You Sing, I Write: September 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lights Resolve Win Opening Slot On Rock Band Live Tour

Last week a few friends told me about MTV's Battle of the Bands contest where five New York-based bands compete at Webster Hall, the winner opening up for the Rock Band Live Tour featuring Panic at the Disco, Dashboard Confessional, Plain White T's and the Cab, when it hits the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey in November. I thought it'd be a cool contest to check out and when I realized Lights Resolve were playing I couldn't be happier!

I originally met the LR guys back when they were on the Get A Life Tour with The Used, Straylight Run, Army of Me and Street Drum Corps. Since then, I've caught and covered a couple of their shows for my blog as well as MTV's concert blog and interviewed all three LR members. The guys are the nicest, most down to earth people you'll ever meet and deserve all the success that has come to them.

The show started at 8 p.m. as MTV's Kim Stolz announced the guest judges — Ryan Ross of Panic at the Disco, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional and rock writer James Montgomery from MTV News. Brendon Urie of Panic showed up late but shared his comments with each band. Each of the five bands took the stage for approximately 15 minutes, performing three songs. First up was Testing for Echo a five-piece Long Island-based band. A bit slow starting off, by their third song their energy emerged as the guitarists could be seen jumping around the stage.

The Canon Logic was up next and had strong stage presence. Quite possibly the most versatile act of the night, each song played sounded completely different than the previous. Whether it was the band unpredictably slowing down a song only to pick it right back up or their frontman suddenly dropping from his regular singing range to a deep tenor, The Canon Logic's confidence exuded throughout their set.

Third band of the night was Kelsey and the Chaos. A bit reminiscent to Paramore, but much edgier, the musical accompaniment was strong, but overpowered Kelsey's vocals. Kelsey and the Chaos definitely had the most energy of the night up to that point, but I couldn't hear a word sung during the set.

Status Green had, no doubt, a fun set. When introduced, Stolz said their sound is inspired by music from the 1960s and when listening closely to their MySpace, you can hear this. Their ability to switch up their set between slower ballads to more upbeat, rockin' songs is what makes them a great band. Despite not coming out the winner of the night, I wouldn't be surprised to hear more from Status Green in the future as they had most in the crowd clapping along throughout their set.

Okay, you already know I am somewhat biased attending the show and rooting for Lights Resolve, so I'm just going to tell you this flat out before writing up my review of their performance. I know when studying journalism they teach us "objectivity," but having seen the progression of Lights Resolve throughout many of their performances this year, I've become a fan and feel like a proud parent seeing how much their child has grown over the past few months. I know, silly. But Lights Resolve rocked Webster Hall and you don't have to listen to my praise of them, their fans were singing along word for word and even those who didn't come to see them were waving their hands in the air and clapping along.

Lights Resolve started off their set with "The Hills and Michael Jackson" — a catchy number that has their countless "whoa-ho's" stuck in your head long after the song is over. "Lost and Jaded" was next up, a darker song but demonstrating that they can switch up the set and still stay interesting. For a three-piece band, Lights Resolve can hold their own. Poppy tune, "Another Five Days" ended the show and performances of the night to a venue of screams and applause.

After a long deliberation, all five bands and judges entered the stage to which Lights Resolve was declared the winner and opening act of the November 2 tour date. Chris Carrabba said they made his night while Ryan Ross said they "rocked harder than any other band" to which James Montgomery exclaimed, "Holy shit that was good, everything I like about rock."

You can catch Lights Resolve opening up the Rock Band Live Tour November 2, in Newark, New Jersey, but if you can't make that show be sure to check out their MySpace for more dates.

Special thanks to for the awesome pictures of Monday night's show!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Artist of the Week: Pete Murray

My friend Deana recommended Australian singer-songwriter Pete Murray to me after she studied in Australia and constantly heard his music playing while she was there. She said I'd love him since I'm a fan of most acoustic singer-songwriters, and I definitely can't help but repeatedly listen to his MySpace page while at work, especially his song "Opportunity." I think an accurate comparison could be calling Pete Murray the Australian John Mayer.

When listening to his MySpace, there's a blend of soft singing and acoustic guitar playing as well as the occasional harmonica feature, exhibited in his song "Saving Grace." Murray's voice is mellow and mixes well with the various musical interludes. Whether it be piano, guitar or strings, Pete's voice sounds strikingly perfect throughout.

"You Pick Me Up" demonstrates the laid-back feel to Murray's music. It's faster than first track, "Saving Grace" but his voice is still ever so gentle and tuneful. "Better Days" and "So Beautiful," both somewhat somber songs, the listener can easily hear the pain behind the lyrics and meaning encompassing the song.

I absolutely LOVE his song, "Opportunity." The lyrics have so much meaning and it's one of those songs that just hit you. I don't do this often, but I'm posting the video and full lyrics below. I hope you like it just as much as I do.


Verse 1:
So it goes another lonely day
You're saving time but you're miles away
Your flowers drowning in some bitter tea
Forseeing lost opportunity
Find your mirror
Go and look inside
See the talent you always hide
Don't go kid yourself, well not today
Satisfaction's not far away

Hold on now, your exit's here
It's waiting just for you
Don't pause too long
It's fading now
It's ending all too soon you'll see
Soon you'll see

Verse 2:
Your coffee's warm but your milk is sour
Life is short but you're here to flower
Dream yourself along another day
Never miss opportunity
Don't be scared of what you cannot see
Your only fear is possibility
Never wonder what the hell went wrong
Your second chance may never come along




Soon you'll see
Soon you'll see
Soon you'll see
Soon you'll see

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Q&A with Derick Thompson of Strive

Strive has been compared to that of U2 and Switchfoot with their inspirational lyrics and The Fray with their piano pop-rock sound. You can hear a bit of Josh Groban in singer Derick Thompson's vocals as well. Fire, Strive's first global release, is a solid album, both lyrically and musically. First single "Smallest Things," has already been gaining much attention globally while four additional songs from the album have been licensed for various MTV and E! shows.

Derick was nice enough to chat with me just a week after the release of Fire. He filled me in on how the band began, their global efforts on teaching AIDS awareness through rock concerts throughout Russia as well as the meaning behind many of their songs. While they won't be touring for some time, they welcome fans to check out their songs and chat with them on their Website.

To listen to Derick talk about the history of the band, their music and latest album, Fire, click here. To learn more about the music writing process, being ranked No. 14 on CCM's top 100 artists and a very personal, in-depth description of his favorite song on the album, listen here and feel free to read the full Q&A below.

How did Strive get started?
Strive started back in 2000. It originated from a few bands I’d been in high school and wanted to carry on into my college experience. So I showed up at Wheaton College in 2000, met some other musicians and decided that we should form a band and called is Strive. That was the initiation. We played a lot of shows around the Chicago area where Wheaton is during our years there. During our junior year we took Strive to Russia on a tour to do AIDS awareness rock concerts where we went into clubs and schools and festivals and talked about AIDS education, basically the facts about the disease, HIV and AIDS.

