You Sing, I Write: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

So Long, 2009. Bring on 2010!

Earlier this week I compiled a list of my top five moments of 2009. Well, there were a few more than five in there, but I tried to keep it short. I figured I'd do the same today with my top five concerts and interviews. I'd love to know what you enjoyed reading most this year so I can amp up my coverage in 2010. Happy New Year!

You Sing, I Write's Top 5 Concerts of 2009

There is nothing I enjoy more than that goosebumps feeling you get when an artist sings a song that particularly strikes you or tells a moving tale about the origin of the song. This year I attended more concerts than any year in my life and while it's hard to narrow down my single favorite, I compiled five that stand out.

5. Mat Kearney — September 29 at The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza

I interviewed Mat Kearney back in May when he was on tour opening for Keane at Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. I hopped on his tour bus and talked with him about his latest album, songwriting process and breaking into the University of Oregon to use their piano to write a song. As an opening band, your set is always cut short so I decided to attend his headlining performance a few months later at Irving Plaza and was blown away. Having had his album, City of Black and White, on rotation over the previous months the songs struck me personally and Kearney put on quite the show. Jumping into the audience mid-set he started his own dance party on the floor with fans. You can bet I'll be seeing him next time he's around.

To hear Mat talk about the new album, his writing process and stories behind his songs, click here. For his view on writing about personal relationships, being an opening act and advice to aspiring musicians, click here.

4. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band — September 30 at Giants Stadium

He is The Boss. Does much more need to be said? Being a Jersey girl, Bruce Springsteen's songs are anthems to me. I actually have Mat Kearney to thank of how I came to cover his show at Giants Stadium. The night before Springsteen's performance I was buying my friend a ticket at will call because Kearney's show was due to sell out. I recognized a photographer I met earlier that year at Ray LaMontagne's show and we chatted for a bit. Low and behold, the next day he needed a writer to cover Springsteen's show for a Web site he shot for and thought of me. Wendy picked up the tickets for me and we headed to Giants Stadium to cover the show for Bumpershine. And, guess who was sitting a few rows in front of me? None other than Mat Kearney himself. A bit serendipitous, don't you think? For my complete review, click here.

3. Tyrone Wells — October 7 at Highline Ballroom

I recently found Tyrone Wells CD Remain and have been listening non-stop the past few days. Previous album, Hold On is quite striking as well. While compiling my top five list I realized I have witnessed Wells in concert three times this year. I first interviewed him during South By Southwest and caught his showcase with Tori Amos. Later this year, Wells opened for Better Than Ezra where a couple got engaged mid-set before he dedicated and performed "Sea Breeze" for them. I was lucky enough to catch his headlining show at Highline Ballroom in October after interviewing his opening act, Matt Hires. Wells truly blew me away as he mixed his soulful and energetic tracks with his emotion-filled ballads. His onstage banter with the audience and tales behind his songs are always enjoyable and like no artist I have ever witnessed. If you have yet to see Wells live, I highly suggest doing so as I foresee him selling out bigger venues very soon.

2. Coldplay — August 2 at Liberty State Park

I've heard only praises about Coldplay's concerts from friends who have witnessed them firsthand. I really don't know why I haven't seen them sooner. Luckily, I caught their phenomenal set at the always memorable All Points West festival this past August at Liberty State Park. The way I described APW to friends was it being Woodstock's reincarnation if it were around in 2009. Mud wrestling, music and beer gardens was more like it. Sunday’s four-hour rain delay resulted in multiple canceled performances and scaled down sets, but Coldplay managed to save the day.

Always comical, after traipsing through the mud onto a stage in the middle of the field, frontman Chris Martin realized what festivalgoers dealt with the entire weekend. “We have infinite respect for you now that we had to walk through that shit. Wish we had backstage passes for all of you,” he said.

Witnessing Coldplay live and up so close, I have incredible respect for the band. While they played many of their hits, they also performed a moving tribute to Michael Jackson and the Beastie Boys, who had to cancel their performance due to member Adam Yauch's cancer diagnosis. I couldn't imagine a better band to close the three-day mudfest.

1. The Gaslight Anthem — October 15 at Terminal 5

I've been covering The Gaslight Anthem on You Sing, I Write, since last year when I flipped through Rolling Stone to notice drummer Benny Horowitz, former paginator of my college paper, featured as a breaking band. I did a double take and contacted all the people I knew who used to work for Rutgers' The Daily Targum. Since then, I've been trying to cover a show and set up an interview to no avail. You'd think garnering an interview with a rock star you knew would be easy. Think again. After several failed attempts I decided to purchase tickets to their show at Terminal 5 before it sold out. I'm so glad I did. I feel like I reverted back to my high school days of Warped Tour and crowd surfing. Then again, I think the 30-year-olds in the room did as well.

I have never witnessed such an energetic (and frightening) mosh pit in my life. It was like Warped Tour for 30+. No more emo boys, these are grown men dancing in the pit and creating havoc. I'm not going to lie to you, I did fear for my life, but that was the beauty of the concert. From the looks of frontman Brian Fallon's face, he was just as surprised. By far the most energetic show I've been to all year, there is no doubt in my mind that The Gaslight Anthem will be selling out Madison Square Garden. Hopefully, by then I'll be able to get an interview!

You Sing, I Write's Top 5 Interviews of 2009

I've been trying to cut down on long top 5 posts, but as evident from my concert list above I've been a bit verbose. I'll try to keep it brief with my interviews and post the Q&A so you can read it for yourselves and see just why I think they're my top 5 of 2009.

5. Train

They've reached worldwide success and many of their songs garnered top spots on memorable songs of the decade. I spoke with guitarist Jimmy Stafford at the start of Train's tour where he filled me in on Train's latest release, embracing the Internet and a younger fan base and the reasons behind their longevity. Read it here.

4. Better Than Ezra

After catching BTE live earlier this year, the three-piece band was back in New York for press in August. Unfortunately, I was extremely sick and losing my voice during the interview but didn't want to cancel. It was 90 degrees in New York and the interview was at a Starbucks that felt just as warm. You know when you're nervous and feel like you're sweating, but it's probably just in your head? Well, it definitely wasn't in my head...I was dripping wet. Remarkably, the interview turned out much better than I thought. But, I did learn no matter how important the interview, if you're sick it might be best to postpone it for a later date. Read my interview here. Note my "hottest Starbucks" reference. Clever, huh?

3. Taylor Swift

There is no denying it, Taylor Swift conquered the music world this year. I was so excited to attend her press conference during the CMA Music Festival in Nashville and incredibly determined to get a question in. Luckily, I did. Note the "your music is like writing in a diary" question. I can honestly say, she is as nice and down to earth in real life as she seems onstage. There is no doubt in my mind that Taylor Swift will be around for decades to come. Read my interview here.

