You Sing, I Write: June 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q&A with Serena Ryder

A few weeks ago I chatted with Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder just after she wrapped up recording her debut full-length US album, due out later this year. Having worked with producer John Alagia Mayer, Jason Mraz) as well as collaborated with songwriters Jim Duguid (Paolo Nutini) and Mikal Blue (Colbie Caillat), Serena explained the recording process as "effortless" and "absolutely magical." Serena talked a bit about her experience winning Best New Artist at the Juno Awards (Canada's Grammy equivalent), her views on touring and performing and her hopes for the next few years. Check out the interview below and her MySpace for a listen.

How is everything going?
Everything’s going great! I just got back from LA. I was making my new record out there in Santa Monica and had the absolute best time of my entire life. It was so much fun. Making the record was absolutely effortless and an absolute joy to be a part of that process. My producer, John Alagia, and the band . . . it was amazing, so much fun. I stayed right by the beach, which was really nice because I live downtown in Toronto so I don’t get to the water that much. It felt just like a big vacation.

When are you expecting it to be released?
Well, for me, yesterday would be good. I was out of the edits and want to release the record as soon as possible. I’m hoping sometime fall or winter would be really great for me.

Is the record similar to your EP, Told You In a Whispered Song, which was released in the US?
Those songs were previews of what’s going on the record. The songwriting is kind of similar. Most of the songs that were on the EP are going on the record too. It’s more full band and it’s got a similar vibe.

How was the recording process?
It was effortless. It was amazing and inspiring. It was a lot of fun. It was absolutely magical.

This past year must seem like a whirlwind for you — getting signed to Atlantic right after SXSW last year, releasing your EP, touring. How has everything been going?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a really, really wonderful year. I’ve been traveling for quite a while and I’ve been touring and playing since I was a little kid and it’s a part of my lifestyle, but it’s been a lot more amazing now that I’ve joined up with family of Atlantic. It’s just such a great team of people. I call it family because they’re really, really an interactive A&R based label, that’s why I chose them. I was on an indie label for five years, but Atlantic has been such a massive help for me. So, it’s been really good and also taking the opportunity to be able to record this record and do it the way that I wanted to with people I wanted to do it with.

In the last year I moved and there have been a lot of different changes that have gone on in my life. It’s been big changes, but they’ve been changes that have helped me be able to get stable and rooted and grounded enough to know where I’m metaphorically planting my seeds. I almost feel like I’ve been in training with what I’m going to be doing for the next, gosh, who knows how long. I’m still in love with what I do and I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. I’ve been trying to be on the road, be healthy, eat right, work on my craft and my songwriting. I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last year with the new record. Different collaborations with people and learning from other people, it’s been fabulous.

Who have you been collaborating with for this album?
This album, I think is probably about four songs that were co-written and the rest of the songs I wrote on my own. I wrote with this guy named Jim Duguid in London. He’s actually Scottish. He’s Paolo Nutini’s drummer. He’s quite an amazing writer as well; he co-wrote and produced Paolo’s last record with him. I wrote with this fellow named Mikal Blue. He’s a really, really cool dude. He did all of Colbie Caillat’s stuff. It was so much fun. It was a great, great process.

You were on tour most of last year, how was that experience?
It’s been great. I’ve been touring for a long time so I feel very comfortable on the road. The last year has been really good for me because I’ve realized that is where my home is now. It’s not about going away from home and things need to change. I’ve learned that being on the road is being at home, so you have to treat your hotel room or your restaurant or the places that you eat at like, that’s your kitchen, that’s your room, that’s your house. And the more you treat it that way; you can really get some kind of normalcy or constant. Everything is different and everything is new. I just feel like I have a lot more respect for people who travel constantly. It can be really difficult to just to keep that home with you everywhere you go. I finally have the opportunity to really see it as that. I feel pretty blessed about that.

Congratulations on your Juno award for Best New Artist! How was the overall experience of being at the awards show? Was it everything you expected?
It was overwhelming and awesome. I was just trying to breathe and make it seem like I was calm and everything was normal. There is nothing normal about walking on red carpet in heels with flashes and cameras and blinding sequence everywhere. It was like being in a dream, or on TV. You only see that on TV. That’s not what your average Joe will experience and I really do consider myself a Joe.

