You Sing, I Write: January 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Happy Anarchy Rocks The Bowery Poetry Club

I loved the way Jesse Blum (keyboards, trumpet) explained his band's music. "I think it's just a great, rockin', good old-fashioned American rock band. We sound like America rock." What's most interesting about Staten Island based band Happy Anarchy is that each band member describes their sound completely differently and they leave it up to the listener to decide for themselves. Their website refers to their first album, Reset, as being "an emotional album, but far from 'emo.' It's Indie without being Scene, and Rock without the hair." I'll post my full interview with the band and pictures later this week, but if you're curious to what they sound like check them out on MySpace. Or, if you're in Texas for the South by Southwest festival in March, be sure to check them out there for yourselves. In the mean time, read my review of their concert below and let me know what you think!

Happy Anarchy played a 45 minute set Saturday night at The Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. When first walking inside The Bowery Poetry Club, it seemed like a typical cafe-esque place where tables and chairs are set up amongst colorful walls, but once walking past that area towards the back room where the stage and bar are set up, it's an entirely different environment. The room, dimly lit with rows of tables and chairs set up in front of the stage, was packed for Happy Anarchy's set, which began shortly after 9 p.m.

The audience seemed to be big fans of Happy Anarchy, dancing in the aisles and singing along with lead singer/guitarist Joe Pecora for most of their performance. "Personal Judas" was the first song played in their 10-song set and one of the many songs featured throughout the night from their first album Reset, released in November. Happy Anarchy is made up of a strong guitar sound, with three guitars as well as bass, keyboards, drums, and trombone and trumpet features. At times, however, the guitar sound seemed to overpower the vocals a bit. While every band has their own technical issues, if the microphone was a little louder accentuating the vocals, some of the songs would have been a bit stronger.

Being a writer, I love to listen to music while deciphering the lyrics behind each song and see how it all relates together. Happy Anarchy's lyrics are often deep, disguised under the heavy guitar sound that encompasses the band. If you listen closely to the lyrics and each track on their album, Reset, each song tells its own story, whether it's about struggling through life or hope for the future. One song in particular, "Bomp" is comprised with lyrics like "Just wait a second, now, cause there's always hope/Said the man with the necktie of a rope/Watching the clock as he waits for the trap door to swing." Drummer Pete Smith explained the song as being "a guy under a tremendous amount of pressure trying not to lose it."

"Bomp" had a nice trombone feature as well as a strong guitar sound accompanying frontman Joe on vocals. In the middle of the song a solid instrumental feature livened up the stage and the audience in the room while their song, "Mud," showcased much faster and louder vocals from Joe. The song was definitely upbeat and energetic.

"Hamlet with a Reset" slowed down the night a bit with Joe singing the intro while a soft guitar sound provided accompaniment in the background of the song. What's so great about Happy Anarchy's set and music in general is that every song is completely different from the previous. Some songs have trombone and trumpet features or a heavy guitar and drum sound while others are slower, showcasing the band's strong vocals.

Crowd favorite of the night may have been a tie with their last two songs, "Doin It Over" and "At the Bottom of the Sea." "Doin It Over" was a heavy, guitar-driven song with a fast beat to it, having many in attendance dancing along while practically the entire room was singing with Joe during the chorus of "At the Bottom of the Sea." The band's overall performance was definitely made up of strong guitar riffs as well as keyboard, trumpet, and trombone features. Be sure to check out their website, for more information on the band and future tour dates.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jon Foreman- Winter EP Review

Everyone is searching for that one record to listen continuously to, without ever getting tired of. For most of last year that album for me was John Mayer’s Continuum. I would bring my CD player (yes, I still used that until my recent iShuffle birthday gift from friends . . . call me old school, but I still would so much rather pick up the latest album from a music store than buy it off iTunes) back and forth on my hour-long bus rides to my internships in New York.

Currently, I’ve been listening to Jon Foreman’s latest EP, Winter, and as of right now, I can’t stop listening to it - on bus rides to my job in the city, at work and when I’m at home working on my blog. With all the music on the radio and surrounding the music industry today, Jon’s latest EP’s Fall and Winter are a breath of fresh air. Winter is probably the most pure, acoustic-sounding record I’ve ever listened to. From guitar, cello and violin features to harmonica, horns and bass clarinet accompaniment the listener really gets the feel that she is right there watching him play these songs live from his home, which I think was what he was trying to get across in these “home recordings.” I’ll write a review of his latest EP, Winter below, but be sure to check out the songs for yourself on his MySpace or purchase each EP for $5 on his website,

While the EP has its more somber songs, such as dealing with the thought of death or a homeless woman who dies alone, it definitely is a compilation of songs that makes you think, whether its about your own life or the lives of others in this world. Jon is a great storyteller throughout his songs and when the last chord is finished you're left thinking about that song well after it’s over, a feat that demonstrates just how great a musician he is.