2. Joshua Radin

Joshua Radin has accomplished much as an independent artist. He bought himself out of his major label contract to go on to release one of the best selling folk albums of the year. Not to mention, he performed at Ellen DeGeneres' wedding, toured the globe and remains so humble. Case and point: When asked how he feels about being called this generation’s Bob Dylan he responded, "That’s absolutely ludicrous. Bob Dylan invented music. I just feel like that’s putting a bull’s eye on the back of my head for everyone to be like, 'No you’re not. You’re not really as good.' And I’m like, 'Of course I’m not as good, I wrote my first song four years ago!' And I probably never will be as good. But, I bet you I’ll be much better at being Joshua Radin than Bob Dylan is. That’s all I can hope for." Read more here.

1. Third Eye Blind

Not many know this, but Third Eye Blind is how I got my start writing for Marie Claire. I remember getting dinner with my friend and colleague Diana last year and venting to her how I had a great interview with 3eb frontman Stephan Jenkins, but no music publication seemed to care. I reached out to every music magazine and Web site you could think of and they all felt 3eb was a band of the past. Boy did 2009 prove them all wrong. Diana must have seen my frustration and thought they might be a good fit for the Marie Claire audience, being that much of the reader age group grew up listening to 3eb and Stephan Jenkins was always a heartthrob. 2009 proved to be a great year for the band who released their album independently and saw a surge in their fan base. Read my interview here.

What were some of your favorite interviews of 2009? 2010 will bring many more I'm sure. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Introducing Tiffany Thompson

Though it's only four songs, Tiffany Thompson offers much to music lovers on her self-titled release. Each track has an airy, yet jazzy feel while her lyrics tug on listeners' heartstrings. Extremely introspective, Thompson sings of loneliness, love and life.

Thompson explains it best on her Web site: "In my songs, I seek to engage life on a very personal level and sing stories about longing after lost love, comforting hurting friends, and being there when it matters most. Call it, my other self-education. My songs articulate the everyday struggles of loneliness, loss and love, but all the while looking with a hopeful eye toward the future."

I couldn't agree more.

"Till That Day Comes" is a beautiful ballad that showcases Thompson's emotive vocals. Reminiscent to that of Colbie Caillat and Priscilla Ahn, her voice is comforting as she tells a tale of a hopeless romantic. "So I close my eyes and pray one more time/That the day would come when I'd find someone/Who will hold me close oh and love me more than I've known before."

Of the song, Thomspon writes, "No matter how content I am with being single; there are still moments—however rare—when I long to be in a relationship. And, I’d love for that man to be sitting in the chair next to me. However, as I wrote this song and entered into the emotions of longing, dreaming, and a bit of loneliness, I kept remembering the truths that root and guide me."

She continued. "I am a dearly loved daughter and friend. I do not long for just anyone to fill the chair next to me or hold the light near my front door. I may be single, but I am not alone. I am a child of God—a follower of Christ—, and I trust in the plans He has for me. It is these truths I tried to reflect in the songs bridge and chorus: Its not about being alone; I can make it through life on my own. But I know that I would be a wife who loves for life."

"Please" is more of an upbeat track that begs a former love to let her go. A conflicted song, Thompson sings in the midst of horn features, "Please let me go/Please come and hold me/Please can I go."

To learn more about Tiffany Thompson, visit her Web site and watch her music video for "Please" below. She's currently featured on Reverb Nation where you can download her song for free. Click here to register and download her single, "Till That Day Comes" on the current contenders tab.



Recommended: For fans of Colbie Caillat, Priscilla Ahn, Meiko.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Band to Watch: The Tor Miller Band

When The Tor Miller Band took the stage last Saturday at Don Hills, I quickly realized this is not your average high school band. Mixing up their set with originals as well as covers ranging from Ray Charles and Creedence Clearwater Revival to the Beatles and Tina Turner, the six-piece impressed all in attendance.

I can't even count the number of people who came up to me after the show asking if the band had any CDs they could purchase. Pretty impressive for a group that formed just over six months ago. The way frontman Tor Miller worked the crowd energized the room and had many of my family and friends captivated. A 15-year-old kid who could make some of my 25-year-old friends swoon is a feat in itself. Move over Jonas Brothers, Tor Miller Band is here.

Special thanks to Wendy Hu for capturing the night on video. Watch a few videos below and for more, visit You Sing, I Write's YouTube page here.

Tor Miller Band performing a cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say"



"I'm Alright"



Cover of Ray LaMontagne's "You Are the Best Thing"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Q&A with Jay Sean

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

British singer-songwriter Jay Sean has been working in the music industry the past seven years and is finally seeing success in America. His hit single "Down" topped the music charts earlier this year and current song "Do You Remember" is achieving similar status. Right before his performance at Z100's Jingle Ball concert he filled the press room in on his latest single, dedicated fans and plans for 2010. Read on for more of UK's heartthrob.

Can you tell us about your latest single, "Do You Remember?"
I wanted to create an anthem. I wanted to create something that, whether it was a group of old school friends or old lovers or a family, whatever it is, it's one of those moments that when the song comes on you guys start reminiscing about all the great times that you have been through. That's what I wanted to create.

Is there one highlight from 2009 that stands out for you?
I think it would probably have to be the moment where I went to number one in America with my single "Down." That was definitely a moment where life didn't feel real at all.

What's the difference between UK and US audiences?
It's funny because the US audience has been...the way I describe it here, success in America is like a snowball. You see it develop, you can literally see it grow. It just becomes so insanely huge. It's gone from doing shows where there might be a couple hundred people to this where there are 15,000 people all singing back the words that you've written. You really see it grow. It's pretty insane over here.

Have you ever performed a random act of kindness?
Yeah. I think it's important to do that actually. It's funny, because in this day in age it's very difficult to find a truly altruistic act. A lot of the time when you donate to charity, especially if you're in the limelight like we are, it can be seen as just something you're doing for press. I like to do something, especially right now in the winter. The other day I had a slice of pizza that I didn't eat and instead of throwing it away I gave it to someone who actually needed it. It's little things like that. There wasn't a camera in sight. It's things like that that are important to do for other people.

Have you enjoyed any special treatment being in the limelight?
The best thing about getting a higher profile is that you have a platform to make a change and make a difference. You can either not choose to take that platform and abuse it or you can take it and do something good with it. For me, I'm trying to take the platform I have and be a good role model for the kids. In terms of other little perks, sure, you get cool clothes and you get stuff thrown at you.

What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you since you got famous?
It's usually something from fans. 'Cause fans can be seriously fanatical. I've had girls who have gone...when I was on tour in Australia, they went from city to city. It was a 10 day tour and they caught the plane each time. On the last date they actually came onto the stage and jumped on my back, about four or five of them and took me down. It's pretty aggressive actually.

What's your New Year's resolution?
My New Year's resolution is always the same actually. Every year I try to live in the moment. It's all a whirlwind. I've been doing this for seven years and I'm like, "Okay, next year I'm going to really try to take this in." Do a blog. Take it all in so I have stories to tell when I'm older. For me, I'm going to try and do that next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

You Sing, I Write's Top 5 Moments of 2009

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

As 2009 rolls to a close all the major publications and music sites are doing year end and decade album favorites. While I've considered doing a similar write-up, I really feel that the results are completely subjective. Who's to say what the No. 1 album of the year is? We all have different music taste and while my favorite album may be within the country genre, you might disagree.