I read you've been performing since you were 13.
Yeah. I started performing when I was eight. It was cover songs and stuff at legions and hotels, like Buddy Holly and Linda Ronstadt. I was the cute little kid with the band behind her with 40-year-old men. [laughs] It was fun. I started writing when I was 11 or 12 and got a guitar when I was 13 and I started playing up on stages and just anywhere I could possibly get my ass onstage I would get my ass onstage. I just had pure, absolutely unadulterated love for performing and singing and being able to communicate with people on a level other than conversation. Songs are like short stories, you have so much room to articulate and converse with people on a totally different level and I’ve always needed that, as a juice in my life, life juice.

Growing up, have you always wanted to be a performer? Do you remember the moment you were like, “This is what I want to do.”
Oh yeah, dude. I wanted to be on Star Search when I was a little kid. I would watch Ed McMahon and all those cute little kids and be like, “I want to do that!” I did initially want to be a performer, but now I think, for me, it’s not necessarily about performing. I don’t really like to call it that anymore. It’s more about being able to relate to other people, just to share it and to inspire is my main goal now. As a songwriter as well, I feel like I’ve had the opportunity with this record to really plant my roots in that I am a songwriter and I adore it as a craft and I have so much respect for it.

What is your typical songwriting process like? Do you carry a notebook wherever you go?
There are lots of different ways to write a song and I’m still trying to hone it as a craft. With this record, I actually for the first time consciously sat down and was like, “Okay, what do I want to talk about? What’s my message?” Most of the time songs would just come to me. Now I totally believe that there’s no ownership in art. You create something, it doesn’t belong to you. It’s like a child; your children don’t belong to you. They’ve chosen you to be their parent and they’re going to learn from you and they’re going to leave and they’re going to hopefully take something. I think music is like that as well, songwriting, everything really. There have been so many different ways…sometimes a song just comes to me, sometimes I sit down and contemplate, meditate on what I’m trying to speak about or trying to articulate or communicate with people.

Did you go into the studio having a concept for the album?
When I went into the studio I had all of the songs finished. It was definitely a body of work and a vibe but I also went into the studio knowing I was working with an absolutely phenomenal producer and band. I went in with an open heart and open mind and trusted they would bring a lot to the record. And they did. They took it places that I didn’t know it would go. It was better than I had imagined it would be, pretty phenomenal.

Do you have a favorite track on the album?
One song “Is It Ok” is one of those songs that was just written. Sometimes it’s difficult to write songs when you’re in the middle of an emotion. You need to step outside of yourself to see. It’s like writing a movie with your experiences. The lyrics came to me in this big burst of passion and the reason why it’s my favorite song is because the band makes me want to listen to it. The band was so phenomenal, they brought it to another level. The band made it so powerful. They brought this whole other life to it. It was the song that surprised me the most.

What are your hopes for next few years?
I feel absolutely satisfied with where I am right now. I look forward to really being at home wherever I go. I’d love to help people feel comfortable in their own skin, if that’s possible. Everyone has their own karma and their own lifestyle and their own choices in their life to be or do whatever they want to. I really would love to shed a little bit more light on the fact that it is a choice to some extent, especially to us who are very blessed to be in Western society in certain ways. There are always ups and downs and there are different things that are great and there are things that are horrible. I just really hope that I can make people realize that they are so huge and so wonderful and so capable of leaving so much greatness in the world.

What is your advice for singer-songwriters or aspiring musicians?
That’s the thing; I don’t think I could have heard anything. Even if I went back and talked to myself as myself, just time travel and go back and knock on my own forehead and say, “Hey, don’t do that, do this.” I don’t really think there is a place for that or people who would really actually be able to hear. I think the only way I know personally how to do that is by writing music and just being as honest as possible in the moment.

How would you explain your music or lyrics to someone who has never heard one of your songs?
I wouldn’t. I really wouldn’t. I would just let them listen.

Listen to Serena's song, "Brand New Love" here and see for yourself. For Windows users you can listen here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Help An Unsigned Band Land A Record Deal

Music lovers can vote for their favorite unsigned artist, ultimately picking who will land a record deal with Original Signal/Epic as well as gear from Gibson Guitar and the chance to perform at Spin Magazine’s Year In Music Party in December. Not a bad deal for the struggling musician, eh?