That stemmed out of Bono visiting Wheaton College on his “Heart of America” tour talking about Africa. That spurred us to want to get involved in the crisis globally. I grew up in Russia and had contacts there so we decided to go to Russia instead of Africa to get in before it turned into the situation that’s happened in Africa. That was pretty monumental for the band; as far as just gelling it together and making us feel like this is something that we feel really called to and that we can have an impact, not just with the music, but with what we were able to do with people who love God and love giving back, and trying to make the world a better place for everybody.

It’s definitely something that forms who we are as a group, just the way I approach songwriting and the band in general, because we’ve had the experience of going through a great education and developing a global perspective. For me specifically, I grew up overseas, I spent five years in Russia as a kid in my teen years, which definitely formed who I was. To bring more of an immigrated faith and learning perspective to that, and then to meet like minded people was a huge opportunity and definitely was the basis for where Strive has developed and gone.

You said your international experience had a big impact on your writing; did this influence your latest album Fire?
It did. [Fire] has this general, more social minded [impact] than some of the stuff we’ve done in the past. We’ve done five full-length records and a few EP’s. Then we went through this phase where we did this rock opera on life of Christ and geared everything around Christ and spiritual stuff and realized we were limiting ourselves. We wrote that project to bring Christ to people who hadn’t heard about him and we realized we were pigeonholing ourselves from reaching that demographic because it was so overtly Christian that it wasn’t even given a chance. We were reaching the church, which was great, but it wasn’t what we felt called to do. That transition happened in 2005, when we went to Brazil on tour with that project. We realized we were having a much larger impact playing other songs than just being an American rock band in this non-profit that was doing a project on the life of Christ.

The stuff that spun out of that was this desire to write an album like Fire, that talked of things like, what does it mean to live a life in the knowledge that God saved you or that he created the world for us? And that he gave us things like sunrises and coffee with friends. The concepts like that spun out the song, “Smallest Things,” which is our first single off the record. That is just reminding ourselves that we have so many great things in our lives and ultimately we’re called to, because of that, share it with others and love other people and serve them. That is a set theme throughout the record. After eight years of being together and writing a lot of songs and seeing a lot of things, I really feel like this album best articulates where I’ve been personally, by God and the circumstances. It definitely has that gear to it.

I know you’ve been compared to Switchfoot and The Fray with your piano playing and U2 with the positive messages. How would you describe your music?
I would say its melodic, piano, pop-rock. In general, it’s just authentic music that to us, is what we like to listen to and hear. The lyrical content and the melodies we choose are very positive and bright for the most part. So when people listen to us I think they’ll walk away feeling uplifted or positive about something or they’ll take away a thought, like, “I really hadn’t looked at life that way before.” But, in that, whether it’s somebody who has a spiritual background in the church or an atheist, they can communicate on that level. There are some simple truths that run through the world and just the way things work. I think everyone can feel love and appreciate nature and beauty and grace and salvation, regardless of where they find it.

We hope that the music speaks, that it’s evident to people that there is something more to who we are. I feel like as people search and discover more who Strive is and get to know myself and the other people that are involved with us that Christ’s name will be great through what we’ve done, even though it’s not worship music. It’s not like, “God saved you.” We definitely get, “Why isn’t there more spiritual, overt lyrics about Christ saves you?” my response is that Christ came and he told stories; he didn’t beat people over the head with a stick. He was more eloquent and graceful; he was an artist, he was a poet, he was a storyteller. When I embody Christ the best in my music, that’s when I’m reflecting in the songs that I’m writing, seeing the world through his eyes and through the relationship I have with him.

Your lyrics are very positive and uplifting and the music industry today doesn’t always embrace that. How are you hoping to stick around and make that impact into the music industry?
Well, because we decided on the front end of this disc with our partnership with GoDigital Records that we were going to, right from the start, be in both spheres — CCM and mainstream — we’ve been able to do that pretty effectively. We’re getting spun on Christian stations and mainstream stations. There really isn’t going to be a crossover for Strive, I feel like we already are a crossover. It helps that we never had huge success in either realm; it was more on the indie plane with our previous discs so there’s not as much, “This is who Strive is, now they’re reinventing themselves.” It’s more like, this is the first entry into the more commercialized realm of the music industry.

Your current single, “Smallest Things,” has been downloaded all over the world. Did you ever imagine it having so much success?
We worked really, really hard to develop indie marketing tools, so that was one of the reasons we were identified by GoDigital Records, because we were doing it all ourselves. I had been working for a company that does Internet marketing and that kind of built a platform to market Strive on this Internet platform and it worked really well to deliver the music to radio stations and other media around the world. Basically, we added some extra momentum to that with GoDigital and then pushed out the new single through the strategy that I developed before for Strive and it came back five times as successful thus far, and that’s just the beginning. I thought it was going to work really well. It’s not a surprise, as to what’s happening initially because we’re doing it very intentionally, as far as getting it out at the grassroots level of radio and media instead of just taking it to only the main watering hole. We’re bringing it to the door via email and other Internet communication tools.

Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written, or one that’s stuck out as being more meaningful to you?
Well, I feel like the title track for the album, “Fire,” is a pretty strong song conceptually and lyrically for the disc. It’s kind of the under theme of love for the whole album. There are a lot of songs that deal with love, specifically for this disc, a lot of those songs come out of the relationship that I have with my wife who I met when we were on tour for the first time in Brazil. A lot of emotion comes out when you first get married and in your relationship. There are some different concepts and perspectives about what I’ve learned about love and I felt like this album is a great way to communicate that. I think for society in general, what better way to connect with people then talking about relationships? Because everybody has them in one way or another.

When I wrote this song, which basically talks about the way sex should be in marriage — the way I feel like God as the creator intended it to be — there was some initial reaction from my circle of friends and family saying, “I don’t know if you should be singing about that.” There’s nothing overtly sexual about the song. It talks about having intimacy and creating the mood to experience the joy of sex. To me, this song is my effort to paint a picture for culture in general and we wrote it so that it would be pushed into the mainstream. It’s our fourth single, so to say, “It’s cool and its right and sex is better in the context of marriage where it was created to be shared.” Instead of the cultural thing, which says, “Good sex is meeting a stranger and having sex with them or premarital sex with boyfriends or girlfriends.” I think for the church, people that are married and agree with that sentiment, it’s kind of a reminder to them that sex is what makes a marriage strong. And that we have to place importance and speak honestly about things like, “Yeah, you should love your wife and your husband and you should share your gift of sex with them.”

I think the other angle that the song talks about is, not to promote abstinence, but to reinforce the concept for kids and people who are looking at sex. That even rock bands and people that are maybe capable of misusing and abusing sex that it is actually cooler and more right to wait for marriage and find somebody that you want to spend your life with to share that with because it’s going to be better. I can speak honestly; I had sex before marriage so I’m not this naïve kid that is like, “Well sex is so much better when you’re married.” I had it in both spheres. So, I understand both sides of it and I can honestly say, not being on a soap box trying to push an agenda, it’s just better. I feel like, as a believer, I need to use the life experiences that I have in every area to communicate truth. I hope this album, and that song in particular talks to that.