Instead, I've decided to pick my top 5 moments of 2009. Whether it was traveling on my own to a festival or interviewing one of my favorite bands, since you've all been following my adventures on the blog and Twitter I thought you'd be interested in some of my favorites. I'd absolutely love to hear which show or interview you've enjoyed reading about in the comments. 2010 will be a big year for You Sing, I Write and I cannot wait to share it with you. Thanks so much for your support over the years. Without your continuous comments and feedback, You Sing, I Write wouldn't be what it is today.

Top 5 Music Moments of 2009

5. Becoming a Country Music Fan

This may seem peculiar as a top moment, but since attending the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, in June I have become a country music addict. Whether it's subscribing to numerous country newsletters or watching music videos on CMT and GAC, I can't get enough! While I'm sure Taylor Swift had something to do with it, I've come to realize that the country genre is unlike any other.

The community between artist and fan is phenomenal and even the press are extremely welcoming. I remember my first night in the CMA press conference and being extremely nervous because the biggest country stars would be there for interviews. Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley! A Jersey girl covering the Nashville music scene, I was definitely a country newbie. I kept raising my hand throughout the night in hopes to squeeze a question in and quickly learned you have to be aggressive and shout out your questions to the artists. Lucky for me, Darius Rucker noticed my continuous unsuccessful attempts and while the PR person was ushering him off the stage he pointed to me and said, "You've been so patient this whole time. What's your question?" I was shocked and humbled.

Later that night, the concert at LP Field was postponed three hours because of a storm, and Rucker was mingling with fans in the rain until the show continued. I don't know many artists who would wait alongside their fans for three hours in the rain. This is just one example of many in how I fell in love with country music. Interviewing Martina McBride, Holly Williams, David Nail, Taylor Swift and Jake Owen (pictured above) are moments I'll never forget.

4. Festival Coverage

From past internships at MTV and Rolling Stone, I was always super jealous of the editors who traveled the country and covered festivals like South By Southwest and Lollapalooza. While I always aspired to work for a publication that would send me for free, I never fathomed attending one for myself. However, this was the case of South By Southwest.

Having been laid off at my full-time job back in February and becoming frustrated with the job search, I decided March needed a change of scenery. After talking to a fellow Jersey girl who was looking for a roommate in Austin, Texas, and being promised that I'd be able to purchase a badge when I arrived, I decided, on a whim, to attend South By Southwest.

My first trip anywhere by myself, I hopped on the plane a bit skeptical, but extremely excited nonetheless. I set up a few interviews for the blog and wound up covering my adventures for Marie Claire. By far one of my most memorable life experiences, South By Southwest was the start of my festival-filled year. The Country Music Festival and All Points West soon followed where I traveled with friends to Nashville and later Liberty State Park to interview some incredible up-and-coming bands who later exploded onto the music scene. For a music journalist, there is nothing better than that.

3. Attending Zootopia, Jingle Ball and the VMA's

If you told me 10 years ago that I'd be attending and interviewing the performers of New York radio station Z100's Zootopia and Jingle Ball concert I would have never believed you. I grew up listening to Z100 and would frequently call to win tickets to their two biggest shows of the year. To be backstage and in the press room interviewing the bands before they took the stage was incredible and something I could only wish for as a child. Now, if only one of the bands there were the Backstreet Boys my life would be complete!

As for MTV's Video Music Awards, it was always a dream to attend and witness one of the most talked about award shows live. Whether it was being part of Taylor Swift's performance or talking to the artists on the red carpet, the VMA's really were exactly what I dreamed them to be. Although, I never imagined all the drama that one artist (ahem, Kanye) could create. A memory nonetheless. From Zootopia to the VMA's, both events deepened my life motto to follow your bliss.

2. Hosting a benefit concert for To Write Love On Her Arms with Monica

I talked about our benefit concert for TWLOHA last week and how it started with an article I wrote three years ago in college. While depression, self mutilation and addiction continue to be taboo topics, the word is slowly getting out. It was our hope to present awareness to these issues through music. Throughout our planning over the past few months, we often said the only thing we couldn’t control was the weather and that proved to be true when the blizzard of 2009 reigned on us last Saturday afternoon.

I’m a huge believer in everything happens for a reason. So, when the weather forecasters predicted 10 inches of snow I was hoping mother nature would prove them wrong. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. With two band cancellations and constant messages from people saying they wouldn't be able to make it, we were a bit worried. But, there is no person I could have relied on more in a time of crisis than Monica. We both dealt with our frustrations and with the help of Chloe from TWLOHA found a last minute performer to the lineup.

Despite the snow, we drew over 100 people to our benefit concert (including founder Jamie Tworkowski!), raised hundreds of dollars for TWLOHA and introduced the crowd to four new artists who are sure to make waves in the music scene. Knowing that so many would risk their lives and make the trek in a blizzard for a worthy cause was humbling and we were extremely grateful.

1. Visiting Graceland


I've been listening to Elvis Presley for as long as I can remember and it's always been a dream of mine to visit his home at Graceland. Just walking through his house and seeing the Jungle Room, countless exhibits and making my way outside to his firing range, stables and memorial was incredibly surreal. He had such an impact on the music world and to be able to experience his sanctuary and place of escape was an experience I will never forget.

What do you think of my top 5 list? I'd love to know what you enjoyed reading this year, whether it be interviews or concert reviews, let me know!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You Sing, I Write's Christmas Playlist

It's that time again. The tree is decorated, the gifts are (almost) all wrapped and holiday music has been heard non-stop since Thanksgiving. For this year's Christmas playlist I've included some reader favorites as well as a few of my own. Listen below and feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comments!

Charlie Brown: "Christmas Time Is Here."



Bruce Springsteen: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."



N'Sync:"Oh Holy Night."



House of Heroes: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

House of Heroes "O Come, O Come Emmanuel from Ransom TV on Vimeo.

Elvis Presley and Martina McBride: "Blue Christmas"


Did I leave out any of your favorites? Let me know! Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Q&A with Ke$ha

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

Having attended several press conferences over the past year, there is always one artist that peaks the interest of those in the press room with their intriguing and shocking answers — this year it was pop singer Ke$ha. At least, this was the case when Ke$ha entered the room at last week's Jingle Ball concert and told us what she'd be getting for Christmas. You can't make this stuff up, kids.

The pop newbie will be hitting the road next summer for Lilith Fair, the all-female festival, joining forces with Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, Sheryl Crow and many more women rockers. Read on to find out more about Ke$ha’s fashion style, upcoming album and hit song, “Tik Tok.”

You just got asked to participate in Lilith Fair. How do you feel about that?
That is news to me as of yesterday and it’s really exciting to be in the category of strong women all touring together. I’m really, really excited about it.

How aware were you of Lilith Fair the first time around?
Not. I think I was a baby.

What was “Tik Tok” written about?
“Tik Tok” was written about . . . one morning I woke up surrounded by a bunch of babes. It was like Babe Fest ’09 in my room ’cause all my friends crashed. And then I woke up feeling like Diddy. And so, I wanted to document the night before.