“Learning How To Die” starts off the EP with a simple bass clarinet and acoustic guitar with Jon shortly joining in and singing, “I’m gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone.” It seems to be the story of a conversation with a friend who is talking about death while he doesn’t want “to talk about the end, and how every living thing goes away.” Very simple rhythm, but so deep in meaning.

The next track, “In Love,” may be my favorite song on the EP, mainly because of the beautiful intro. It sounds like it’s from a part of another culture, almost Middle Eastern or Asian sounding with the instruments played, first strings and then the bass clarinet coming in right before he chants, “In love, in life, in love, in you, in love, in death my love.” It’s just a very relaxing, calming song to listen to.

“White As Snow” seems to be a type of a prayer song he sings. The piece begins slowly with a string feature while Jon starts off the song by singing, "Have mercy on me oh God/according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion/blot out my transgressions."

Stand out song on the EP is “Somebody’s Baby” – a tale of a homeless woman struggling to get by in life alone, who later dies alone, strangely enough on her birthday. The lyrics are so moving while the strings and soft guitar rhythm featured throughout definitely help with the songs deep, somber feel. Lyrics such as “When the people don't want you, they just throw you money for beer” get this feeling across. Even though she may be homeless and completely alone Jon sings, “she's somebody's baby, somebody's baby girl/she's somebody's baby, somebody's baby girl and she's somebody's baby still.” He continues with the heartbreaking story while singing, “She dreams about heaven remembering hell as a nightmare she visits and knows all too well.” By far the most emotion-filled song on Winter, Jon demonstrates this feeling throughout the lyrics of the song.

Overall, the EP has strong vocals and guitar sound from Jon, already familiar to many Switchfoot fans, but there is much more openness and honesty showcased from him on this EP. From “Behind Your Eyes,” a soothing acoustic guitar-driven track of wanting to see life through another person's eyes to “I Am Still Running,” a song with lyrics such as “build me a home inside your scars/build me a home inside your song/build me a home inside your open arms/the only place I ever will belong,” Jon showcases his versatility. I'm excited to see what Spring will bring.

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Serena Ryder

Canadian singer/songwriter Serena Ryder is an artist to definitely be on the look out for. She's opened for artists such as Paolo Nutini, Chris Isaak and Xavier Rudd and just last year was featured in the South by Southwest festival in Texas where she caught the ears of Atlantic Records. Having already released two albums in Canada, most recent being If Your Memory Serves You Well which was certified gold her current U.S. debut EP, Told You In A Whispered Song, was released last year, while her first full-length U.S. album is due out this spring on the Atlantic label.

At first I genuinely liked her EP, Told You In A Whispered Song, but as I listened closer to the lyrics I enjoyed each song even more. Ryder's honest, heartfelt lyrics about love and heartbreak are universal and you can feel the pure emotion she puts into each song.

Her EP begins with its title track which has a simple guitar rhythm and the light sound of a tambourine in the background. Ryder's voice is strong and bluesy, fluctuating ever so slightly in the chorus of the song. “Hiding Place” is a slower song, which again features an acoustic guitar and asks the question to a lover, “If your radio didn’t work and your friends all ran away/Would you let yourself fall in love, if only for one day?” The lyrics are truly beautiful in this song. She continues to sing, “Darling can I touch your face and let your skin be my hiding place/Promise I won’t take up too much room/Darling can I touch your face and let your eyes fall into love’s embrace?”

Ryder’s voice has been compared to that of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, maybe even early Jewel. “Brand New Love,” her third song on the EP, is a bit more upbeat then the rest, with a strong guitar sound that accentuates her voice well. Check out a stream of this song here. For Windows users you can listen here.

“Weak in the Knees” slows down the EP for a bit. Ryder seems to be telling the story of being weak in the knees with a lover who could care less for her, which eventually forces herself to move on. She belts out towards the end of the song, “It was over, it’s over before it began/I’m a witness to love why can’t you understand?/I won’t give up my heart, I won’t sell you my soul/Don’t you know it was you? You could have had it all.” Truly heartbreaking, but you can feel this emotion through Ryder’s strong singing.