So here's where you and I come in. Check out this website. Two artists are shown on the screen in which they call the "head-to-head player." A simple hover of a mouse plays a song (sometimes a live video!) from whichever artist you choose to listen to first. Listen to both tunes for as long as you wish and select which artist you prefer. If you can't make a decision and they both sound the same to you, click the equal button in between the player. For four weeks music fans can vote for these 500 artists and then the top 20 artists will be sent to the judges who ultimately decide the winner. Either way, you win . . . check out some new, relatively undiscovered bands and if you like what you hear, visit their artist page for more info. The winner will be announced July 31st, so keep voting!

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Jessie Baylin

While her voice is somewhat reminiscent to a blend of an edgier Carrie Underwood and Lucinda Williams with that country-pop blend, Jessie Baylin's major label debut is much more distinctive. Jessie's second full-length album, Firesight, has her branching out from today's mainstream music with a jazzy and almost folk-like feel on some songs. With performances on past Hotel Cafe Tours as well as this year's Bonnaroo Festival, she is definitely making a name for herself.

First track on the album, "See How I Run" starts off with Jessie singing, "I'm not stopping, waiting on nothing/Moving quickly trying to catch what's mine/What's destined inside the dreamer/I'll be rushing, making a lot of noise" to a catchy guitar and drum beat. A solid first track for what's to come on the rest of her album — strong collaborations with Grammy-winning songwriters (Jesse Harris) as well as various co-writers Mike Daly (Whiskeytown), Mark Goldenberg, Greg Wells and Danny Wilde (Rembrandts) and accomplished musicians including Brett Dennen and Cary Brothers as well as Ryan Adams' drummer Brad Pemberton and guitarist Joe Pisapia of Guster among others.

Each track on Firesight varies from the previous, some tracks sounding jazzy while others have more of a country vibe. "Leave Your Mark" features Brett Dennen on backing vocals and is one of the stronger songs on the album, having a full sound both vocally and musically. The keyboard, guitar and bass as well as percussion and strings round out the track well while Brett's vocals blend well with Jessie's. "Not A Day More" has a faster beat, but darker vocals and even drearier lyrics while "Lonely Heaven" sounds like a jazz number, Jessie's voice accenting but not overpowering the piano feature in the background of the song. Her voice in this track is timeless and could not have been performed any better with the crescendos in her voice in sync with each note played on the piano.

"Tennessee Gem" is more of a folk song with a country twist to it, immensely refreshing with guitar and pedal steel accompaniment while "I'll Cry For the Both of Us" sounds like it could be a track right out of the 1970's. Definitely versatile, Jessie Baylin's Firesight has something for everyone. Due out in stores, Tuesday, June 24th, if you like the tracks below pick it up!

Listen to "Was I On Your Mind" here.
Check out "See How I Run" here for Windows Media and here for QuickTime.
For more on Jessie, check her out on MySpace

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jakob Dylan Releases First Solo Album

Debuting your first solo album after nearly 20 successful years with the Wallflowers is no easy transition. Now add being Bob Dylan's son to the mix and that leaves a large shadow in your wake, daring you to be different. With these two hurdles to jump over, it's an accomplishment to have even tried.

Jakob opens Seeing Things singing, "It doesn't always have a shape/Almost never does it have a name/It maybe has a pitchfork, maybe has a tail/But evil is alive and well" on track "Evil Is Alive and Well." A simple song, both with acoustic guitar and Jakob's deep and at times, raspy voice, the track encompasses what's to be expected throughout the remainder of the album — a heavy, emotional album with little voice inflection or climax in guitar accompaniment.

While Seeing Things lacks the energy and power of a full band, the album isn't all a journey into a brooding comatose. Songs such as "Something Good This Way" has a pop style and catchy chorus. With lyrics like, "Got my window open wide/Got a good woman by my side/This kind of day has no night/Ain't got much on my mind/'Cause I know something good this way comes" the light guitar and soothing voice lightens up the album. The following track, "On Up the Mountain" is almost reminiscent of a lullaby, Jakob singing "You'll get tired and you'll get weak/But you won't abandon your masterpiece/Off to sleep you'll go."

When it comes down to it, Jakob's solo debut is mostly an acoustic album that doesn't strongly showcase his guitar playing or lyrical writing. Seeing Things lacks the energy and strength of a band behind him, with no catchy choruses and few stand-out songs. While Jacob has the previous track record set with the Wallflowers, he needs a lot more to make the high jump into a solo career.

This is only my review of Jakob's new album, I'd love to hear what you think. If you agree or disagree, feel free to leave me comments!
To listen to "Something Good This Way Comes" click here.
For more music, check out Jakob's MySpace or Website.