Who is your style icon?
I am inspired to dress like African safari animals and/or Keith Richards.

What are you asking for the holidays?
I’m asking my mom for . . . she found my placenta and she’s crushing it up and making it into a necklace because I think it makes you psychic.

How was it performing tonight at Jingle Ball?
Tonight was mental! There were so many people and I was so nervous and I never thought that I would get the pleasure of playing Madison Square Garden at 22. I feel so lucky, but it was really scary!

Tell us about your album.
My album is coming out in January. It’s called Animal and it’s definitely a super positive, fun record, but it’s not just all party songs. I think people are going to be really surprised at the depth of the record and also the different styles I experiment with.

Is it true you snuck into Prince’s house and got kicked out?
True. I did sneak into Prince’s house. True, I got kicked out.

What surprised you about his house?
Nothing surprised me about his house. I got his address and snuck under the fence and inevitably got in, walked in on him having band practice, left my CD for him and then got out.

Should young girls look to you as a role model?
I think there are certain things young girls can look to me as a role model for. I’m not saying everything. But, I do think it’s an important thing that I’m promoting. Happiness and the amount of money you have or make has absolutely no correlation ’cause the happiest times in my entire life have been when I haven’t had two dollars.

Do you have a favorite fashion designer?
I dig through the garbage.

$1 from every Jingle Ball ticket sold is being donated to Food Bank For New York City. How does it feel to be part of this charity?
I’m excited to finally have some sort of goal to help somebody else. That’s amazing and I’m going to definitely continue to do so with people and animals in the future.

How did you come to work with Dr. Luke?
Dr. Luke called me actually, one day out of the blue and flew me out to New York and then L.A. We just got along. At this point, he’s like my brother so it’s amazing.

What are you looking forward to for Christmas?
Honestly, I’m not looking for anything this year, except my placenta in a necklace, but I’m excited about being able to give presents this year that are going to be badass.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Want Boys Like Girls to Play Your Prom?

My friend and colleague Tammy just filled me in on Seventeen Magazine's Ultimate Prom contest where you have a chance to win a performance by Boys Like Girls at your prom! All you have to do is upload a creative two-minute long video explaining why your high school deserves it. For more information, click here and watch the video below.

From December 18 to March 12, teen girls from all over the country can submit a video on Seventeen.com showing why they deserve a live performance from Boys Like Girls at their high school prom. Video submissions will be judged by Seventeen and Columbia Records.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our fans, so being able to be part of the ‘Ultimate Prom’ is just a small way of saying thank you to the people who make Boys Like Girls possible,” said Martin Johnson, the band’s frontman. “I wonder what I’ll wear…”

The first 10,000 to visit this site and sign up get free download of "Heart Heart Heartbreak." And, if you haven't read my interview yet from Jingle Ball with Boys Like Girls, be sure to here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3" Impresses Just in Time For the Holidays

Photo Credit: Benjamin Wagner

Pianos was packed Wednesday night with musicians and concertgoers for the third annual, A Holiday Benefit release party. Thirteen New York-based performers graced the stage throughout the three-hour show, debuting songs off the album, A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3.

The versatile release includes 13 stand-out tracks that encompass a mix of covers and originals written by the artists. By far the most enjoyable holiday compilation album I've listened to, there is something for everyone. Whether you're into the holiday classics like Bess Rogers' beautiful rendition of "Little Saint Nick" or enjoy a pleasant surprise as showcased on Amber Rubarth's "Christmas Carol" and Paula Valstein and Casey Shea's duet on "Fairy Tale of New York," A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3 is one album you won't get tired listening to. So, take out the eggnog, finish decorating the tree and enjoy!

While each of the 13 performers impressed throughout the night, it was Bryan Dunn who stole the show with his energetic set. Performing "Don't Believe In Christmas" and "Father Christmas" he had the crowd dancing along with his intensity and remarkable guitar playing.

Emily Easterly has been compared to Liz Phair and Kat Power and her set did not disappoint. An edgier sound, Easterly plays emotion-fueled rock & roll. After showcasing a few tracks of her own, Chris Cubeta took the stage to perform some originals before Easterly rejoined him for a fun rendition of "Wonderful Christmastime."

Highlights of the night included the hilarious collaboration between Casey Shea and Paula Valstein. Always the entertaining musician, Shea read the lyrics for "Fairy Tale of New York" off his cell phone for part of the set.

One of my favorite tracks on the album, Bess Rogers' rendition of "Little Saint Nick," is impeccable. Her delicate vocals suit the song perfectly. So enjoyable, I think I may like it better than the original. Another stand-out performer of the night was Ruby Rivers. With angelic vocals, Rivers' singing style is reminiscent to that of Priscilla Ahn and Ingrid Michaelson.

After Emily Zuzik and Benjamin Wagner performed individually, they shared the stage for a killer cover of "Merry Christmas, Baby." Rocking the venue, they got the crowd energized as some could be seen dancing close to the stage.

Additional performers throughout the night included Chris Abad, Tony Maceli, Crystal Ponzio, Martin Rivas and Misty Boyce.

All proceeds raised will be donated to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. To purchase A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3 on CD baby, click here. And, be sure to watch a video recap of the night below!



Related Links:
A Holiday Benefit Concert Recap
A Holiday Benefit Concert
December 1st Holiday Benefit Concert
A Family Holiday Album to Benefit Young Writers

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Show Goes On...Despite the Blizzard

I want to personally thank everyone who made it out to Don Hills last night! The day was off to a rough start with two band cancellations, but we pulled through and had a great turnout considering the weather. To Write Love On Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski made it out as well as benefit coordinator Chloe Grabanski who graced the stage and filled everyone in on TWLOHA.

The Ramblers, Ms. Shira, Tor Miller Band and Dusty Brown rocked the house and walked away with many more fans. If you weren't able to make it out and would like to donate to TWLOHA, the ticket link is still up so feel free to donate here.

There are a few videos up of two of the performers and I'll post some more in the upcoming days. Watch The Ramblers kick off the night with "Picture of a Prayer" below.



Check out Ms. Shira take the crowd to school below as she performs the bluesy "Get Over You."




Thanks again to everyone who made it out and for all of your support. Next concert will definitely be in the summer!

Related Links:
The Article That Began It All
You Sing, I Write + The Jew Spot Present A Benefit For TWLOHA
You Sing, I Write Celebrates Two Years
Why Benefit To Write Love On Her Arms?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

You Sing, I Write + The Jew Spot Benefit For TWLOHA TONIGHT!

The night is finally here! Hoping to see you all at You Sing, I Write and The Jew Spot's two-year blog anniversaries and benefit for To Write Love On Her Arms!

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19
DON HILLS, 511 GREENWICH ST.
DOORS 6P | SHOW 7P | ALL AGES

Tickets available at the door for $15. Raffle tickets inside. $5 for 1 auction item, $8 for two tickets. See you there!