Last song on the EP, “Blown Like The Wind At Night,” definitely has a more edgy sound to it, maybe even a bit bluesy. She starts off the song singing, “Let’s get drunk and lets pretend we are not slaves to anything or anyone that tells us how to be.” Later in the song she sings, “If this is love, then what is hate?/Do you understand my fate?/Oh I’m not broken, you can’t fix me/Wish I had a man that missed me/Tell me everything will be alright.” Her voice fluctuates in this song really well, helping with the angst-ridden feel behind the song.

To hear more on Serena Ryder be sure to check out her MySpace, which features four of the five songs from her EP, Told You In A Whispered Song.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Q&A with Mathew David Barletta from Hollywood Lies

Boston-based pop/rock band, Hollywood Lies have been pretty busy the past few months. They’ve been working on their debut album, Building An Empire, due out in March, and have been touring throughout much of the northeast.

In an email interview lead singer/guitarist Mathew said Hollywood Lies never was meant to be a band, just friends from different bands getting together to play and write some songs. The first three songs were written Postal Service-esque, he explained. Mathew would demo a song, then send it to Mike and Johnny, and get together with both of them separately. By the time we had recorded the first three songs, Mike, Johnny and I had played together in the same room I think once,” Mathew said.

Pretty impressive for being able to pull that off. Below is my Q&A with Mathew. Be sure to check them out on Pure Volume, where they are featured artist this week with a full-album stream, and MySpace.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I think the best way to describe our music would be a clash of classic rock and pop. I feel comfortable with that.

What can fans expect with your album, Building An Empire?
To me, this album represents diversity and adversity. Not to say that we are the most unique band that's ever walked the earth, because we know we aren't and we're not pretending to be. But at the same time, we feel like we put our own spin on things and we don't sound like a carbon-copy of anyone else. There are straight up pop songs like "Southbound Train," and there's a dance song called "It's The New Craze." There's a piano-based indie ballad called "158," and then there's some guitar solos, because I love playing the guitar. I love the band Boston, so I take after their guitar harmonies and their solos and try to bring that back.

I don't hear a lot of bands playing guitar solos anymore, and that is something that's really important to me, because all the music I was raised on - Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, and even early Green Day, there's soloing. I know a ton of you probably think Billie Joe can't play the guitar, but he can. The dude can shred if he wants to. Check out "Only Of You."

What is the concept behind your album?
There's not really a concept behind the album, per se. I had originally wanted to do a concept album, but it just didn't turn out that way. I hadn't planned things out well enough, but that was originally why I wanted to work with Casey [Crescenzo], because I knew he had some experience in that sort of thing. The album is generally about some inner struggles that I had throughout the writing of it. Problems within myself that I guess I didn't really feel like I could address with anyone, so I put them down in a song.

With the state of the record industry it seems like a lot of bands are able to survive as an independent band today. Are you hoping to stay independent or eventually get signed to a major label?
I would rather stay independent, but if we got an offer from a major label, I would definitely consider it. I think that, generally speaking, major labels translates to major money. They have the kind of bank roll to push an artist like crazy. But it's also hard because on a major label, half a million records is a flop. Kelly Clarkson's last album, My December sold half a million records, and that was considered a flop. 500,000 copies of a record, to me, is, as Borat says, "great success!" I don't necessarily want that kind of pressure. I don't want to be responsible for having to sell a million copies of an album. What if I don't? What if we made an album that we're very proud of, and is a great work of art, but isn't really commercially viable? Does that mean that it's not worth anything? I'm a big Jimmy Eat World fan. I think "Clarity" is an amazing album. Is it their poppiest album? No. Is it an album that the general public is going to receive well? Maybe not. But it doesn't negate the fact that there's a 16-minute song, and it's beautiful, but that's not something you can put on the radio, really. So major labels are tricky.

What inspires your music?
Life inspires my music. There are a lot of things that go into creating a song. My own idiocy. Other songs. People, places, the sounds that life makes. When a mood really strikes me, I let it consume me and use that to attack the song, and go at it with that vigor. You can't force out a song, at least I can't. I have a hard time sitting down and going, "Okay, you're going to write a song now." It comes off as contrived, jaded. It's not how I work.

Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process behind your songs?
Our music, to me, is very melodically based, and that's where the songs usually come from. I'll either get a melody stuck in my head, randomly, and I'll put some words to it, and go from there. Or, it'll start with some words I've written. Poetry, free verse, whatever I have, and those will typically have some sort of cadence to them, and I'll see if I can find a melody that feels natural from those words. After that, I'll find chords and melodies on guitar, piano, bass, and even drums, that will complement what the song is all about. Sometimes it'll start with the music and then the melody will come afterwards, but that's very rare for me.