A lot of songs you get to know the songwriter. Do you ever hold back because it’s too personal?
My songwriting process is, normally I’ll sit down and the music will spill out of me. Usually it only takes a half an hour to hour to write the music for a song. I feel it’s an inspired act for me. Normally I have an idea about what I want to write about. I’ll record the music and then just start writing lyrics. In general, it comes together authentically. To me, there needs to be some rhyme and good form for the track, but I don’t really think through, “Is this going to be too personal for me,” or “Is this going to share something” or even try to be overtly, “I want them to take this away from song.” Instead, I try to be a conduit to my experience and to show the gift that God has given to me. It’s not me manufacturing, but more me communicating the truth. That’s the way I write, not thinking it through too much.

I find a lot of inspiration in reading, literature, stories, and things like that. If you look at the song, “Fire” that’s kind of a painting of Adam and Eve’s first night together. There’s a lyric in there, “I was taken, you were taken,” conceptualizing in the biblical story, he was taken out of man. I think people who have read the same things I have, especially scripture, they’ll see a lot of, maybe it’s not overtly Christian stuff, but the concepts that are there and some of the nuances of lyrics, I’m falling back on a lot of theological and spiritual truth that I have from my upbringing and studying and life experience.

Your song “On Our Way” seems like there is so much meaning behind it. I know you said it was sparked by a conversation you had with a friend. What were you thinking when writing it?
I have a really close friend, Rich from Zimbabwe, and he went to Wheaton and was actually part of the band at different points as the bassist. He and I, originally when Bono came to Wheaton’s campus, we talked about going to Zimbabwe and then it transpired for us to go to Russia instead. The thought has always been, in the band, that we should keep it close to our hearts that we need to be doing something in Africa, at least use it as an example to keep us accountable for compassion and realizing that the world goes far beyond our little suburbs here in Chicago. “On Our Way” was the peak of the conversation where he’s considering going back to Africa to be part of some social issues. His father works for USAID over there so we have a lot of information coming in. We were talking about how sometimes the Western world approaches countries that needs assistance as a benevolent dictator almost. As a rich person that says, “I can help you, but here are the strings you have to jump through and then pay it back.” Sometimes we’ll come along as brothers and sisters that say, “We’re not so different. You’re facing things that are difficult, we are too. It might look different, but ultimately we are the same.”

“On Our Way” talks about that second approach, which says, “Together we can do something.” The change that happens with that interaction is much more lasting and impactful because both sides have a big buy in and both sides benefit from it tremendously. That’s what Strive has committed to as a band and that’s what we did in Russia. We have some plans, once Rich gets over there, to do a long-term partnership with him in Zimbabwe, hopefully if the political situation settles down a little bit, if he can even get into his country. At this point he can’t even go back. That’s what that song is about for Africa, but really for the whole world.

You’ve accomplished so much as an independent band. You were ranked No. 14 on CCM’s top 100 artists. How did that come about?
I don’t know honestly about that ranking. I feel like we had a pretty strong presence on their MyCCM site, when it first started and they featured us and some of the editors really liked us, I guess. That was right when we had recorded the EP that got us signed to GoDigital. We had started some Internet marketing. I feel like Strive, because it hasn’t been a big name, we’re kind of like that guy in the back room that has a lot of potential, but hasn’t been in the spotlight yet. A few people in the industry still look for those kinds of bands. I think that’s probably how we made it on that list. GoDigital is definitely a visionary as far as identifying some unique artists and strategies to sell music. Our publicist, Rick Hoganson, he is too, just being willing to jump on our project and be part of what we do. We just have a great team and it’s awesome that that’s happening and will continue to happen I think.

What’s your advice to upcoming independent bands? What have you learned?
If you look at most of the successful bands that are out there, it could take, easy 10 years to get into the main core of your career. So you better have some other things that you’re doing, while you’re doing your music because it’s not like it’s easy to be an independent artist or a major artist for that matter at the moment. There is not as much money coming in through record sales, but there are other revenue streams, marketing, advertising, things like that that bands can tap into.

For me, right now, even with what we’re doing, I’m part of church plant that’s happening in the Chicago area as the creative arts pastor. I’m doing that full time alongside with what I’m doing with Strive. To me, I have new inspiration for songs; I’m more creative when I am doing the stuff for Strive, I have more relationships and connections, there’s more depth to just seeing things and understanding. And then there’s accountability. I think all those elements are really important for independent artists and new artists, just to continually live life. Don’t fit into a bubble, that “This is all that matters to me. If I only focus on this, then I’ll be successful” because that’s not normally how it happens. If you’re anything like me, it’ll drive you insane just to have that to focus on. We love to be doing our art and if you’re not making any money doing it and you’re working a dead-end job, life can just stand still and it’ll pass you by if it never happens big time for you.

Do you have a favorite place you’ve played?
Brazil is definitely the best place to play. Just in general, I’m in love with Brazil as a country; it’s beautiful, the people are authentic and friendly and loving and interesting as a culture and a society, it’s progressing extremely fast. Their taste for music is constantly expanding. We just found when we were there, they resonated with us and we resonated with them. I’ve been able to learn Brazilian Portuguese fairly well. I think long-term; Brazil is a place that Strive will tour a ton in because we see the opportunity for a major impact, not just socially but spiritually as well. It’s just an opportunity to live an authentic, Christ-like life down there.

What do you feel makes Strive different from other bands out there?
I think the unique aspect of Strive is who I am, what my life experience is, how I’m able to communicate that through the medium of music and songwriting and performance and art in general. That is what makes every band unique, the people that make it up. Will Puth is the lead guitarist for Strive. He is just a really dynamic, spiritual and mature guy. He has an interaction of our music and what he’s able to bring, he’s the other main creative element to our sound. I feel like when that happens between individuals, specifically in Strive, makes us who we are. It’s not so much that we’re not better than this other band or not. I feel that we’re unique and people will either resonate with that and resonate with the lyrics and the melodies that come from my heart and my mouth or they won’t. That’s how I like to look at things and encourage people to give us a chance. You’ll either love it or not love it and either is fine, but we appreciate having the opportunity to reach listeners.

For more on Strive, be sure to check out their Website.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Song of the Week: "You Are The Best Thing"

I received an email this week that Ray LaMontagne's video for "You Are The Best Thing" premiered on Amazon's homepage, so I decided to check it out. I love it! It's one of those songs that a music video only accentuates the beauty of the lyrics and meaning behind it. Lately, I've been listening to various jazz tunes, and with the horns featured throughout the song and light drum beat encompassing Ray's soulful lyrics, it's a song that I've can't help but listen to over and over again.

You can view the video here. Let me know what you think! If you like what you hear, check out his MySpace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Amy Regan

From the second her voice introduces first track on her EP, Amy Regan catches the listener's attention. Her EP, And Then There Is This, is the perfect compilation of soft ballads and soulful songs. While at times Regan's voice is reminiscent to that of angelic Priscilla Ahn, she most certainly has a flavor of her own.

New York singer-songwriter Regan began classical vocal training when she was just 11-years-old and her most recent release showcases her dynamic versatility. From edgy track "Everybody Needs Somewhere To Go" to jazzy number "Nighttime Bird," Regan's six-track EP is rich and refreshing.