Related Links:
The Article That Began It All
You Sing, I Write + The Jew Spot Present A Benefit For TWLOHA
You Sing, I Write Celebrates Two Years
Why Benefit To Write Love On Her Arms?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Song of the Week: "All I Want For Christmas Is You"

You all know my love for John Mayer by now, so this week's song shouldn't surprise you too much! My friend Deana passed along his rendition of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" to me recently. Being my favorite holiday song, and having my favorite musician sing it is a Christmas present in itself. Listen below and let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Article That Began It All

While being interviewed recently by Planet Verge about my blog and the benefit for To Write Love On Her Arms this coming Saturday, I was asked how I first became interested in TWLOHA. It's something I've been talking about a lot lately and I thought I'd share my answer with you and the article that started it all below.

You aren’t just another girl writing about “must know” bands; you’re also involved with the organization, To Write Love On Her Arms. Can you tell us about how you first became interested in collaborating with TWLOHA?

I’m a huge Switchfoot fan and it was through them that I first heard about TWLOHA. I can’t exactly remember if it was at a show, or seeing Jon Foreman wearing their T-shirt in photos, but I was curious about the organization and did some research. I really liked the idea behind TWLOHA, presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, and wrote about them for a paper in college.

From interviewing three girls in college struggling with depression and self-injury, I realized this was an issue that needed to be talked about. I pitched my article to a few of my internships, but for one reason or another they never ran the article. I was brainstorming with my friend Monica of The Jew Spot (who is hosting the benefit show with me) over the summer and we wanted to celebrate our blog anniversaries, but also raise money for a good cause and I suggested TWLOHA. In a way, this benefit is getting word out about the organization where my unpublished article failed.

You can read the rest of the Planet Verge interview with me here.

As for my article, I will post it in it's entirety below. Submitted to my magazine writing class in December of 2006, I find it strikingly serendipitous that I was writing it just around this time three years ago, don't you? Read below as I interview three girls who have struggled with depression and self-mutilation as well as a counselor at Rutgers and former TWLOHA staffer.

CUTTING
December 20, 2006


The Dangerous Coping Mechanism
By Annie Reuter


Paige* started cutting the summer of freshman year of high school. For Paige, cutting gave her control. While she typically used a razor, she said once she shattered a mirror and used that. “I hated myself. I liked cutting because I could control how much I bled,” she says.

Her depression began in middle school after her neighbor started raping her when she babysat for his little sister. In middle school Paige was depressed, stopped eating and had poor self esteem. She eventually went with a friend to her youth minister and told him about cutting and that she needed help. Paige’s youth minister accompanied her home to tell her parents, who were in shock. “No one really understands why you cut yourself. No one wants to say anything about it,” she said.

For many, cutting is a way to cope with inside pain or emotional pain, explained Marta Aizenman, a counselor with a practice in Princeton and director of the counseling and psychological services at the School of Environment and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.

“When a person does not know what to do or how to cope what they are experiencing, their body becomes the vehicle to experience that. It’s similar to how a painter experiences painting. A person uses their body to express what they are feeling and what they are feeling is a lot of negative emotion,” Aizenman said.

While cutting tends to start in adolescents or earlier, it’s also frequently seen in high school and college.

Eventually Paige started counseling, but was reluctant. “I didn’t want to go at first,” she says. “It’s like you’re admitting you have a problem and you want to fix it on your own, not go to counseling.”

Therapy is often a major way to combat cutting. “Therapy is very important here because the result is something the person is feeling and those feelings are a result of something that happened in their life. If they find ways to cope, or process ways to cut they feel better,” Aizeman said. She says cutters should take alternative routes to cutting, such as go for a walk or find other ways to release tension.

While even today cutting isn’t talked about completely, there are organizations reaching out to help others deal with depression. One such organization came about rather unexpectedly, from an article written in Relevant Magazine by Jamie Tworkowski. His story was about one girl, Renee, and five days of her life before she went to a clinic for cutting. Lauren Ranzino, director of counseling and organizations for To Write Love On Her Arms talked of how it all began.

“Basically someone brought Renee to treatment. She was addicted to cutting, attempted suicide and was so bad to the point that they said, ‘We can’t take you, and we don’t have the facilities to take you, come back in five days.’ Jaime asked her if he could write about it in Relevant Magazine and he wrote her story, called To Write Love On Her Arms,” Ranzino said.

A group of people, who now work for the organization, started selling shirts to raise money for Renee’s rehab, lead singer/guitarist Jon Foreman of Switchfoot being the first person to wear the shirt. Anberlin, Underoath, and Memoranda are some other bands that have also been wearing the shirts and involved in the Stop the Bleeding Tour, which brings music, counselors, and awareness to the issue of cutting. “The tour is more doing what we do everyday on the road so people can put a face to everything and talk to us in person and meet counselors in their area who come to the event,” Ranzino said.

To Write Love On Her Arms is mainly based out of their MySpace page, where people can leave comments and emails. “We don’t solicit people. We don’t go and try to find people necessarily. We’ll get emails written or messages on MySpace everyday. People come to us and don’t feel condemned or crazy. It’s a place to find hope, help and healing,” Ranzino says.

Ranzino feels part of the huge response to the organization is the anonymity of everything. “Remaining anonymous in the beginning is a very serene thing because they don’t need to be found out by their family. We want to know if they want to tell us, but we don’t force anything out of them.” In fact, in many instances, when Ranzino asks who else knows about the person’s cutting, no one else does. “It’s a very secretive thing and for anyone to come to us is an honor and a very unique place to be.”

To Write Love On Her Arms are not trained professionals or counselors and they make sure the people they’re reaching know this. “A lot of what I do is encourage them, tell them you’re not crazy if you go to a psychologist, they’re there to help us cope with things,” Ranzino said. While Ranzino says there are many different reasons as to why someone decides to cut themselves, she feels that at the core of it, people don’t have anyone to talk to about their problems.

This was the case for Emily.

While many events led Emily into experimenting with cutting, one of her reasons was a loss of feeling she had a confidant to tell things to. One of her friends was in treatment for nine months for cutting, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder and her close friends had been superficial and judgmental of that friend.

Emily began cutting when she was 15 years old and cut regularly, at least three or four times a week until July of her sophomore year when she was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and her parents found out about her cutting. She suffered from anorexia as well, and cutting became a common routine if she didn’t live up to her ideal daily calorie intake. Since then, Emily has gone back to cutting in instances when she’s feeling intense emotions or is upset about making a bad decision. "Basically, if I can’t verbalize, or feel as though the feelings I feel are wrong or inappropriate, I cut.”

Currently, Emily works at a psych hospital and says many of the adolescents and adults she’s come in contact with have problems with self-mutilation. “It’s like people are crying for help, showing that we’re in pain and we need something, anything, and no one wants to talk about what can help us get through it. There is very little research in the psychology literature and people are so ashamed.”

However, Emily is no longer ashamed of cutting. “I don’t want my family to know that I’ve relapsed right now, because I feel like I’ve let them down and it scares them, the whole idea of hurting your own body intentionally. But with friends that I truly trust and with my therapists I am totally open with the fact that I have this maladaptive coping mechanism. It’s what I do. I want help, I want to stop again, but right now, it’s how I deal.”

