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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.

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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 →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Porter & Sayles

Christian Porter and Regina Sayles have been friends and musical collaborators for over a decade, and two summers ago, the Stroudsburg singer-songwriter duo released their debut album of songs that straddle the worlds of poppy folk and contemporary country. They’re a little bit Civil Wars, a little bit Lady Antebellum, and their self-titled record caught the ear of XPN midday host Helen Leicht, who connected with the moving contemplation of “This Guitar,” a yearning ballad about balancing the conflicting passions of one’s music and one’s relationships.

This summer, Porter & Sayles returns with its latest single since that record, following up on the spring release “#IAmOne.” It’s a revved up country ripper and unofficial Pocono Speedway anthem “Buckled Up In Drive,” which the duo played acoustically for us during their Key Studio Session. In the set, you’ll also hear “Country,” which reflects on the universality of their preferred form of American music — even for folks who don’t come from down south — as well as “You Had Me From Hello,” a jangling pop tune about first impressions. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Anthony Green

It seems like there’s a fountain of wisdom coming from Anthony Green these days. Maybe it’s his hard-won sobriety and the introspection that comes with battling depression. Maybe it’s the fact that he just came off of a tour that simultaneously looked back and looked ahead, celebrating the 10th anniversary of his solo debut Avalon as well as his latest record, Would You Still Be In Love, released last month on Memory Music. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s fully embraced his role as a rock and roll dad — as anybody who follows him on social media will tell you, this dude clearly loves the heck out of his kids.

But as Green played songs from the new record in a breathtaking, intimate solo acoustic session at WXPN Studios recently, it felt at points like he was letting those experiences had and knowledge obtained over his 36 years creep into the room through his striking tenor voice. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Career Crooks

I feel like “ravenous” is a solid adjective to use when talking about Philly rapper Zilla Rocca. Ravenous consumer of popular culture. Ravenous collector of hip-hop records and trivia tidbits. Can somebody ravenously rock the mic? I don’t know, but if it’s possible, he can do it.

He’s been kicking around the scene as long as The Key has been around, in various permutations of his Wrecking Crew collective: their hard-boiled 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, his production and hype man work alongside Curly Castro, and his solo noir-hop outings. His latest is called Career Crooks, and it finds him teaming up with Small Professor for moody throwbacks to the late 80s and early 90s NYC scene; textural ref points include Nas, Mobb Deep, and 36 Chambers-era Wu-Tang (the semi-official Beatles of the Wrecking Crew), while Zilla’s gravelly flow recalls a bit of Action Bronson and Slick Rick.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ode To Omni

“The only thing that helped me was Jesus,” says drummer Marcus Meyers as he introduces the song “Anchors.” “And I know when you bring that name up, it can kind of get weird today. Maybe it’s the perception or the lens that we’re looking at him with.”

While spirituality is an undeniable undercurrent of his genre-spanning ensemble Ode to Omni, which returns to the stage at World Cafe Live tonight, Meyers is admittedly not self-righteous about his faith — acknowledging through that description that, perhaps, the idea of confrontational Christianity (which is a thing that definitely exists in the world of 2018) is part of that aforementioned lens.

But that’s not what he is all about; Meyers is more apt to use his songs meditate on mental health and self-care, acknowledging our weaknesses and finding sources of strength where we are able. His beliefs inform his life, his life informs his music, and as they perform pieces about self-improvement and empowerment for The Key Studio Sessions, he and his collaborators proved to be anything but one-dimensional. Continue reading →