How did everything go with making your first album? Is it what you expected?
Everything went really well. It was all so new and super exciting, and it's everything we expected and more. A lot of these ideas transformed and were a lot more interesting to us once we heard them in good quality as opposed to our poor demos. The only thing that we, as well as Casey, both regret, is that it wasn't as planned as we would have liked. Instead of recording seven songs over the course of a month we recorded seven songs over the course of about seven months. We would have rather sat down with an allotted block of time and recorded everything we had. But then again, if we did that right when we went in, we would have had a very different record. So we're all very proud of the album that we have made and feel like it's an accurate representation of where we are right now. Our next record could be heavy metal. It could be a capella. It could be whatever, you know? It's wherever we are while we're writing the album, really.

I really like your video for "Southbound Train," how did you guys come up with the concept behind it?
We sat down with our director and came up with a concept that we both liked. And then we changed it. And changed it. And changed it. But the basic concept is similar to the story of the song itself. The video is basically about this girl and I who were dating, we split up, and are both headed off in different directions. She gets on a train to go to this party, and ends up seeing me there. I chase after her, and she's gone. The song is about a past relationship, where it just wasn't working out, as much as we both wanted it to be. We both made some mistakes along the way, and it unfortunately had to end for the sake of both of us. So we tried to keep it very accessible, and very close to that. Our director wanted to make it more of an "MTV-style" video. The song isn't about anything groundbreaking or weird, so we just wanted to keep it straight and to the point. When you only have three and a half minutes to tell a story, you want to keep it simple. Nobody is really going to watch a video a million times to figure out what it was about. You want something that you can grasp easily.

What makes Hollywood Lies stand out from other up and coming bands?
I couldn't tell you, to be honest. I don't think that it's necessarily my place to say what makes us different from anyone, really. I don't think that we're really pushing any boundaries or making music that hasn't been heard before. And that's not to say that we're a miserable band, or unoriginal, it's just not our goal to be weird and "unique" for the sake of being different. I think we mix the styles that influence us in a way that feels and sounds natural, and I think that's what makes us stand out – that we blend the music and things that influence us, and we do it well.

What are your plans for the next year in promoting your album?
I think the best thing that any band can do to promote themselves and their album is to put their band out there as much as possible, which I think we're doing. We're doing interviews, and speaking with local newspapers at our shows, trying to get in touch with the influential web zines. We're also going to be a featured artist on PureVolume for two weeks, which is really exciting. So that's what's up for now, and we're going to submit to college radio, regional rock radio, internet radio, and lots and lots of touring. That's our plan. Tour.

What are your hopes for Hollywood Lies in the next few years?
Our hopes for Hollywood Lies are to be a full-time touring band, make some records that we're proud of, make enough money to survive off doing this, branch out a bit and dabble in a few other things, such as record production, a clothing line, maybe a label, booking agency, artist management, that sort of thing, and above all else, have fun. That's what this is about. You get to play music with some of your best friends instead of sitting in front of a desk answering phones.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jon Foreman's One-night NYC Tour

Whether it's performing to 3,000+ fans in a packed arena or an after show performance to 30 or so people waiting outside the venue, Switchfoot's Jon Foreman is able to connect with the audience, no small feat for a musician.

Jon entered the small stage at Joe's Pub last Wednesday shortly after 7:30 with his guitar and harmonica while friend and fellow musician, Keith Tutt, accompanied him for the night on cello. I've never been to such an intimate performance before, and Joe's Pub is definitely a great place to get that up close and personal feel. The room was dimly lit by candles provided on each table throughout the venue as well as soft lighting on the performers. The stage at Joe's Pub is surrounded by tables and red plush couches on the lower level as well as more seating a level above where those in attendance can order dinner and drinks while listening to the night's performance.

Jon's set opened up with a question, which later seemed to be the theme of the night, on the topic of cereal from Spencer, a young boy from New Jersey who was eating with his family right in front of the stage. Spencer asked what each performer's favorite cereal was while Jon later joked, "I'm going to have a great time tonight because I love cereal too."

First song of Jon's set was "Southbound Train" from his EP, Fall. Keith began the song on cello while Jon joined on guitar and later harmonica. From the very beginning, Jon's vocals were strong and well-blended with Keith's accompaniment on cello. I couldn't get over how rich and full Jon's voice was throughout the night, never fluctuating or getting lost in the guitar or cello sound.

Jon joked that he wanted to start off the night with three songs in the key of D so he could get all of his head gear (aka harmonica) out of the way. While a few of the songs I didn't recognize, they seemed to be a preview of what is to be expected from his future EP's, Winter, which will be released Jan. 15 while Spring and Summer will be out later this year. Throughout a little over an hour set and 15 songs, Jon sang most of the songs from his latest EP, Fall, as well as some classic Switchfoot hits such as "Dare You to Move" with guest singer Anthony from Bayside and an encore performance of "Only Hope," which ended the night.