The years of adolescence are often a hard adjustment for many girls. Confusion of changing bodies, sexual identity, and uncertainty may lead some to cutting. This was the case of Michelle**, 20, who started cutting in eighth grade. “A lot of it is tied up with development and sexuality, but I had been feeling depressed and unsure about myself and where I was going in life independently of that.” Luckily for Michelle, in ninth grade she found a group of friends who helped her feel less depressed and her cutting decreased. “Cutting became a way for me to calm down from specific stressful situations instead of a gesture of depression.”

However, as her academic pressures built up throughout high school she became more dependent on cutting to focus and get through long nights of work. “I would feel lots of anxiety about starting a paper or being able to finish all my work on time, and cutting myself would help me feel calmer about it all,” she says. Once she entered college she continued cutting, with more intense periods around finals, but she has decided to stop cutting.

“Taking the semester off and admitting this is a real problem in my life has dedicated me to that course of action. My boyfriend and the friends who know I cut are proud of me for this, and their support has been incredibly helpful. I’ve realized I can’t keep dealing with my emotions in such an indirect, self-destructive manner, and that cutting is preventing me from achieving the happiness and confidence that I want in my life. I know I can stop; I have always known that once I decided to stop I would stop.”

In order to change any behavior, including cutting, the person doing harm to herself has to want to change. While it is proven that counseling can help, the person has to decide, like Michelle, on her own that it is time to stop. With organizations such as TWLOHA and more women speaking out about their experiences cutting, society may be able to get over its fear of self-mutilation through spreading awareness and understanding.

*Wishes to use first name only
**Name changed upon request

Related Links:
Two Year Blog Anniversary/Benefit Concert Saturday!
You Sing, I Write + The Jew Spot Present A Benefit For TWLOHA
You Sing, I Write Celebrates Two Years
Why Benefit To Write Love On Her Arms?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Justin Bieber's Crazy in Love with Beyoncé!

I was backstage at the Jingle Ball concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City last Friday night, where Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Owl City, Boys Like Girls, and the other hot artists of 2009 performed. Before Justin sang "One Less Lonely Girl" and "One Time" for the screaming crowd, he beatboxed for press behind-the-scenes, professed his love for Beyoncé (multiple times!), and told us what he looks for in a girl. Check out the revealing Q+A!

Who is your favorite singer?
Beyoncé.

With all of your success, is there anything you’ve gone out and splurged on?
Not really. I buy a lot of candy.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?
My New Year’s resolution is...I’m going to stop eating as much candy.

You’re going on tour soon. What can a fan do to stand out from the crowd?
Be really loud. Be as loud as you can.

Who is your celebrity crush?
Beyoncé.

Have you ever had to deal with stage fright?

Not really.

What’s your favorite album of the year?
Blueprint 3.

What are some of your favorite songs from the year?
I liked "Use Somebody" [by Kings of Leon] and "Battlefield" by Jordin Sparks.

What has been the most misunderstood thing about you?
I don’t know. I think people have gotten their points pretty straight.

What’s the most important item to you?
Probably luggage because I travel so much.

Out of everything that has gone on this year for you, can you point to one highlight?
I got to go to Germany and I got to perform for 17,000 people.

How is it being in New York for the holidays?
It feels great. Being in New York for the holidays is great. The spirit here is fantastic and among that, being able to perform at Madison Square Garden is legendary. It’s going to be awesome.

You and Taylor Swift seem to be pretty close friends. Has she given you any advice about the industry?
Not really. When we talk, we talk about fun stuff.

What do you want for Christmas?
For Christmas I just want to go and see my family up in Canada.

Who’s an artist you’d like to work with?
Beyoncé.

What’s your favorite candy?
My favorite candy is Beyoncé.

What qualities do you look for in a girl?

I look for a girl that has a nice smile and pretty eyes and a girl that can make me laugh because I like to laugh.

What’s going on through your head when you’re onstage performing?
My fans usually.

You can read this interview, originally posted on Seventeen.com here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boys Like Girls Dish on Taylor Swift

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

The music video for Boys Like Girls’ most recent single, "Two Is Better Than One," featuring Taylor Swift, was just released last Friday. Have you seen it? I chatted with lead singer Martin Johnson (who also wrote the song), guitarist Paul DiGiovanni, and drummer John Keefe at New York radio station Z100’s Jingle Ball concert that very day and got the scoop on what it’s like working with Taylor Swift.

I just heard your duet with Taylor Swift and love it! How did that come about?
John: We saw her say something about us in The Wall Street Journal and our paths crossed.

Paul: She wrote something about us in the paper, and we saw it and got in contact and became friends. We finished up the whole song “Two Is Better Than One.” It was all produced and recorded and we wanted to make it a little bit better. We thought she would do a killer job on it and we just hit her up, and she said she’d do it and it was the coolest thing ever.

Have you found people to be receiving the new single well?
Martin: I just got told in the gifting lounge that one of the people had been to a wedding and the cover band was playing it as the wedding song. We are now a wedding band. [Laughs] I’m blown away. When people react to it and say, “That’s our song” or “That’s my song and that made me fall in love.” That’s really special.

How was working with Taylor Swift on the song?
Martin: It was amazing. She’s really such a nice girl. We had known her for a really long time and had been friends for a while. John played drums on Fearless and then she became the biggest star in the universe. It was like shooting for the stars asking her to sing on the record. We were so delighted and fortunate enough to have her on the record. It’s going to be fun to perform with her tonight.

You have been friends with Taylor Swift for a long time. Have you noticed a change in her?
Martin: No, she stayed the same the whole time. She’s the best.

John: Taylor Swift is the perfect human being. She’s great. She’s such a nice, whole-hearted sweet girl and the biggest super star in the world. My mom would be stoked if I brought her home.

Do you have plans for the New Year?
John: We’re going to Michigan to play a New Year’s show outside. It’s going to be awesome!

Watch the "Two Is Better Than One" music video below.



You can read this interview, originally posted on Seventeen.com here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Q&A with Adam Lambert

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

Adam Lambert has been garnering much attention after his jaw-dropping performance at this year’s American Music Awards. Controversy aside, the American Idol runner up has graced the cover of Rolling Stone and was recently named one of “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2009” by Barbara Walters.

At the end of the day, Adam Lambert is a true entertainer and his performances indicate this. Friday night at New York radio station Z100’s annual Jingle Ball concert, Lambert filled us in on his latest single, the album, For Your Entertainment, and one of his biggest fears.

Tell me about your new single, “Whataya Want From Me.”
Pink and Max Martin wrote the song together. And I believe that their initial intention was about a relationship and about being in a situation where you’re in a little bit over your head. You’re wondering, “What is it that you want from me?” But thank you for sticking around. And now it’s so appropriate, considering some of the recent controversy and ownership of different social groups and what I should be to other people. It is a great way for me to say, “What do you guys want from me?” I’m doing my best. The best lyric in the song is, “Yeah, I’m a freak but thanks for loving me, you’re doing it perfectly.”