The light guitar strumming in the beginning of first song, "Everybody Needs Somewhere To Go" soon speeds up to become quite the interesting storyline. Lyrics like "I'm too quick for my own tricks/'Cause I left him at nine, found another by six/I said I'd try him just for kicks/But then I'm cravin' him like an addict needs a fix" leaves the listener curious and asking for more. While she may be classically trained, it is no doubt that Regan's vocal ability stretches among many genres.

"So In Love" starts off with acoustic guitar as Regan's soft singing tie the musical accompaniment and vocals together ever so gingerly. The ballad talks of a couple in love who seem "better off as friends with some small mistakes to hide." A heartfelt song, you feel the pain and confusion throughout Regan's singing. "So In Love" segues fittingly into "Carry On," a more upbeat song with its fast drumbeat, while Regan seems to be questioning the world around her as well as a past relationship.

Possibly the strongest, most diverse track on the EP is "Nighttime Bird" — an incredibly jazzy Ella Fitzgerald-esque number that takes the listener back in time. Featuring piano, light percussion and vocals, "Nighttime Bird" sounds like it could easily fit in at a speakeasy or jazz club in the 1900s. While we're well into the 21st century, Amy Regan has that classic spark that survives the test of time.

For more on Amy, check her out on MySpace or her Web site and be sure to catch a show of hers, she'll be playing many New York gigs in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Save the Date: Saturday, November 8

I've covered shows at numerous venues throughout New York and New Jersey, never really in search for the perfect venue, more so in finding the perfect band — the new, next big thing. Along the way, however, there are certain locations that feel more like my home away from home and this past year it has definitely been Maxwell's in Hoboken. I've witnessed so many great acts there and interviewed some amazing artists as well, including my favorite band throughout most of high school, The Ataris.

So what better way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of You Sing, I Write and tie in three birthdays — myself and two close friends — than spending a night out enjoying live music at my favorite concert venue? I'm still working out the details, but I'm hoping to set up a band line-up by Friday to book the back room of Maxwell's so if you or a band you know is interested in a night of fun and want to play, hit me up! Feel free to leave me a comment on the blog or E-mail Me!

As you can tell, my weekly blog schedule is not going exactly according to plan this week, but next week will be more promising. I have about 10 minutes more of an interview with piano pop/rock band Strive to finish transcribing and post, but I'm putting that on hold to prepare for my interview with frontman Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind tomorrow afternoon! Feel free to email me or leave me comments on anything you might want to know!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Artist of the Week: Josh Charles

I stumbled upon Josh Charles on MySpace last week and was incredibly impressed with what I heard. His music is reminiscent to the Motown classics with solid, jazzy horn features and piano interludes while his soulful voice and lyrics blend well into the structure of each song. In fact, you can hear the influences of Ray Charles, James Booker and Sam Cooke in some of his songs, no doubt major inspirations to Josh himself. A review on his EPK described his music as "timeless songs that have a classic but modern sound" and I couldn't agree more.

Take his first single"Pickin' Up the Pieces" — a jazzy number that starts off with simple guitar strumming before horns come in, taking you back in time. Josh then begins singing, his voice segueing perfectly into the musical accompaniment throughout the song. Possibly the catchiest track on his EP, it's one that is sure to stay stuck in your head.

"It Ain't Easy" is a soulful ballad with musical accompaniment taking the listener back to the Motown era of the 1960s. The piano-based song is a bit slower than "Pickin' Up the Pieces," but shows Josh's versatility. Like many Motown songs from back in the day, "It Ain't Easy" seems to be the story of love lost. With his moving lyrics accentuated by his saddened vocals, "Try to keep my heart beating from night until day/Wish I could be sleeping, sleeping the pain away/Find myself pacing, all over town/I find myself facing living and dying without you around," Josh exemplifies the heartbreaking story throughout the song.

While all the tracks on his MySpace deserve a good listen, one song you should be sure to check out is "Love, Work and Money." An edgier, more fast-paced track, this song will find you tapping your feet along and getting ready to press that repeat button to listen to it all over again.

Whether you're into the slower ballads or his faster tracks, Josh Charles' music is timeless and he is someone this ever-changing music industry needs to pay more attention to. Take a listen, I think you'll dig it.

For more on Josh Charles, visit his Web site and catch a show when he's in town! He'll be playing a few in New York in the upcoming weeks so if you like him, check him out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

You Sing, I Write Invades the Blogosphere

I'm psyched to report that Paste Magazine's new Local:NYC blog has You Sing, I Write featured as a local blog they trust! You can check it out here. Filter will be featuring my blog soon too, I'll let you know about that as soon as it's up! In the meantime, I've added my own Blogroll of different blogs I read, mostly music related but there are some other interesting non-music blogs in there as well. You can check that out on the right side of the page, under the archives section.

In addition to the new band of the week feature each week, I'm trying to work out a schedule to stick to so you know what's coming each day. Here's my tentative schedule, let me know what you think or if you have any suggestions of topics to cover.

Monday: Band of the Week/Artist of the Week
Tuesday: Q&A Tuesday (I like the rhyme to it . . . lame, I know). Interviews from me or random, intriguing interviews I find.
Wednesday/Thursday: Concert reviews/album reviews/other music news
Friday: Song of the Week
Saturday: Blast from the Past — reviews/interviews/articles I've previously written. I've gotten a lot of good feedback from featuring some of my earlier writing samples so I think I want to keep this going. However, if you get bored of this let me know!
Sunday: Whatever else I find blog worthy.

I also wanted to congratulate Caitlin from Vernon, New Jersey, for winning the All-American Rejects contest! You have an autographed mug from AAR headed your way, so be sure to check the mail! Below are her answers to my questions.

1.) If you could ask the All-American Rejects one question, what would it be?
I would ask them, "You've made 2 albums and are in the process of releasing a third. In the editing process, which song did you hate taking off any of those records and why?

2.) What's your favorite AAR song and why?
My favorite song by them is "Dance Inside." This is because it is different from any of their songs on Move Along or their self-titled album. It can be interpreted as sexual or passionate, and the lyrics paint a really good picture of a couple in love. It's a beautiful song.

3.) If you could spend the day with AAR, what would you do?
I would make sure they relaxed somewhere . . . my house, their tour bus . . . wherever. I feel like they never really get much of a break. I would love to treat them, like give them ice cream and lots of junk food. (And in Mike's case, Dr. Pepper.) We could watch movies, hang out, goof off . . . I would love to get to know them on a personal level.

I'm hoping to have more contests in the future, so be sure to check back!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Song of the Week: "Semi-Charmed Life"

I am so excited to report that I'll be interviewing lead singer Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind next week! In early 2009 they'll be releasing their first album in over five years, so I'll be sure to find out all the details for you. While refreshing myself with their music, I'm amazed that "Semi-Charmed Life" was released over 11 years ago. It seems like just yesterday I was listening to it on the radio! Feel free to E-mail me questions you may have for him or leave comments of things you want to know.

