons, the Harvey sisters’ passion for music education has manifested as an extensive array of hundreds of lesson books for string musicians, each one a document of their unique and evolving approach to relating musical theory. Distributed internationally, the books are now purchased by musicians in over thirty countries, as C. Harvey Publications has begun to establish itself as a benchmark household name for string instrumentalists.

Of course they both play prolifically as well — everything from symphony solos to concert halls, chamber orchestras to lecture recitals. In recent years, they’ve reached beyond their classical roots too, collaborating with Philly Fringe Fest artist Abner Diaz for a multimedia installation, offering contemporary interpretations of ancient folk music from Asia, and at turns playing original Americana at popular local venues with folk band Acton Bell.

However, their published recordings have taken a backseat to their two decades of efforts in music education. More studio work may be on the way soon, but in the meantime you can hear some of Cassia’s and Myanna’s work with the Philmore Ensemble, a group founded twelve years ago at Temple University by flutist Amanda Heckman and heavy-metal-turned-classical guitarist Duane Large. And last month Cassia published her first record, The Russian Cello, now available on all the popular online music venues. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Maxfield Gast

Maxfield Gast | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Maxfield Gast | 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.

Making a career out of the musical arts is a hustle, and as hustlers go, Maxfield Gast stands out. A sax player raised on the instrument and daily rehearsals, Gast cut his teeth like so many musicians at Philly clubs like Ortlieb’s, and played prominent stages in Philly and New York City at a young age.

Over the years, Gast has produced three studio records. He’s contributed to soundtracks to film and TV, including the music for Louis CK’s Louie and his comedy specials, and the recently released finance thriller Equity, starring Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. He’s played every stage in the city, toured the country with his bands, and played shows alongside the likes of Cage The Elephant, Reggie Watts and Work Drugs, not to mention furnishing contributions to the albums of over two dozen celebrated artists as well.

Lately, Gast is focusing his efforts on expanding the capabilities of his Roxborough-based label and recording studio, Militia Hill, founded in 2009, the studio does mixing and editing and voiceover recording, and specializes in custom composition for movies, TV and radio.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this player spends all his time sitting at home these days. In February, Gast was a featured artist on PhillyCAM, a Philly Jazz Project production that showcases live jazz musicians. The session will be released digitally as the artist’s first live band EP, available on iTunes and Spotify, among other outlets. And he’s excited too to share an upcoming single, a collaboration with Philly artists Kuf Knotz, Tony Catastrophe and Jeremy Grenhart. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: G. Love

G. Love | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
G. Love | 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.

We seem to be enjoying a bit of a 90s renaissance lately. A bill full of 90s headliners sold out The Fillmore in Philadelphia two weeks ago, and last week another Clinton addressed a Philly-hosted national convention. An “I Love The 90’s” Festival featuring Salt-n-Pepa, Vanilla Ice and Color Me Badd hit BB&T last week. The revival is afoot.

Most of Philly’s Gen X-ers will remember that era of the city’s cultural history with a special reverie, and listening to Garrett Dutton reflect on those years in anecdotes is sure to evoke nostalgia for anyone who was there.

In a candid interview held backstage at his Fillmore show earlier this year, the man known as G. Love talks sentimentally about his days tagging walls and playing street corners and cafes, about basketball and the neighborhoods he called home. He recounts first recognizing the potential of integrating elements of blues rock and hip hop to develop his signature sound. He doesn’t pull punches, either, about the frustrations he faced as a recording artist, with open rebuke for the elements of media or local industry that from his perspective offered paltry support.

While Dutton is known best for the hits that drove his early following, his latest records and performances show an artist still evolving. Last October, G. Love and Special Sauce released their latest record Love Saves The Day, a collection of blues rock tracks including collaborations with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Los Lobos vocalist David Hidalgo.

Speaking of that 90s revival, though, mark your calendars: G. Love plays the Mann with Blues Traveler and The Wallflowers on August 21st. Tickets and more information on that show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Nikki Jean

Nikki Jean | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Nikki Jean | 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.

Few young artists will have the thrill of being asked by one of the Roots Crew to play in his band, only to find herself a short time later singing her songs on a national platform, touring with Kanye and Rihanna, and composing with the likes of Motown’s Lamont Dozier, Carole King, and The Bard himself.

Nikki Jean has had the sort of musical career that might be considered by most counts the stuff of fairy tale. She’s worked with everyone from Dice Raw to Dylan, and although her discography may be short, the collaborations read like a Who’s Who of rock and rap icons. And although her gorgeous voice may be the first thing you notice about her music, her skill and talent as a songwriter shine no less brightly on her work to date, from her acclaimed 2011 debut Pennies In A Jar to the dark comedy of 2014’s “Take You Out.”

Although she’s since relocated to LA, Nikki reports in from sunny Southern California for a short-and-sweet Q&A to spotlight her memories of her time in Philly, featuring this set of photos that were shot back when Philly was home. Continue reading →