One song performed, "Learning How To Die" from his upcoming EP Winter, was explained as being about death and how a lot of us aren't learning how to live, we're learning how to die. Another song, "War in My Blood" is a song he's written with Sean of Nickel Creek, a project they call The Real SeanJon. "I've got some things going on with my friend Sean from Nickel Creek," Jon said. "Our goal is to get sued by Puffy. Puffy, if you're here tonight please sue us," he joked.

Perhaps the most emotional song of the night was "Somebody's Baby," which Jon explained is about a homeless woman that lives by his house whom he saw one day brushing her teeth outside. The lyrics and tone of the song are very somber when listening, especially after hearing the story behind the song beforehand. When listening to the lyrics during his performance and realizing the woman dies in the song, the mood is definitely a little heavy throughout the room. After he performed "Somebody's Baby," Jon told the audience, "I warned you it's sad," and then began playing Hank Williams' song, "Your Cheating Heart" - not entirely a happy song either. This song had a very simple guitar rhythm to it as well as a nice harmonica feature.

"'The Moon is a Magnet" is kind of a tongue twister for your fingers," Jon said before playing it and I definitely could see that while watching him play. He then played two songs, the first song being "Let Your Love Be Strong," from Switchfoot's latest album Oh! Gravity, which he described as being the question in the pair of songs while the second song played is the sequel to that song, or the answer to it.

Anthony from Bayside came out towards the end of the night to share the stage with Jon and Keith, helping out with vocals on "Dare You To Move." He said that Jon called him at 5:30 to see if he would sing the song with him. Anthony seemed a little nervous at first to help out with the song, but overall, his vocals were really strong and meshed well with Jon and Keith's performance. Jon then covered his favorite Bad Religion song, "Sorrow" and then segued nicely into "The Cure For Pain" as his voice resonated throughout the venue before his encore performance and one of my favorite songs, "Only Hope."

Opening act for the evening was Dawn Landes. Playing seven songs for about a 45 minute set, she definitely wowed the crowd with her strong vocals and guitar playing as well as the rest of her band on drums, cello and bass. I especially liked one of their songs, played completely acoustic, adding a tambourine to the mix. It was very simple, but well played with a cameo from the cellist. "Picture Show" was definitely an entertaining number, sounding very circus-esque with funny quips sung throughout. Last song of her set was the "Kissing Song," which encompassed a strong vocal sound as well as a beautiful strings feature. Her voice and performance definitely has a folk sound to it, somewhat comparable to Feist and Regina Spektor. Her album, Fireproof is due out in stores in March. Check out her MySpace here.

Extremely appreciative the entire night for everyone who came out for his performance, Jon told the crowd that he has been looking forward to Wednesday night for a long time. "This whole project has been a real dream for me. Thanks for being a part of it."

Be sure to check out Jon's new EP due out Jan. 15. For more info check out his MySpace.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Q&A with Kat from Hello Tokyo

With their first full-length album, Sell The Stars, expected out in April, Kat explained how it all began – interestingly enough in a coffee shop and music store. She spotted John while in a coffee shop and eventually they started writing music together. Soon after, she met Sam at a music store and the three began playing shows and house parties before deciding to make Hello Tokyo a priority.

Below is my interview with Kat. I especially like her answer to how she describes her music. What do you think? Be sure to check out Hello Tokyo on MySpace and their latest music video for “Radio,” filmed at the infamous Sunset Sound in Hollywood.

Being a Jersey girl, did you decide to move to Brooklyn to start the band?
I am a Jersey girl and my band mates, at times, find me very annoying (especially when I tell them that no one drives better than Jersey drivers – I think only Jersey people understand this fact). I moved to a town in Maryland, right outside of DC, in ’98 with my entire family. I was in and out of school for about three years. Nothing I was doing with my life really made sense or mattered to me. I always looked to writing and singing as an outlet but never really took myself seriously until I hit a wall with my studies and family and just kind of stepped back and reassessed my priorities.

I started auditioning for any music projects I found in the classified ads around town and slowly found myself busier and busier with various musical endeavors. John really encouraged me to focus on writing more and so we just started working together and eventually Hello Tokyo was formed. John and Sam grew up together and reconnected soon after the band was formed. When we found out about his incredible drumming skills, we asked him to join. I decided to make a move to NYC in ’04. Living in NYC was something I wanted to do for a long time and it just seemed like the right time to do it. I continued to work with John and Sam and traveled back and forth from DC to NYC almost every weekend for two years until they both moved to NYC. The rest is history.