Here's a video of Jakob Dylan playing "Evil Is Alive and Well" live.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

GigMaven: An Easier Way to Book Shows

I'm always interested in what's going on in the constantly changing music industry. I originally started this blog to feature interviews with musicians, but there are so many aspects of the music industry to cover. I think I'm going to try to branch out on things that I find interesting that might intrigue others as well. GigMaven is just one example that is helping with the rapidly changing industry. Below is my interview with Howard Han, founder of GigMaven, a new website dedicated to helping musicians find and book gigs online. Check it out for yourself at As always, feel free to leave comments or E-mail Me! on suggestions, artist features or ways you'd like me to improve the blog!

Tell me a little bit about GigMaven. How did you come up with the concept?
One of my friends, Richard Pan, was a musician for three years out of college. He was working at Abercrombie and Fitch in Ohio while driving out to NYC every couple of weeks to play gigs. He was doing pretty well, consistently booking gigs in NYC. He played at the Knitting Factory and at CMJ ’08 and got signed to an indie label, but he was having a bit of trouble getting gigs outside of NYC. Ultimately, he ran out of money and decided to go to law school.

At the time, I was helping him out while working in finance, and I started thinking about ways to help him get exposure and book gigs outside of NYC. After doing some research, we realized that booking is still very much an old-school process where people walk around and try to get their press kits to bookers at clubs. We felt like there had to be a better, more efficient way to do this. Out of Richard’s struggle and decision to forgo his music dreams, came our idea for GigMaven.

How are you working to get this project off the ground?
Currently, we have close to 300 musicians and 15 live music venues in NYC helping us beta test the website. We are slowly looking to expand to Boston, Philly and DC over the next couple of months and then expand to the rest of the nation in 2009.

What stage do you think you're at right now?
We’re at the very beginning of something that will change the way the live music industry operates. We want to make everyone’s lives easier and allow them to book gigs online, lowering the average cost and time to book a gig.

Are you planning on eventually helping out with merchandise and releasing these artist's albums, or just gear it towards finding venues?
We’ve definitely thought about the opportunities around helping musicians sell merchandise or mp3s and we have some interesting ideas around how we can make that process easier. That being said, we are 100% focused on our core business right now, which is booking gigs for musicians and venues.

What type of artists are you working with?
We primarily work with indie rock musicians, some unsigned and some signed to indie labels. Although our core is indie rock, we don’t focus on one genre or specific type of music or club.

What type of venues? Is it just based in New York for now?
Currently, we are only booking gigs in NYC, but we plan on expanding to Boston, Philly and DC in the next couple of months. In 2009, we aim to expand to the rest of the country.

How do you decide what venue to book these artists at?
We do not make any decisions regarding the actual booking. GigMaven is a platform for musicians and venues to find each other. Venues ultimately make the decision who they want to perform and musicians ultimately make the decision where they want to play.

Do you think what you're doing is the future of the music industry?
We believe that it will be the future of the booking aspect of the live music industry. The music industry is going through a period of turmoil, which I believe will result in a tremendous amount of innovation and opportunity. We believe that booking gigs online is a natural solution to the inefficiency in the live music booking process.

For more on GigMaven listen to the guys explain their concept in more depth on a previous radio interview here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Buenvenidos a Miami

Sometimes a change of scenery is good for the mind. It opens you up to surroundings you wouldn't normally have encountered otherwise. The past few days me and eight friends from high school and college took a mini-vacation to Miami, a much needed break from working and interning that has encompassed our lives for the past few months.

Although mentally I was on a break from everything — working, the job search, even my blog — I still brought some CD's to review and couldn't help but take in the music and performances I stumbled upon each day, writing imaginary blog posts in my head. (I can't help it, music is in my blood.)

Miami is like another world entirely — the language, the culture, the music and I experienced all this each day. Whether it be the hip-hop and R&B music at club Opium Garden or the salsa music at Bongos, the Cuban restaurant we ate at our last night in Miami. We encountered many entertaining street musicians throughout the various outdoor malls we visited, even a rapper singing a Father's Day song to shoppers, who later stopped his performance to give some parents anti-bacterial hand gel for their son who was picking up rocks from the ground of a nearby tree. Who knew street musicians in Miami were so concerned with germs?