Be sure to check back within the next week because I have some more pretty awesome interviews to post. I chatted with lead singer of piano pop/rock band Strive as well as singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones so those transcriptions and audio will be posted soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Album Review From the Archives: Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds"

I remember getting a lot of criticism for this review, specifically for giving Justin Timberlake a B+ when everyone else thought it deserved better. In actuality, B+ is a pretty decent rating for any album review. I really did like the album at the time, just didn't find it A worthy. Let me know what you think! Feel free to read below for yet another blast from my writing past.

No More Bubblegum
With high expectations, Justin almost fully delivers

'N Sync who? Justin Timberlake, formerly known for being a member of boy band 'N Sync, has finally established himself as a talented solo artist with his sophomore solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Timberlake's album has had high expectations from everywhere — comparisons have been made to both Michael Jackson and Prince.

Although he hasn't reached that level just yet, the new album is still impressive. While each song is completely different from the next, they flow into each other smoothly. His current hit single, "Sexy Back," is the second song on the album, segueing nicely from the first track, "FutureSex/LoveSound."

Many of the tracks have interludes after each song. "What Goes Around" is comparable to his previous single, "Cry Me a River," while this interlude and many of the others portray Timberlake's slower rap style. "Chop Me Up" has a slow, rap feel and features Timbaland and Three 6 Mafia. "Losing My Way" sounds similar to a gospel song. Many of his tracks feature Timberlake's high falsetto singing range, such as "Damn Girl" and "My Love." Admist all the club anthems are mellow soul ballads, such as "Until the End of Time."

Timberlake has moved on from the teeny-bopper icon that he used to be and this album portrays how much of an all-around artist he is.

Album: FutureSex/LoveSounds
Label: Def Jam
Sounds Like: mix of urban, rap, club, R&B, pop and gospel
Best Songs: "SexyBack," "My Love," "Losing My Way"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blast From the Past: Gavin DeGraw Plays Rutgers University - circa 2004

Though the concert was nearly four years ago, it's one of those nights that I remember like it was yesterday. I anxiously anticipated this concert for weeks, telling my editor at the time, Monica Rozenfeld (you can check out her blog here), that I wanted to cover the show for our college paper, The Daily Targum. True to her word, Monica hooked me up with a press pass for Gavin DeGraw's show that semester.

I had gone to plenty of concerts before, being the concert junkie that I am — always the first to find out about an artist coming to town and constantly informing and recruiting friends to attend shows with me. But, I had never "covered" a concert. Sure, I had attended various college events and meetings and wrote about them, but it never occurred to me to catch a show and write about it — until now.

The perfect explanation of this epiphany is similar to that of the movie Almost Famous and it's main character, student journalist Will. He just knew music reporting was what he wanted to do for a living, despite his mother's wishes for him to become a lawyer. Well, I didn't go on tour with Gavin, but that experience — standing front row of the concert, notepad and pen in one hand, camera in the other capturing the show — made me realize that this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

Below you can read my first-ever concert review. I know the first few "newsy" paragraphs are a bit boring, but I was writing a news story for the paper. I'd like to think my writing has gotten better and more intriguing over the years, though. I hope you think that as well! And, as you can tell from my very brief quote from Gavin, my interviews have gotten much better also.

Singer, heartthrob DeGraw croons into college girls' hearts

Hundreds of students anxiously waited outside the Busch Campus Center's Multipurpose Room Friday night for the long-awaited Gavin DeGraw concert sponsored by the Rutgers College Program Council. With a crowd of more than 400 students, excitement was in the air, and students patiently waited for the concert to begin.

Lori Smith, assistant director of Rutgers College Student Leadership, Involvement and Programs and advisor for RCPC music committee, said the concert was a part of a variety of music they try to sponsor all year long. Previously this year, RCPC sponsored many different acts including folk, jazz, hip-hop and punk. Next semester, RCPC plans to feature gospel and retro music and will also find three acts for RutgersFest.

Smith said many people expressed interest in having DeGraw come to the University, and they did what they could to get him here. "I hope students have a good time tonight and enjoy the concert and feel excited that Rutgers is bringing cutting-edge stuff here," Smith said.

Rutgers College senior Michael Worthington, vice president of RCPC music, explained the group decided to bring DeGraw here because, "People definitely knew his music through his theme song on "One Tree Hill," his music video and being at the Thanksgiving Day parade. We saw him as a rising star." Worthington said tickets sold out in a day-and-a-half.

University College junior Rone Alonzo, RCPC music chair committee member, said that the group started planning the event two to three months ago. Alonzo said he was impressed with students' reaction to the concert and that RCPC received a lot of e-mails asking about the concert. He said that he was looking forward to "a very relaxed concert with good music" and said there was a great turnout with DeGraw being the last concert of the semester.

Christina Krupinski, a Rutgers College sophomore and staff member for the event, said this was one of the better concerts this semester. "The buzz is pretty big tonight," Krupinski said.

Worthington said that due to some late arrivals, the show started 40 minutes late. But fortunately, all groups involved - security, facilities, parking and transportation, and the student center operations - were understanding and worked with RCPC throughout the night, he said.

Opening Act from New Jersey Chris Batten and the Woods took the stage around 10 p.m. to an excited crowd, playing a 40-minute set including some songs from their albums, the 1960 song "Shake" and a Christmas song. The crowd showed much enthusiasm toward the rock 'n' roll band, singing along, dancing and clapping to various songs while Chris Batten, singer of the four-member band told the crowd, "Please do not be afraid to dance tonight."

Many students were impressed with the opening act. "I really enjoyed the opening artist. They had a really original sound. Out of all the concerts I've seen, they were the best opening act," said Jess Frey, a Douglass College sophomore.

Shortly after 11 p.m., Gavin DeGraw arrived on stage to a crowd chanting, "Gavin, Gavin," and some screaming, "I love you Gavin!" DeGraw and his band performed many songs for the next hour from his album "Chariot." Playing for an hour, some of his songs included "Just Friends," "Crush," "Follow Through," "Chemical Party," "Belief," "Nice to Meet You Anyway" and the obvious crowd favorite "I Don't Wanna Be," theme song from WB show "One Tree Hill."

DeGraw was quite the crowd pleaser, with audience members singing aloud to all of his songs and going crazy when he entered the crowd to shake hands, thanking students for attending the concert. His performance concluded with his song, "Chariot," and he informed all who attended he would sign autographs right outside the room after the show.

Douglass College sophomore Celine Tardy, who attended the concert, said of DeGraw, "He's a really good performer live and has an amazing voice. He really gets in touch with the audience when he sings." She said she went to the concert because she really enjoys his music.

Tina Madan, a Rutgers College first-year student, attended the concert with some friends and said DeGraw is "an artist that has a lot of soul."

"The concert really united many different kinds of people that were there to enjoy his music," said Ally Tseng, a Douglass College sophomore.

Batten, the lead singer of the opening act said he really enjoyed playing Friday night. "It was great, a really amazing crowd. We really appreciated [the audience]. They were one of the best audience's we've played for. It was nice to open up for a band that's actually good." This is the second time Chris Batten and the Woods played at the University, the only college they have played at. Batten said the group previously performed at the University last year for Livingston College's Springfest.