What can be expected from your first full-length CD?
A very different sound. We had the luxury of time and focused on a lot of things we never really had the chance to focus on before, like adding more keyboards, re-writing parts that we thought could sound better and just allowing each song to develop into something we felt 100% about. The songs were written without industry goals and really came from the heart, they’re honest and different and something we’re really proud of and can’t wait for all our fans to hear.

What was the process of recording your album?
We recorded half of the songs at Chicken Water Studios in Brooklyn, NY and the other half at Music Mania in Greensboro, NC. Originally this release was going to be another EP but we were encouraged to do a full length since we had a bunch of material to work with so our release date kept changing every time we added a new song to the album. It was kind of annoying but we couldn’t turn away from some of the songs we felt really good about so we stuck it out, worked our butts off and now it’s complete and sounding over and beyond what we had originally expected.

I read that you re-recorded “Radio” in the same studio as Maroon 5 and Goldfrapp, how was that?
I think for me personally, re-recording “Radio” at Sunset Sound in Hollywood was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Hello Tokyo. Greg Richling, a super amazing producer in Hollywood, heard about our band and asked if we’d be interested in recording “Radio” with him. We had originally recorded “Radio” a long time ago with a completely different line up at a low-budget studio. We were poor, unsure of ourselves and to be honest, not really ready to record.

Greg really loved “Radio” and wanted to re-record it at Sunset Sound so we jumped at the opportunity. We flew out to Los Angeles last summer and found ourselves in a really awesome situation recording in a studio that was built for Prince during his Purple Rain sessions and also where Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, to name a few, recorded. We said hello to Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, looked like a bunch of dorks, and some of the members of Maroon 5 were recording right next door.

What is the inspiration behind your music?
Most of the inspiration comes from basically living life, how sometimes it’s difficult to do even the simplest things, and the struggle to hold on to some form of hope. It also comes from our experiences while listening to our favorite bands and the emotions and memories, good and bad, they evoke. Music that makes my tummy leap. Blur, REM, U2, Oasis, Fugazi, Jesus Jones, Blondie, Metric, Muse and more recently Kings of Leon and Rilo Kiley are a few bands that have influenced Hello Tokyo’s musical direction.

What is the music writing process for Hello Tokyo?
We write all our songs and the process varies. John comes up with some sweet guitar parts or a funky bass line and I’ll put a melody to it, eventually lyrics. Sometimes, I’ll just freestyle like Jay-Z or Lil Kim or Run DMC or like Leslie Hall and start putting words together on a beat and just come up with a melody off the top of my head. John later adds some meat and Sam, of course, adds the sauce with his sweet drum skills.

Can you tell me a little bit about being featured in Fashion Fights Poverty's 2007 look-book?
The Fashion Fights Poverty Look Book is a style guide supporting a community development through ethical fashion. We were asked to represent the New York City edition of the 2007 Look Book which we were more than happy to be a part of. You can get more information about the organization and book here.

What are your plans for 2008?
We’re definitely planning to tour this spring/summer and also releasing a couple more music videos. We have tons of unreleased songs we’re planning on recording for our next album this year. Most importantly, we are going to keep the momentum and keep moving forward.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
It’s hard to describe, I think it falls along the pop/rock genres but it has its own place. I would say our music is like if The Big Bopper came back to life and had a kid with Fiona Apple, whose kindergarten teacher was Patsy Cline and school principal was Chewbacca.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Jersey Welcomes Brooklyn-based Band, Hello Tokyo

Many people often forget about the New Jersey music scene being that New York is a train, bus, ferry or car ride away. Sure we have the greats - Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi and you can't forget Frank Sinatra was born here also. Indie-band Thursday as well as current teen pop sensation the Jonas Brothers are all Jersey natives too. Even Jimmy Eat World sings "I'm a New Jersey success story" in one of their songs, "Big Casino" from latest album, Chasing This Light, despite being from Arizona.

Often, it's not just these bands, but the venues that encompass New Jersey that makes for a great place to discover new bands. Starland Ballroom in Sayreville always has a great, for the most part extremely eclectic, tour line-up. Even Rutgers in New Brunswick puts on good shows, both on campus and at The State Theater on George Street. And then you can't forget about Giants Stadium which hosts the Bamboozle Festival in May, the many concerts that go on at Continental Airlines Arena or even down in Asbury Park.

Hoboken is also a great live-music spot, especially Maxwell's, where I was Friday night covering Brooklyn-based band Hello Tokyo. Although they may be based in Brooklyn, lead singer Kat is herself a Jersey girl. She told the crowd Friday that she was born in Hackensack and grew up in Wayne. And boy does this Jersey girl know how to sing.

