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The High Key Portrait Series: Sofia Verbilla of Harmony Woods

Sofia Verbilla of Harmony Woods | photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

Candid and genuine, Harmony Woods’ singer and songwriter Sofia Verbilla will openly cop to how much time she’s spent reflecting on her own talents, impugning her own songwriting skills, wondering if she’s got what it takes to overcome at turns significant self-doubt and claim confidence in her own creations.

It’s a tenuous tightrope she seems to have found some familiar comfort in walking, as the Philly rocker capably straddles the stark contrasts of both her self-effacing and introspective and hot-pink-haired ass-kicking-frontwoman personas, at once conflicting and complementary, while she negotiates an earned place for herself and the HamWoo crew to stand out among Philly’s basement DIY rock-and-rollers.

They’ll be back onstage in Philly on May 30th, opening for Slingshot Dakota at Everybody Hits. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: King Britt

King Britt | 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.

A year after graduating from Central High School, King Britt was working at a new Tower Records location on South Street, having been hired for his judicious taste in music imports. At just 19 years old in 1987, having been brought up on all kinds of music and connected to the arts community in Philly, King was uniquely positioned to make moves, and to update dance music and electronica just at a time when the music industry stood ready to be transformed by the impending advent of digital technology.

At this interview at XPN studios, King reflected on his early hustle, and on those days in the late ‘80s and the first years of the ‘90s — a time of mixtapes and cassingles, hip-house and trip-hop. Few would be able to tell the story more capably or warmly than the Philly-born music producer, as he entreats us to fond memories of his days recording Sylk 130 records at Larry Gold’s studio, of the record label he co-founded with then-fellow-Temple-U student Josh Wink, of his collaborations with Bahamadia, and Ursula Rucker, and to musings about what, in his opinion, we all lost when Napster was unleashed (hint: it may not be what you think!). Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone | 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.

Posing for some portraits at XPN studios, Lucy Stone calls attention to her sunshine-yellow jacket, and volunteers that her mother said it wasn’t her color and warned her against it, before the singer affixes her own punchline to the narrative, unironically: “That’s why I wore it.”

Having played with local indie rock faves DRGN KING and Sad13 before then striking out on her own for awhile, the Philly native has planned some stage time in the coming months with new crew Vexxed, supporting tracks they recently laid down at a Drexel studio with compositions she’d written when she was 16.

And she can rock her yellow jacket if she wants to, along with a uniquely frank wit and deadpan humor, demonstrated by her response to a mention of her stern portrait visage.

“Good,” she confirms. “I want people to be afraid.”  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Garnet Mimms

Garnet Mimms | 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.

Early in 1971, Janis Joplin’s second and final solo studio record Pearl was released, and featured a number of what would ultimately become her best-known hits. Among them was “Cry Baby,” which she’d been featuring in live sets in the years prior, and which was released as a single in 1971 (b/w “Mercedes Benz”) that spent six weeks on that year’s charts.

Perhaps it was her notoriety, or her untimely death at age 27, just a few months prior, that helped to seal the popular association of that track so synonymously with Joplin, her withering blues-rock rendition reportedly a commentary on an ex-boyfriend’s departure. But, written by hitmakers Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy seven years earlier, the song had another life with its original performer, a gospel artist named Garnet Mimms. Backed by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston, Mimms put that song on top of the R&B and US pop charts in 1963, launching the singer into an international spotlight. Continue reading →

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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 →