And after spending the evening performing at Jingle Ball, Gavin DeGraw came to the University and stayed until 1 a.m. signing autographs, where he said he enjoyed playing at the University. "I had a great time. It's as good as the people think it is," Degraw said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Artist Profile: Kanye West

It seems only fitting to post my profile on Kanye West this week, with all the press he's been getting from his most recent escapade — assaulting paparazzi at a Los Angeles airport. Despite the increasingly egotistical persona West has developed over the years, his hits keep getting bigger, his records continue to surpass opponents speculations and no one can deny that his hooks are mind-boggling catchy. Whether he's rapping about Jesus, throwing tantrums at awards shows or tossing insults at his fellow musicians, there is no doubt about it — West is and stays the headline.

As promised earlier this week, below is my first artist profile written in college. While the text seems a bit outdated, talking about previous albums, I think Kanye's true character comes out in the quotes. I combined some of the one-sentence paragraphs because on Blogger it just doesn't read well broken up so short. For my first artist profile it's not too bad, is it? Be honest, I can take criticism! Thanks for reading.

Hip-hop Star Rises to the Top

Considered one of the hottest newcomers in hip-hop, Kanye West has been around longer than he has let on. As far back as 1997 West began co-producing tracks for artists when he was just 20. He received his big break when working in the background with some of hip-hops most famous names, ranging from Jay-Z to Ludacris and Alicia Keys as a lyricist and songwriter.

Inspired by the Jackson 5, the Temptations, and even the Doors on many of his works, West created the, "soulful yet gritty sound behind Jay's best tracks that his imitators are still trying to copy today," according to, his record company's Web site. After his success in helping other artists, West decided it was time to make his own record. However, those West worked with were skeptical about letting him rap on his own album. In fact, many thought the idea was absurd.

"Kanye wore a pink shirt with the collar sticking up and Gucci loafers," said Damon Dash, a Roc-A-Fella CEO, in an August 25, 2005, Time article. "It was obvious we were not from the same place or cut from the same cloth."

West was not the typical rapper. He grew up in suburban Chicago. Since he did not go along with the typical "rap" image, his label did not know how to market him. "It was a strike against me that I didn't wear baggy jeans and jerseys and that I never hustled, never sold drugs," West said.

Regardless, West persevered and soon signed his first record deal.

West released his debut album "The College Dropout" in early 2004. His album debuted at the top of the charts, selling 440,000 copies in its first week. His first three singles, "Through the Wire," "All Falls Down," and "Jesus Walks," earned heavy airplay and critical recognition. "The College Dropout" was awarded a Grammy for Rap Album of the Year and his single, "Jesus Walks," won a Grammy also for Best Rap Song. The New York Times, Time Magazine, Blender, Rolling Stone, GQ, Spin, The Source, and XXL also named "Dropout" Album of the Year.

Now 28 years old, West has taken a giant leap into the forefront of the music industry. His new album, "Late Registration," has been ranked the No. 1 album in the country and is getting continuous raves.

What makes West different from other rap artists is the distinction of his music. "'Late Registration' addresses a litany of topics that range from the personal to the political and all that falls in between," said His current hit single, "Gold Digger," is a playful song in which West talks of girls who just want a man's money and, instead they should stand by working class men. This hit is accentuated by Ray Charles-inspired vocals from Jamie Foxx.

West's activist side is also portrayed on his album, "Late Registration." One track in specific, entitled "Crack Music" talks of the downfall of poor African-Americans from crack use. "Jesus Walks," his third single released on his debut album, is one example of the immense diversity of West's music and what differentiates him from other rappers. Such lyrics include, "To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers/Even the strippers/Jesus walks for them." Later in the song, West raps, "But if I talk about God, my records won't get played, Huh?"

West has brought a new type of hip-hop to the table for listeners to hear and appreciate everywhere.

"I'm trying to break radio, not make radio," West said. With any success, comes questionable actions as well. Perhaps one move that West was questioned on was hiring composer and producer, Jon Brion.

Brion is best known for his lush, quirky orchestral arrangements for Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and P.T. Anderson movies, Brian Hiatt wrote in his Rolling Stone article, "Kanye Evolves on 'Late.'" "The most obvious sign of West's quest for universal appeal was his genre-defying decision to hire Brion," Hiatt wrote.

Before West asked for his assistance, Brion had never worked on a hip-hop track. "Some people who hear about this assume it's just total madness," Brion said in Hiatt's article. "But why not make the attempt to bridge as many gaps as possible?"

And bridging gaps is what West has done. His new album is an example of his versatility. Working with such artists as vocalists Cam'ron, Brandy, the Game, Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, show that West is no typical hip-hop artist. With each new album release, West continues to grow as does his influence in the world of music.

During a talk one night with Brion, after spending hours in the studio polishing up his new album, West offers his hope for the music industry. "You know that saying, 'You can't be all things to all people?' Well, seriously, why not? I want to be all things to all people," West said.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Band of the Week: Southside Serenade

Since creating a MySpace for my blog (you can add me here if you haven't yet!) I've been getting tons of band requests. While not every band I accept catches my ear, quite often I am pleasantly surprised at some of the bands I do listen to. Similar to my "Song of the Week" post at the end of each week, I've decided to start a "Band of the Week" or "Artist of the Week" post in the beginning of each week. Whether it be a band I stumble across on MySpace or hear in a commercial, I'll feature a new band each week that I think deserves a listen.

This week's first "Band of the Week" is Florida-based band Southside Serenade. With vocals reminiscent to Dave Matthews and catchy, upbeat guitar playing recalling that of John Mayer, their music is sure to get stuck in your head after the first listen. "Ms Pristine," featured on their MySpace, is an example of one of these tracks. While the track is comparable to Dave Matthews, the faster musical accompaniment has the listener coming back for more.

"Troubled Premonition" is another strong song, featuring a solid drum and guitar interlude. Slower ballad "Birthday at the Beach," is a nice transition from some of the band's faster material, having that huddled around the campfire feel while playing acoustic guitar, or perhaps in Florida natives' Southside Serenade's case, more appropriately situated around a bonfire on the beach.

It seems that Southside Serenade plays gigs mostly in Florida for now, but after giving their MySpace a listen, I'm pretty sure the rest of the country won't be out of reach for too much longer. Take a listen and let me know what you think!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

College Reminiscing

This past week has continually reminded me of why I first decided to become a music writer. While preparing for an edit test, I began paging through various notes from journalism classes I had taken at Rutgers (still in disbelief that it's been over a year since I graduated). I came across one of the first music-related assignments I wrote in my junior year. I still remember the class, it was Professor Fitzpatrick's News Reporting and Writing and while my news writing wasn't the strongest, I took full advantage of writing feature and entertainment-related articles in his class, this specific assignment being no different. We were assigned to write a profile on whomever we wished — politician, entertainer, etc. — and I decided on my favorite artist at the time, Kanye West. When reading through my profile assignment I was thoroughly impressed by my research and could clearly see that even back then, well over two years ago, it was evident that becoming a music journalist was in my future.