Hello Tokyo is definitely a band to be on the look-out for. Their music has been featured on various MTV shows and they were a part of Fashion Fights Poverty's 2007 Dress Responsibly Look Book. The female fronted power pop band is an eclectic mix of pop, rock and even dance music, or rather just music that makes you want to dance.

Having been working on their first full-length album, Sell The Stars, due out later this year, their performance Friday night gave a glimpse to what can be expected. While Kat fronted the band on vocals and keyboard, the rest of the band - including Sam on drums, John on guitar and guest performer Michael on bass - greatly accentuated her singing style.

I'm not sure how to best accurately describe their music style to be honest. It's a mix of many different flavors and styles which definitely helps Hello Tokyo's live performance and credibility. For more of an idea of their style, check out their MySpace and decide for yourself. And let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Hello Tokyo played a 40 minute set featuring 10 songs on Friday. While I recognized a few from their MySpace page, such as "The Affair" and "Run To You," others were a pleasant surprise, like "I Spy" and "Alert the Authority," which Kat told the audience is a song about living in New York City. You could definitely sense the New York City lifestyle with the fast beat throughout the song as well as when she starts whispering during the song, slowing down the beat and then picking the tempo right back up again. Lyrics such as, "You'll never save me because I won't ask you to" definitely gets the independent New Yorker lifestyle across. This song encompasses strong singing on Kat's part and strong guitar features as well. Hello Tokyo definitely has the blending between singer, drummer and guitarists well polished.

While "Rain or Shine" might have had the best guitar sound of the set, the keyboard feature in the song slowed the night down for a bit, but Kat was able to quickly pick it right back up and continue through the rest of the song. A few of the songs played had longer intros, featuring Kat on keyboard while the rest of the band jammed in the background.

My favorite of the night was "Radio," which Hello Tokyo closed with. This song, by far, had the most energy of the night and got many in attendance dancing along or tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to the music. You can check out their video for this song on YouTube.

Stay tuned for a complete interview with Kat from Hello Tokyo later this week.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Q&A with Martin Smith of Delirious?

Perhaps most well known as frontman of U.K. Christian rock band Delirious?, Martin Smith has had a huge influence in the music industry over the years. Whether it's traveling with his band to Cambodia and Rwanda or heading up Compassionart, it is no question that he is changing the way the music industry runs as we know it today. His most recent project, Compassionart, will be hosting a songwriter's retreat next week where all the proceeds made from every song written will be donated to charity. Martin took some time last week to explain to me the idea behind Compassionart as well as his hopes for the project. You can read the interview below.
For more information on Compassionart, visit

What inspired Compassionart?
Well, in the sort of gospel, Christian writers community over the last five years people have been writing together and there has been a lot of cross-fertilization. People have been enjoying that. Historically, people in that scene write songs on their own and that’s been fun. So I thought, let me get some of these guys together under one roof for a week. And let’s write some strong, killer songs, but more than that, let’s try and give these songs away and really sew into some of these social problems around the world.

As a band of Delirous? we’ve been traveling and touring. And we’ve been able to do tours in India and we’ve been to Rwanda, Cambodia and Indonesia and you get to see some amazing things, things that really shouldn’t be allowed to happen in our day in age. So, those things have deeply affected us. We’re just trying to do a little bit and really use the microphone that we have been given to make some noise about these issues.

How did you decide which songwriters to get involved with this project?
It was a pretty easy choice really because we just found our friends. The list could have been massive. We felt it was important to start the first one with people that we knew and trusted that could do this sort of thing. And it’s been an absolute joy to see it come together.

What are your hopes for the overall project?
Our hopes are obviously to come out with 10 – 12 great songs that would become big songs at the end of the day and earn some money. And that money could really come into charity and that will end up being distributed to many different projects. That's really the aim, we’re in this to try and generate some cash, which is always good to do.

Fifty percent of the proceeds are going to one charity agreed upon by the songwriter while the other 50% goes to what you all decide as a group. Have you chosen which charity to donate to?
That's correct. We’re actually going to be meeting next week. I can’t believe it’s only a week away now! I want those conversations to happen around the dinner table and for us to get an idea together that we really feel as a team we can put our time and money into. And that may be anything. I want that to come from all the people gathered there and not just from me at this moment in time.

How are you planning on going about writing these songs?
We are all going to come and we are just going to throw ideas into the pot. We’ve got four writing rooms/studios set up and we are just going to go crazy for a week and just bring ideas. Then we’ll meet up after an hour and a half. We’ll play each other’s ideas, and then see who wants to write a lyric for that. It’s going to be crazy. It’s a great experiment and we hope it takes off.