With all the tracks you wrote for the album, For Your Entertainment, are there any songs that didn’t make the cut?
Pretty much everything is out there in one way or another. There are a certain amount of tracks on the standard release and then there are bonus tracks on iTunes and then there’s an international release with some extra songs. I’m really happy with the way it turned out. It’s all out there in some way or another.

What are your fears?
That people won’t want to buy the rest of my music. That people will stop being interested. I think that’s my biggest fear.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?
[My] New Year’s resolution is to continue being positive and try to live in the moment and enjoy this.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Which Jingle Ball Interview Do You Want to Read First?

I've fully recuperated from the insanity that was Jingle Ball. I have to say, I didn't realize just how crazy teen girls are for Justin Bieber until Friday night! Wish I remembered to bring my earplugs!

Last week's poll I asked you which Jingle Ball artist you're most interested in reading about. The results were a landslide between John Mayer and Taylor Swift. Unfortunately, they canceled their interviews Friday, but I did catch them live and will have a full report in the upcoming days.

While I didn't get any exclusives with Mayer or Swift, I was in the press room for most of the night and got a few questions in for each band performing, including Boys Like Girls on their new single "Two Is Better Than One" featuring Taylor Swift as well as Jay Sean and the difference between his UK and US audiences. Let me know which artist you're most interested in and I'll transcribe it quickly and get it up for you on the blog!

Which Jingle Ball Interview Do You Want to Read First?

Boys Like Girls
Jay Sean
Justin Bieber
Kris Allen
Other

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two Year Blog Anniversary/Benefit Concert Next Week!

We're exactly one week away from the official two-year blog anniversary and benefit concert for To Write Love On Her Arms! I'm so excited to report that Chloe, Benefit Coordinator for TWLOHA, will be speaking next Saturday at Don Hills! TWLOHA Info and Merch will also be available.

Doors open 6pm. The event is at Don Hills, located at 511 Greenwich St. Have you RSVP'd yet? You can RSVP here on Facebook as well as purchase your tickets here.

Ms. Shira will be our special guest for the evening and will debut a song off her upcoming album. Additional performers include Hotspur, Love Automatic, Tor Miller Band and The Ramblers.

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. For more information, visit TWLOHA's Web site here. See you there!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Song of the Week: "According To You"

Orianthi has had quite the year. After performing with Carrie Underwood at the Grammy's, she sparked Michael Jackson's interest, having him invite her to audition for his upcoming tour. Unfortunately, the tour never happened, but Orianthi has been making a name for herself ever since.

I sat down with Ori yesterday before her performance at Best Buy in New York's Union Square where she filled me in on working with Jackson, jamming with one of her idols, Carlos Santana, and her most recent chart-topping single, "According To You." Stay tuned for my interview in the upcoming weeks and video of her performance.

Orianthi will be performing at 4 p.m. today at Jingle Ball's pre-show at Hammerstein Ballroom, but if you can't make that give her single, "According To You" a listen below.




I'll be covering Jingle Ball tonight and have access to the press room for artist interviews. Tonight's lineup includes: John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, The Fray, Jordan Sparks, Kris Allen, Boys Like Girls, Pitbull, Owl City, Jay Sean, Ke$ha and more. For more information on the artists, photos, and videos click here. Be sure to follow me tonight on Twitter as I update you on the night's festivities!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3" Charity Concert December 16

What better way to celebrate the holidays than to purchase a CD and attend a show where all the proceeds are donated to a worthy cause? A Holiday Benefit, vol. 3 does just that. Comprised of 12 tracks from some of New York City's finest emerging artists, all the proceeds made will be donated to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

I've been covering the annual benefit show the past two years and it's always a great night of music by talented New York musicians. This year will be no different. The charity CD release party is set for December 16th at Pianos and will feature performances from Bess Rogers, Bryan Dunn, Casey Shea, Paula Valstein, Emily Easterly, Chris Cubeta, Martin Rivas, Chris Abad, Misty Boyce, Ruby Rivers, Benjamin Wagner and Emily Zuzik.

Watch the video for "Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You," a collaboration between the artists featured on A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3 below. You can preview and buy the album on CD baby here. And be sure to catch the performers live at Pianos next Wednesday at 8pm!



Related Links:
A Holiday Benefit Concert Recap
A Holiday Benefit Concert
December 1st Holiday Benefit Concert
A Family Holiday Album to Benefit Young Writers

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Q&A with The Ramblers

The Ramblers have been playing the New York music scene in various formation since 2007. While the members met performing at venues throughout New York including Rockwood Music Hall, singer Jeremiah Birnbaum said, "It’s always been a band of friends." I sat down with the quartet after their impressive set at Joe's Pub where they filled me in on how they first discovered the blues, the New York music scene and being invited to open for Levon Helm.

Made up of singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeremiah Birnbaum, singer-pianist Scott Stein, bassist Shawn Setaro and drummer Steve Purcell, The Ramblers are hard to place into one genre. Mixing roots, rock, jazz, blues and country, each song is new and unexpected. After witnessing them live, is evident that music is their passion.

"I don’t want to speak for all of us, but you make these little sacrifices for the music that you really love. Everybody in this room has struggled to make it work and made sacrifices to make it work. I think if you’re really true to yourself, that’s when the good things start to happen," Birnbaum said.

Currently in the studio working on their next album, The Ramblers have partnered with Pledge Music, where fans and music lovers help fund the album. For more information on how you can help click here. Read below for more on The Ramblers.

I really like how you alternate singing between Jeremiah and Scott on each track.

Jeremiah: Conceptually, a lot of what we’re trying to do right now comes out of my love of Sam and Dave. There’s a tradition in soul music of dual lead vocalists. It’s interesting because we try really hard to separate this from our solo stuff. I think we’ve managed to succeed in that and there’s a lot of good chemistry, a lot of give and take and the energy flows well. I think the dual lead vocal thing is a pretty neat trick that we have up our sleeves. We’re sort of setting the scene. I’ll generally start and finish the set and we’ll trade off on things in between. But, Scott is singing on everything if I’m singing the lead and I’m singing on everything if he’s singing the lead.

Scott: When I started in the band I brought in a song, “Hard To Love,” which I had written on my own. I wasn’t anticipating being the lead vocalist, I was just a harmony vocalist, but I really wanted to sing that one. There were always two vocalists in the band, so it just seemed to be a natural fit for me to be an alternate vocalist. The first song we wrote together was, “Leave A Letter Behind.” When we play it live or as a duo we would just alternate verses because it was fun to do. I think that it just naturally lent itself to me and Jeremiah splitting it or dividing vocals.

It’s hard to place your music in one genre. One song you wrote in New Orleans and I definitely got that vibe. Other songs have that 60s rock ‘n’ roll sound and the last number felt a little country and twangy.
Shawn: You should have been here right before the set. We were trying to figure out cues to give the lighting person. We were giving one or two word descriptions of the song and it was, rock, country, up-tempo hillbilly. So that’s right. There are different feels. Some are more upbeat country-ish things even bordering on blues or soul. All in the roots world, but from different corners of that.