Even before interning at MTV News or Rolling Stone, you can see in my earlier articles that this is what I excelled at and had passion for, despite not realizing it for myself at the time. I had always wanted to write thought-provoking, moving pieces as well and partly, I think this is why I love discovering and featuring new bands on my blog. In a way, by me writing about lesser known bands and getting readers interested in listening to a song or checking out their MySpace, I'm making a difference, even if it is in a very small way.

This week I've decided to roll back the clock and post some of my very first music-related articles. Whether it be my first artist profile on Kanye, first concert review or in-depth magazine writing assignment, I hope it gives you a little taste of how it all began and motivates me to keep pursing music writing when the career path isn't always clearly laid out for me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Song of the Week: "L’amoureuse"

The job description of a first lady typically does not include accomplished singer-songwriter or former model, however Carla Bruni has continued to make a name for herself in France and abroad as a musician. Her third release, after her last album anthology of poems composed into music, has received much positive press as of late. While my knowledge of the French language is close to nothing, you can't deny the beauty of "L'amoureuse" — her voice, the light guitar playing and string accompaniment throughout. Watch the video below and let me know what you think!

For more on Bruni, check out the video of her below explaining her interpretation and thoughts on certain poems chosen on her last album as well as the process of putting poetry to music (in English). If you like what you hear, be sure to pick up her latest release, Comme Si De Rien N’était (As if Nothing had Happened), a mix of French pop and folk.

For more on Carla Bruni, check her out on MySpace.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gavin DeGraw Serenades Fans Over the Makeup Counter of Macy's

The makeup section of Macy's department store is definitely not your typical concert venue. However, for 35-minutes Tuesday night it was for lucky New York Gavin DeGraw fans. Following a signing with DeGraw and Tommy Hilfiger on the second floor of Macy's Herald Square, fans were ushered outdoors to 34th Street to await entrance into DeGraw's 10 p.m. show.

Though it was a short set of seven songs, DeGraw's ongoing jokes and explanations of each song had the audience in constant laughter from the moment he walked onstage. DeGraw started off the night on piano with "Follow Through" from his debut album, Chariot. A strong, soulful song, his voice reverberated throughout the first floor of Macy's. Fans in the crowd enjoyed the intimate performance, one screaming, "I love you, Gavin!" to which he quickly responded, "I love you back. I don't know you, but I think it's gonna work."

The night featured a mix of DeGraw's older songs, such as breakout hit "I Don't Want To Be," as well as some newer material from his latest, self-titled album. Before introducing "Cheated On Me," he slyly asked the crowd, "Has anybody in the room falsely accused someone for cheating on you?" to which a few hands raised. He quickly retracted himself and sarcastically commented, "Then you're alone. Because that hasn't EVER happened to me." With lyrics "I'm a jealous guy/I hear people talk/And it isn't hard to believe/I think you cheated on me" for DeGraw, the song is pretty explicit. Who knew rock stars had insecurities?

Fans enjoyed requesting songs throughout DeGraw's set, one of which he sat down at the piano for a few minutes and admitted, "This is a great song, but I can't remember the opening line." Crowd favorite of the night seemed to be current guitar-driven radio hit, "In Love With a Girl." DeGraw ended the intimate set with the title track off his debut album, "Chariot." A slower jam, the song displayed his strong vocals. Complete with fitting piano accompaniment, the soulful and jazzy number had fans humming the tune as they exited the store.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last Call For the All-American Rejects Contest

Two weeks ago I presented you with a pretty cool contest, a chance to win an autographed mug from rockers the All-American Rejects. All you need to do is answer the questions below and the most creative submission wins! Hurry up because you only have until the end of the day Wednesday before I pick a winner and send the contestant's information to their publicist. The questions are below. Good luck!

What I need is for you to E-mail me or leave a comment on my blog with your name, the best way to contact you if you win (by email or phone) and an answer to ONE of the following three questions, your pick:

1.) If you could ask the All-American Rejects one question, what would it be?
2.) What's your favorite AAR song and why?
3.) If you could spend the day with AAR, what would you do?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

NFL Kickoff Concert Well Worth the Wait, Despite Sweltering Conditions

New Yorkers lined up in record numbers Thursday afternoon for their chance to see Usher, Keith Urban and Natasha Bedingfield perform for the NFL Kickoff concert in Columbus Circle, honoring last season's Superbowl champions, the New York Giants. Possibly the hottest day of the year, the high reaching over 90 degrees, concert staff kept the audience nearest to the stage hydrated, throwing water bottles into the crowd and splashing them with water. However, the nearly six hours spent standing while awaiting the show as the scorching sun beat down on concert attendants did take a toll on some, as two girls passed out in the area where I was standing.

Those that were lucky enough to get close to the stage received an engaging performance by all three performers, possibly most surprising to the crowd was country rocker Keith Urban. From my spot, most concertgoers were there to see Usher, but Urban and his band, made up of a keyboardist, bass, electric and acoustic guitarists, drummer and banjo players certainly awed and impressed.

"I want to give a huge thank you to everybody that got here real early. I wish we could play for hours," Urban said. "I've walked in this circle plenty of times and now we're just jammin' and having some fun." His high-energy, nearly 40-minute set gave New Yorkers a new appreciation for country music. From jumping onto a stage jutting out from the main stage while playing solid guitar riffs on "Where the Blacktop Ends" to running into the crowd, high-fiving fans while stopping at times to sing and play guitar during "You Look Good in My Shirt," I think most in attendance walked away as Keith Urban fans.

Usher, of course did not disappoint. His grand entrance — preceded by cheerleaders being flipped in the air before a smoke-filled stage — proved that he still has the stage presence, dance moves and smooth singing style that he is known for. Usher introduced the crowd to a few of his new hits, such as catchy opening song, "What's Your Name" off of latest album, Here I Stand, as well as played many of his older classics.

"Throughout the years you've been so supportive so I thought I'd start off with some songs you know," Usher told the crowd. "So if you know the words, sing along New York," he said before performing a medley of "Confessions Part II," "Burn" and "U Got It Bad." During his wardrobe changes a DJ kept the audience alive before Usher came back out to end the show with "Lovers and Friends," high-energy song "Yeah!" and current radio hit, "Love in This Club."

Natasha Bedingfield opened the show and played many of her radio hits and tracks off her latest album, Pocketful of Sunshine. Audience favorites seemed to be slower number, "Angel" as well as the Hills' theme song, "Unwritten." Prefacing "Unwritten" she told the audience that she's been waiting to sing the song in New York. "You guys inspire me by your strength. When there is tragedy you stay strong and come together and move on."

The rest of the afternoon was filled with appearances by NBC television stars such as Zack Levi from "Chuck" and Alison Sweeney as well as Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders introducing each performer. Mayor Bloomberg introduced the concert while video recaps of the 2007 New York Giants season leading up to their big Superbowl victory were shown, gearing up football fans for the 2008 season.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Song of the Week: "The Boys of Summer"

Despite Labor Day being the official or unofficial end of summer, depending on how you look at it, I can't help but feel like summer isn't over just yet. Maybe it's due to the fact that the past week has been in the upper 80s, today hitting 90 degrees! Nonetheless, I've just realized that I haven't posted my favorite summer song on the blog yet! I know this song was originally done by Don Henley (see video below).