Man, to live on the beach . . . oh well, back to the grind. I have a bunch of album reviews (including Jakob Dylan and the next big thing Jessie Baylin), songs and interviews (Canadian sensation Serena Ryder and Howard Han, founder of Gig Maven, a new approach for artists booking gigs) to get up for you within the next few days. In the meantime, feel free to read past posts and if you haven't noticed, some of the titles of my blogs have an external link to my reviews posted on MTV's concert blog. You can check out my reviews of those here if you haven't yet.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Passenger Pleases New York Crowd in Third U.S. Show

Though it was only Passenger's third show in the U.S., you wouldn't have been able to tell. The UK-based band had Mercury Lounge filled Wednesday night to an impressive set of solid acoustic guitar playing and even better vocals. The night included a six-song acoustic set with an unexpected, but highly enjoyable cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella."

Frontman Mike Rosenberg introduced New Yorkers to his band by saying, "We are two of Passenger," before kicking off the night with "Things You've Never Done," a slower ballad with simple guitar strumming and soft vocals.

"It's been a crazy week and a half. Before now, we've been in Nashville and L.A. It's a different world down in Nashville. A lot of haircuts . . . or lack of them," Mike joked before beginning "What You Think," a song he wrote while in Nashville. With quirky lyrics like, "My girlfriend says I'm a mess/I should call her my ex-girlfriend I guess," he had the crowd laughing throughout Passenger's performance.

While some have compared his voice to that of David Gray and his songwriting reminiscent of Damien Rice in that you really have to listen closely to truly appreciate the lyrics and understand the story behind the song, whatever it is, Passenger's music is definitely catchy.

Although the majority of their 25-minute set featured mostly acoustic, slower numbers, Passenger's impressive "Umbrella" cover had the crowd erupting in claps and laughter. "I was trying to do the rap in there as well, but English people don't rap well," Mike joked. Throughout the slower, softer songs played during the evening the room was so quiet and attentive to the two men on acoustic guitars on the stage that you could almost hear a pin drop. "Thank you for being so quiet," Mike told the crowd.

Bandmate Steven's deeper voice accented perfectly with Mike's higher vocals while the two guitars blended well throughout each song, often assisting with the crescendos and decrescendos in Mike's singing. Four of the songs played can be expected on their upcoming full-length album, Wicked Man's Rest due out later this summer as well as a few on their EP due to hit stores June 24.

Perhaps crowd favorite of the night, a close tie with Rihanna's cover, was their final song of the evening, "Night Vision Binoculars." This song was the most upbeat of the night and you could tell Mike and Steven were having a blast onstage as the crowd thoroughly enjoyed it as well. Definitely a faster beat and quicker guitar playing and singing, the song ended the night on a high note.

Although this was Passenger's last U.S. show for a while, be sure to check out their MySpace or Website for when they'll be back!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Audio Interview with with Mike Rosenberg of Passenger

Here you go! This is my interview with Mike of Passenger for you to listen to and enjoy his lovely accent. I'm hoping to upload my concert review from tonight's show at Mercury Lounge tomorrow before I leave for vacation for a few days. This week will be a fun-filled week of Passenger coverage for you all! They're going back to the UK for a bunch of upcoming tour dates, but check out their MySpace if you haven't yet and their full-length album out later this summer! Below is a video if you want to put a face to the name and learn a little more about the band.

(Special thanks to my friend and former Jane intern Monica Perry for creating this awesome graphic for me! And the previous soundbite graphics for my blog!)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Q&A with Mike Rosenberg of Passenger

I chatted with singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg of UK-based band Passenger a few weeks ago about their upcoming album and U.S. tour dates. Passenger's music is quite catchy, but the stories within each song are much deeper and even more intriguing. Take "Night Vision Binoculars," a song about a guy who has a stalker-like crush on his co-worker. "If you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it. It's quite tongue and cheek," Mike said. Listen to "Night Vision Binoculars" here.

Passenger's first show as a band was back in March at the South By Southwest festival in Texas and their first New York date is Wednesday, June 11 at Mercury Lounge. Their debut EP, Night Vision Binoculars, is due out in America June 24 before their full-length hits stores in August. For more about Mike's writing process and some of the stories behind his songs read the interview below and check out their music. If you like what you hear, catch a show when they're around. Feel free to listen to the audio of this interview here and enjoy his lovely accent.