Scott: I think it’s interesting, what we’re doing. A lot of this music is joined together. Some people might not think of country music and soul music as similar, but they really are on certain levels. A lot of it is from listening to Levon Helm, The Band and a lot of other artists.

Jeremiah: A lot of the Stax Memphis music.

Scott: There is cross over material too. There are recordings of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers doing Stax songs in their repertoire but it sounds like a country song and it works perfectly.

Shawn: The famous Ray Charles Modern Sounds In Country and Western record.

Scott: I was also thinking of his performance of “Ring of Fire.” He makes it a Ray Charles song.

You were invited to perform at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble. How did that happen?
Jeremiah: We got real lucky. I work at a venue called Banjo Jim's. It’s one of the greatest music venues I’ve ever known. We had booked a show there on a Monday night at 7 or 8pm. Scott wasn’t even in the band, but he wound up sitting in. In February of 2008 we had this gig and it was a great show and it just so happened that the guy that booked for Levon Helm was there and was knocked out by us and just asked us if we wanted to open up for Levon Helm. We were like, “Yes, please!” We built up to that show with a lot of other shows in New York, which really started cementing what we were doing at the time. We did that show and went on tour last summer, which was really fun.

How involved is everyone in the songwriting process?
Scott: All the new stuff has been in one instance or another, co-written by me and Jeremiah. Jeremiah and to a certain extent John, our former drummer, were writing together. What happened in terms of songwriting was that I wrote with Jeremiah and started contributing a couple songs of my own. What we realized when we needed to find new players was, here we have this band that has a name for itself and 90% of the material was either Jeremiah’s or mine. It was like, “We have enough material to keep this thing going.” And it made sense, so we did.

Shawn: That’s an interesting thing from an outsider’s perspective. How the songs are being written is in the process of changing. It used to be that there was a batch of tunes that were exclusively Jeremiah’s. And now there’s another batch of songs that are exclusively Scott’s or co-written. It’s bringing a different feel to the band. It’s interesting to be in the middle of a situation that’s changing from moment to moment.

I know bands hate the question “describe your music” but you’re so versatile. How would you describe it to someone who has never heard you before?
Scott: I think the roots rock thing is all encompassing. I know people don’t like categories, but you do have to describe your music. Everybody has influences. When people have trouble naming influences, that to me is a red flag that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Jeremiah: I think we’re like Jim Croce backed with Booker T. & the M.G.'s

Shawn: To speak to Scott’s point, there are a lot of commonalities between different music that are broadly categorized as American root music. Soul, R&B, country, singer-songwriter. When you actually sit down and play them and listen to them and spend time with them you’ll discover commonalities. And I think that’s the ground from which these songs operate.

How do The Ramblers stand out from every band in New York?
Steve: We’re down home roots rock music. We are the real deal.

Scott: I don’t think about it too much. There are other bands that are doing the roots thing. I think it’s cool that we have a broad palate to work from. I think there’s a unique combination of influences. Everybody sounds like somebody. As long as you’re not completely aping one act or another, you’re doing fine.

Shawn: I can’t say I know every act in New York, but I think you can tell from the reactions tonight, there aren’t that many groups that really engage people in having a good, solid time. Through rocking out and mellower things, it’s a show you’ll feel like you had a really good time when you watch the people rock out. It’s not absolutely unique, but I think it’s pretty rare. It’s not the yearnings of a tortured soul or overly theatrical to the point of being ridiculous, it’s something you feel good about.

How did you all get into blues?
Jeremiah: For me, it was me and Ben in the Maplewood Library listening to Eric Clapton. We would hang out at the record section at the library, talking about guitars and what guitars were cool. When I was a kid my mom always let me listen to her records. There was Albert King. I got into blues because that’s what my mom loved to listen to, that’s what I started listening to. A lot of it was listening to the old K-Rock back in the 80s and 90s. The late night, Allison Steele, The Nightbird. She was a really great D.J. here in New York. I really got deeply into blues a number of years back, and started playing guitar a lot. That’s how I got into it, because of records and friends of mine who saw my interest and turned me onto all this.

Scott: I didn’t grow up listening to any rock and roll. I discovered it on my own. I was blessed to have a piano teacher, a guy named Pat Pace, who was a local legend in Akron. Once I started listening to the radio I found that I was able to pick off blues licks from whatever I heard. So, I went to my teacher and said I’d like to try some jazz and I continued to work with him.

Once I got into high school I really came into jazz. I was listening to Bill Evans, who was my favorite pianist. I was also picking up Muddy Waters and B.B. King records, even though they weren’t piano players per say, they had piano players and I was learning a lot of the language there. It was a couple of albums. In my grandfather’s house it was a copy of The Allman Brothers’ Brothers and Sisters. Just listening to the solo on “Jelly Jelly,” the piano solo and organ solo killed. I wanted to get deeper and deeper into music.

I played some songs for a family friend of ours who is a composer. He said the best thing you can do is, the bands that you like, find out who their influences are and listen to them. What you do is you realize that the blues, in its most basic form, is at the root of so much of our popular music. Certainly jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, but to an extent, country music and blues have very similar origins musically. By becoming more aware of the sources of music that I like I became much more heavily indebted to the blues in terms of my piano style. It kind of ballooned from there. I was hooked.

Shawn: Similar deal to the last third of Scott’s answer. You like some music and you figure out where that came from, through interviews, when people would do cover songs. Eric Clapton makes a lot more sense once I heard Albert King. It was like a light bulb went off and I was like, “Oh! That’s where that comes from.” Initially from other rock bands of the day and classic rock bands and tracing the lineage back from that

Steve: I probably got into the blues through jazz. When I started playing drums that was the genre of music I was listening to the most. And, a lot of jazz stems from the blues.

What’s the biggest struggle for an up-and-coming band?
Scott: Rent.

Jeremiah: I was gonna go for paying our bar tabs.

Scott: Touché. Certainly in New York there are many more opportunities. There are many more people covering the music scene and who are into it. It is a lot of competition too. There are so many bands in New York. Regardless of how many are good and know what they’re doing, you’re still competing for attention and space. We’re all holding down day jobs of one sort of another. How much time do you devote to it? I think there’s definitely a struggle with anyone in New York City unless they’re really successful financially. You have to find a balance between the time that you spend with what’s going to make you your money and what’s artistically fulfilling. If you’re lucky, that gets to be the same thing but it takes an awful lot of work to get there.

Jeremiah: Its little steps. The last year I’ve felt, on my own personal level, I’m doing more. I played music four nights this week. Scott did too. Shawn has another band that he works for and Steve teaches music to kids. I don’t want to speak for all of us, but you make these little sacrifices for the music that you really love because you’re working on getting it going. Thank God, we’ve been lucky enough to have some really awesome successes and people digging our music and we’ve worked incredibly hard for that. I wake up every day and I’m really grateful. Everybody in this room has struggled to make it work and made sacrifices to make it work. I think if you’re really true to yourself, that’s when the good things start to happen. If you’re always compromising then you get into that habit. I want it to be right, whatever we’re doing.

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