How are you planning on releasing the songs? Are you going to do a compilation album?
We’d absolutely love to put a record out. We can’t plan that too heavily, there aren’t any songs yet. We’re just hoping the songs are great and then we will start thinking, okay we should really record those and then we’ll decide how we do that. It’s the early stages, but I’m amazed that all these great people have given their time to Compassionart.

Do you have a set date to release the songs?
Again, it’s too early. But I would imagine it would take a while longer to let the dust settle and then decide how we’re going to do it. Obviously, we will be on it on quick as we can. And there will be an event that comes out in a week and once the songs are written we’ll want to record them so it’s very exciting.

Overall, what are your hopes for after this week is up?
Our hopes really are that we have some people that are more friends with each other than they were before, that we come out with 12 fantastic songs that people can then go back and start doing in their own gigs and shows and churches, and stuff like that and then the thing will build and build and have momentum and we’ll put a record out. Who knows what the future is? What’s amazing is when you gather people together, then that’s when really the fun starts. It’s when you sit around and you have an amazing group of people dreaming up new ideas and I think that’s probably where the future is.

Do you plan on performing the songs written in the future on your tours?
Yeah, sure. I think, obviously we don’t know how the songs will be. I’m sure there will be certain songs that will come out of there that people will want to immediately start doing live and putting in their shows and that’s probably the way that they will get out initially.

What’s great, and I think this is the big thing to remember in all of this, is that all of us as artists have been doing what we’ve been doing for many years; releasing records, writing songs, touching the earth in some way, but the fun of it is what we do when we come together. To do something together and the sum of all the parts is surely going to be greater and that’s definitely going to be what we can give back to the music world and also to many, many thousands of kids out there that are struggling to get through the night. So it’s very exciting.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Compassionart Donates Songs to Charity

Compassionart founder Martin Smith of U.K. band Delirious? will be gathering 12 of his singer/songwriter friends in Scotland next week with the plan of writing 10 – 12 songs, all of which will be donated to charity. Some of these notable artists include Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, and Steven Curtis Chapman as well as fellow Delirious? band member Stu Garrard.

“All of us as artists have been doing what we’ve been doing for many years – releasing records, writing songs, touching the earth in some way, but the fun of it is what we do when we come together,” Smith said. “I thought, let me get some of these guys together under one roof for a week. And let’s write some strong, killer songs, but more than that, let’s try and give these songs away and really sew into some of these social problems around the world.”

From touring throughout India, Rwanda, Cambodia and Indonesia over the years with his band, Delirious?, Smith has seen “amazing things, things that really shouldn’t be allowed in our day in age,” explaining that these experiences have deeply affected him and his band. “We’re just trying to do a little bit and really use the microphone that we have been given to make some noise about these issues.”

Fifty percent of the proceeds from each song will go to a charity of the individual artist’s choice while the other half will be donated to another charity decided amongst the group. “I want those conversations to happen around the dinner table and for us to get an idea together that we really feel as a team we can put our time and money into. And that may be anything. I want that to come from all the people gathered there and not just from me,” he said.

While it’s still too early to see how and when the songs will be released, whether on iTunes or Compassionart’s website,, Smith said he hopes to eventually release a compilation album of all songs written.

So how exactly does one get 12 people to write a dozen songs together in just five days? Smith explained each day, the artists are going to get together and throw ideas into the pot. “We’ve got four writing rooms/studios set up and we are just going to go crazy for a week and just bring ideas. Then we’ll meet up after for an hour and a half. We’ll play each other’s ideas; see who wants to write a lyric for that. It’s going to be crazy. It’s a great experiment and we hope it takes off.”

While it’s uncertain how the week will turn out, Smith said his hopes for the project is that 12 fantastic songs are written which people can start performing in their own gigs, shows and churches as well as earn money, which will be given to charity and be distributed to many different projects. “Who knows what the future is? What’s amazing is when you gather people together, then that’s when the fun starts. It's when you sit around and you have an amazing group of people dreaming up new ideas and I think that’s where the future is.”

The group of singer/songwriters will be meeting up Jan. 7 – 11. Smith says the concept behind Compassionart is to do something together, remembering that the sum of all the parts is going to be greater. “That’s definitely going to be what we can give back to the music world and also to many, many thousands of kids out there that are struggling to get through the night.”

***Special thanks to Rick Hoganson for setting up the interview with Martin Smith and the photos above of Martin Smith in Cambodia, Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith.***


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