Tell me a little about Passenger. Did you grow up always wanting to be in a band?
Yeah. I’ve always played guitar since I was little really. It was just one of the things that I felt I was good at. Well, one of the only things I felt I was good at. It’s always been a dream really. I started writing songs when I was about 15 and they were really terrible and I hope they got a bit better. I met Andrew, my songwriting partner, about five years ago and we just hit it off and we started writing together and that’s about it. Then we recorded the album and got the band up and running.

I just got a chance to listen to your debut album, Wicked Man’s Rest and it deals a lot with heartbreak and unrequited love. Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for it or was there an overlying theme to the album?
I don’t know really. What I try to do in my songs is just to tell stories, stories from all sorts of different walks of life. Whether it’s an old man in a pub or a guy who can’t get a girl, or a stray dog or whoever it is. There wasn’t really a concept behind the album, it’s just trying to be as honest as possible about everyday situations and they can be really heartbreaking.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Oh, I hate them all now [laughs]. Favorite song, I like “For You” it’s the little quiet one. It just takes me back. I was in Mexico when I wrote it. It’s a really lovely time in my life. It takes me back there a little bit.

I wanted to ask you about the title track. There are clips of Allen Ginsberg talking throughout the song, how did you come up with that idea?
That song took a long time to write, and sort of get right. There were a couple of different versions; it’s such a complicated track. The other songs are much more natural really and they seem to just fall out. I don’t know really. I always explain it as, you know when you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep, and you’ve got billions of things running around in your head and the later it gets the worse you feel? It kind of reminds me of that really. That part of you that grows with anxiety. I think Ginsberg, there’s just something about the tone of his voice and what he is saying it’s so massive, it’s so poetic and it works in the song.

I really liked “Things You’ve Never Done,” especially that one line “The only failure is never to try.” What inspired the song or what were you thinking when you wrote it?
From personal experience I guess. I think we’ve all made decisions in our lives that we regret, and I think most of those regrets comes from not doing things rather than trying something and failing. I think it’s a very simple concept and a very simple line but it seems to really affect people and really ring true of it. There’s something sad about growing old and not fulfilling everything you wanted to do. I think everyone can relate to that.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
That’s a difficult one. To be honest, I usually try and get the storytelling aspect of it across. It gets the hat of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but also with the production and the band side of it, it’s kind of more elements of massive attack and that whole sort of thing. It’s a really difficult question and after five years I still haven’t gotten it figured out. Lots of local harmonies, lyrically-based kind of country-pop music I guess.

What can we expect from your EP being released in the U.S. later this month?
Our EP, the title is Night Vision Binoculars. You can expect a quirky song in “Night Vision Binoculars.” It’s quite tongue and cheek. It’s about a guy who falls in love with one of his co-workers and she doesn’t know he exists. He ends up hiding up in a tree outside of her house. The idea behind the song is people listen to it and sort of start singing along and only the third or fourth time of hearing it, if you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it.

So how many songs are going to be on the EP?
I believe, I’m not actually sure exactly, but I think four. I think there’s an acoustic version of one of our songs and possibly some live ones as well. I think its a little taste of what’s to come really.

What do you feel makes your band different from other bands?
I think the subject matter of our songs is different. A lot of modern day pop music all revolves around the person's girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever. I’ve tried to broaden that a bit. [Going] back to Bob Dylan and country and folk music when storytelling was a common thing and now it’s not so much. We just try and be slightly different, the production is slightly different and hopefully my voice is different.

What inspires your music? Do you have a certain writing process?
When I’m walking along, I don’t know if it’s the blood flow or whatever, I get a lot of ideas when I’m out and about. I use my mobile phone, which is a picture phone, when I get ideas. It can come at any point. You can go two months without writing a song and I wrote five last week. I don’t understand it at all, but I love the process. For another listen, here's Passenger's song "Do What You Like."
If that's not enough for you, visit them on MySpace and check out a show when they're in town.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Amie Miriello Tells All at Intimate NYC Show

Singer-songwriter Amie Miriello is an intriguing storyteller. She seemingly effortlessly peaks curiosity leading up to each song with her onstage banter with the audience.

Before playing “Beauty of Goodbye” to a packed crowd at Pianos Tuesday night, she explained the song as being about “that beautiful moment when you realize you’re over someone and the second you stop thinking about him, he’ll start thinking of you. It’s tragic but it’s true.” Another song, “Grey” she told the crowd is about her fear of becoming an old lady singing at night clubs. With her debut album, I Came Around being released later this year, I don’t foresee that happening for Amie.

The night included a 40-minute, 9-song set, many of which will be released on her upcoming album as well as a solid cover of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarmed." While her voice seems somewhat familiar, possibly best described as being reminiscent of a mix between Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morissette, Amie definitely has her own style. Whether it’s more of an up-tempo number with intricate guitar picking or a slower ballad-like feature, each song sounded entirely different from the previous. For most of the night both Amie and friend Jay Dmuchowski played acoustic guitars with Amie taking a break mid-show to sing guitarless.

Amie's voice was powerful and soulful, almost folk-like at times when she sang with vibrato throughout certain parts of each song. Possibly the strongest song of the night was title track of her album, "I Came Around." Definitely a catchy number, the chorus is one of those that stick in your head long after it's over. "Brand New" was a bit of an edgier song with opening lyrics and guitar playing that definitely draw the listener into the rest of the song. She sings, "You look like the kind of a person who could have a conversation without making a sound/You look like the kind of a person instigating bad behavior when we're hanging around/You look like the kind of a person who would take me to a party on the wrong side of town/You look like the kind of a person that's down."

Ballads "Snow," a song about being on the road and touring, and "Cold Front" slowed the night down for a bit, but not too long as Amie's quirky stories about her brothers and band dynamic with best friend of 10 years Jay, lightened the mood. "Snow" in particular is a softer song for Amie, emphasizing her strong singing ability and a voice that sounds much older and more sophisticated.

With her debut album out later this year and having been the opener for Teddy Geiger, Gavin DeGraw and Nick Lachey on previous tours, I'm certain that Amie won’t be the opening act for too much longer.

Get to know Amie as she talks about her new album and watch some of her performances.

For more on Amie and to listen to her music, check her out on MySpace or her Website.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Audio Interview with Jacob Rolleston of Paper Rival

As promised yesterday, here is my phone interview with Jacob from Paper Rival. Listen to him talk about changing their band name, the new album and what inspired some of their songs. Enjoy! Be sure to check them out on MySpace and if you like what you hear, pick up their new album, Dialog, in stores June 3.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Q&A with Jacob Rolleston of Paper Rival

I chatted with frontman Jacob Rolleston the day after Paper Rival’s Bamboozle performance at Giant's Stadium in New Jersey. He filled me in on how the band began, their debut full-length album due in stores June 3, and the stories behind some of his songs, one of which came from a box of old letters between his great grandparents when his great grandfather was stationed in Germany during WWII. Read on for more of the interview and check back in a few days for the audio format of the interview. Be sure to check out Paper Rival on MySpace and if you like what you hear, go pick up a copy of their album Tuesday!

Tell me a little bit about Paper Rival. I read that you guys started as two separate bands at first.

Yeah. The guitar players, Patrick and Brent were in a band together in Nashville, a prominent local band, and I was in a band in Chattanooga. My band from Chattanooga went to Nashville and Patrick actually recorded my former band’s C.D. We just weren’t super happy with what we were doing and the timing just worked and Patrick and Brent came to where I worked with our old drummer and said, “Hey, do you maybe want to start a project.” And I said, “Yeah.” And that’s pretty much it. It wasn’t really too out of the ordinary from a lot of band’s experiences, just taking members from several bands and kind of adding.

And you guys have a new record coming out soon.
Yes we do. Dialog, June 3.

How was it recording Dialog? Did you go into the studio having a concept for it?
You know, there wasn’t really a concept, necessarily. It was actually everything but that. We learned that we had to change our band name as we went into the studio last year in March. We actually went into the studio in February and started recording and then we did South by Southwest in ’07 and we had to change our band name there. When we came back we got a lot more focused and were thinking that by changing our band name it would make it easier for us to change the style of music and our writing. It actually made us a lot happier, so recording was anything but a concept. We just we went in and luckily everything came to be how it is and we’re really excited about it.

What was the whole thing with your name change? Did some other band have it?
Yeah, there was a Canadian band that had the name. They weren’t jerks to us really. We would get mixed up in press and they made it to iTunes first and that’s such a huge market that we couldn’t really afford to not be on iTunes. It was just kind of like, “Let’s just change our name now. We don’t have a full length out; we can afford to do it right now.” It was a decision on our part and to make it a little easier for everybody.

I read that “The Kettle Black” was based on letters from your grandparents. How did you go about finding those and writing that song?
Yeah. They were letters from my great grandfather to my great grandmother from World War II when he was stationed in Germany. He was in the air force. I was looking for inspiration. A long time ago, when I was 11 or 12 and my great grandmother was getting older, I kind of knew she was going to be put into a nursing home. I understood, I guess, that families fight about certain things they want from their great grandmother’s house, like family heirlooms and things like that. So I just took everything I thought that I would want in the future, that my family would want. A shoebox of letters was one of the things.

I was looking for inspiration and the whole theme of the album was building around this family/friends type of vibe, the lyrics I was writing anyway. I just kind of went into that old shoebox full of letters and was amazed at how the problems that they had when he was gone in a war, which I can’t even imagine, are some of the same problems that I’m having today. He’s in a war and he understands what he’s doing and I’m out touring and I understand what I’m doing, but none of my family and friends really. They’re like, “Why are you doing this? Come home, hang out, get a job.” And it’s the same. My great grandmother is saying then, “Come home. Why are you over there, fighting all the time?” It’s all the same problems, just having to deal with it while you’re gone. It’s kind of that mentality.

Did you write all the lyrics on the album or is it a group effort?
Pretty much. There are a couple of songs where Patrick had guitar and lyrics to and there were some that just fit and I didn’t want to change. Sometimes you’ll get a singer that’s kind of selfish and wants to write all his own words and I tried to fight that because I think anyone is really partial to what they’re saying all the time. You kind of feel like you want to be the only lyric writer, so I just fight that because I know that a lot of times what somebody is saying is sometimes better than how I can say it. So I try to see it that way. So sometimes Patrick will write something and I may write a little bit or change it to make it sound like it’s from me and sometimes I’ll have words and Patrick will say, “That doesn’t sound like you” and change it.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?
My personal favorite is probably “Bluebird.” I like the arrangement and the old music in the song is really good. I like the way the song came about, how randomly the song came about. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful song on the record.

I really like the lyrics and musical accompaniment in “An Easy Belief.” What was the inspiration behind that song?
I know in my family, there’s a lot of self medicating on both sides. On my dad’s side there’s this whole thing about living forever and wanting to go into some type of heaven forever, an eternity. On my mom’s side, she just self medicates and doesn’t necessarily believe she’s going to live forever. Why do we as humans do tons of the bad things we do and think we deserve to live forever? There’s so many other species on the planet that deserve to live longer than we do and it’s basically saying that.

How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard it before?
I heard Patrick say in another interview that it’s like 90’s alternative rock indie music with a folk twist. There’s definitely an organic element about it that isn’t just rock and isn’t just indie or isn’t just alternative music that keeps the music grounded.

What are your hopes for the next few years?
Personally, I’d love to take small steps. I like that we’re on a label and we’re surrounded by people that believe in us and people that understand that it takes time if you really want to do what you’re doing and do what you love. Sometimes it just takes time to get there and that’s better. We want to really have a nice fan base and care about our fans and care about people who come to see us. We want to take small steps towards hopefully a big future and a long future and a long career. That’s my hope, just to continue doing what we’re doing.

I read that “Keep Us In” was inspired by an election in Nashville on the gay rights/marriage issue. Obviously it affected you a lot.
It’s just like, what year is it? I think for all of us in the band, and tons of people in the city and surrounding areas, a lot of people felt the same way. Its 2007, you know? Now it’s 2008, but it happened in 2007. It’s totally people who are living based on what their grandparents and great grandparents thought and not living and creating their own opinions and how embarrassed I am of people like that, just on any subject. Be a progressive thinker, don’t just sit and muddle in your old grandparents opinions, just closed-minded opinions. That’s kind of where that song came from. The core of it was definitely was that, but it’s more universal, just about people in general, self-centered, and close-minded people.

How do you feel Paper Rival is different than the other upcoming bands out there? What will make people want to come and see you?
Well, that’s what we are. We’re just people. We’re not doing anything, we’re playing the music that we want to play and that, I think, is different. There are bands that play the music they want to play and love what they do and there are bands that don’t play the music they want to play and love what they do. I think we’re different in the way that we’re the same person before we get on the stage as we are when we get on the stage and after we’re off the stage. We love being in the crowd and talking to people and really, all of us, love engaging the crowd and people that like our music.

For more on Paper Rival check them out on MySpace.


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