But personally, I favor The Ataris' take on it. It brings me back to my high school days and those endless trips down the Jersey shore with the radio blasting and not a care in the world. Let me know which version you prefer.

Spending a few hours in the 90 degree heat today awaiting the NFL Kickoff Concert made me second guess the idea that summer is truly gone. I think we have a good few weeks left. (Positive thinking people!) Check back tomorrow for a full review from Usher, Keith Urban and Natasha Bedingfield's performance today. I'll most likely post it after it airs tomorrow night so I don't ruin the surprises for you when watching. You can watch highlights from the concert at 9 p.m. tomorrow on NBC! I'm excited to watch . . . curious to see if I'll be able to spot myself in the crowd. I had a pretty decent view of the stage so I'm hoping my photos from my phone came out well to post for you all!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Plushgun

With their catchy choruses and electronic beats, Plushgun is a new band soon to be on everyone's radar. I recently received a copy of their EP for review, a preview of what's to come on their debut full-length due out January 2009. Though it's only four songs, each has become ingrained in my head long after listening.

Opening track, "Just Impolite" was the first song written by Daniel Ingala in his Brooklyn apartment and then posted on MySpace, creating quite a buzz. (You can listen to "Just Impolite" here.) Eventually RagTag Productions heard some of his tunes and approached Ingala about using his music for their web-tv series, "We Need Girlfriends." Low and behold, everything spiraled from there. Plushgun hit #1 on's Alternative Rock channel, where music fans rate the music posted. Soon Ingala recruited band members to perform live shows and the rest, as they say, is history.

While "Just Impolite" tells the story of chasing a seemingly doomed relationship with lyrics "I've called you nine too many times/I'm not obsessed, just impolite" the upbeat music throughout the song makes you think otherwise. "14 Candles" is a bit slower, again the tale of a failed relationship as Ingala sings of isolation, despite the couple in the song still loving each other.

My favorite on the EP is "How We Roll." With biting lyrics and fitting musical accompaniment, this song epitomizes high school angst. Somewhat reminiscent to Bowling For Soup's popular hit "1985," Ingala sings about being outcasts throughout junior high and high school: "Hey cheerleaders, we're superior/We're only losers til we reach the end of senior year/We never comb our hair, our clothes are out of fashion . . . " It's one of those songs that you wonder, "Did he just say that?" before replaying the song over again to realize you heard each lyric correctly.

Though the EP had only four tracks there is much material and depth within each song to listen to. Be sure to check out Plushgun on MySpace if my brief review intrigued you and pick up their album when it hits shelves in January!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Q&A with Sam Sparro

Though he just released his debut album, Black & Gold in the U.S., Sam Sparro is becoming quite the musical sensation. With many of his singles topping the charts throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world, it's only time until the U.S. catches on. When listening to his music, comparisons to Prince abound and you can't help but dance along. His album encompasses much versatility, with hints of electrofunk, house, dance and soul. Hard to pin down into one genre, and a music lover himself, Sam's distinct tastes can be heard throughout the catchy tracks on Black & Gold.

The Australian singer-songwriter grew up singing gospel music in church. While he spends most of his time in between LA and London, he will be touring throughout Europe and Australia within the next few months. In a phone interview, Sam talked to me about his album, singing for Chaka Khan when he was younger and his upcoming plans, which includes collaborating with Lindsay Lohan on her next album. Be sure to watch his latest video for single, "21st Century Life" — a video Sam describes as being "really nutty and eccentric." (You can see that here.) And if you like that, check out his hilarious video for "Cottonmouth" below. Make sure you watch until the end! You'll get a good laugh, I promise.

To listen to the audio version of my interview with Sam, click here. Feel free to read it below and check him out on MySpace if you haven't yet!

Congratulations with all the success of your album. Is it overwhelming yet or are you still taking it a day at a time?
It’s nice to have a moment to collect my thoughts. I’ve been traveling so much. I’m back in LA now and it’s nice to be home to have a minute to take in all the crazy things that have happened this year. It’s been amazing.

Tell me about your album. Each song sounds entirely different from the previous one. Did you go into the studio having a concept for the album or an idea for what you wanted to come across?
Well, I listen to so many different types of music and I’m influenced by so much different stuff. I wanted the first album, at least, to really reflect that. I think it’s an album for the iPod generation where you don’t really listen to the whole album, you just kind of shuffle around. It definitely has that feeling to it, where all the songs are different and the influences are so far and wide.

What were your influences for the album?
I’m very interested in and influenced by late 70s to mid 80s electro and funk and disco and soul, electro-soul. And then I’m really interested in early 90s dance music and house. I’m into new wave, modern dance music and stuff like that. But, all with a very soulful twist.

What is your usual writing process like?
I don’t really have a formula for writing. Sometimes the music will come first if you’re working on a piece of music. Sometimes I’ll have something I want to write about and I’ll start writing lyrics. It doesn’t really ever happen in the same way, it’s always very different.

I read your song “Black & Gold” was written at a low-point in your life. Did you ever imagine that you’d make it to this point, have your album out?
I did. I always felt like I was meant to be really successful in music. So, I wrote that song when I was feeling like, “How come I’m not doing anything?” and “Why isn’t anything working out?” And ironically, that was the song that kind of propelled me and my career.

I love your song “Recycle It.” It’s such a fun song, how did it come to you?
That was just really back into dance and Parliament-Funkadelic. They could sing an eight-minute song about a hamburger and make it sound cool. It just seemed very time appropriate. We’re living in a time where we are questioning the way we live and trying to look for solutions to save the planet. I just thought it’d be fun to do a silly little ditty about recycling.

I really like your song “Pocket.” What were you thinking about when you wrote it?
My life had started to change already because I was recording the album, but “Black & Gold” had already become a big hit in Europe. I noticed people’s attitudes started to change and a lot of vampires started coming out of the woodwork. It’s a song about having people in your life that you can trust and also being a trustworthy and loyal friend.

You already have so much success in the UK, your singles are on the charts. What are your hopes for America?
I’ve always felt like my music would do really well in Europe. Success in America is not something that I’m expecting necessarily. For me, it’s just really nice to be here and be appreciated for the music. In England it’s gotten a bit distracted. People are more interested in who I’m hanging out with. Because it’s a bit more underground here, people are more interested in the music. People are writing about me in their blogs and people in LA know who I am and people in New York know who I am. I’m quite happy with that actually.

I read that you started a speakeasy night in LA — an underground music night with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. Can you tell me a little about that?
Well, my dad was renting a studio space in a friend’s loft downtown. It was this massive 5,000 square foot loft. David J, who is the bass player in Love and Rockets and Bauhaus, lived there as well. They wanted to start a night where people could come and play their music. It was free to get in, you could bring your own alcohol, and it was very low-key. And then it became [this] really thriving, really cool night. That was where I met Jesse Rogg who I collaborate with musically. It was just a really cool time of meeting new people and playing music without any kind of pressure.

Do you feel pressure now to fit into a specific genre?
I don’t feel any pressure to fit into any certain musical genre or stereotype. There is definitely a lot more pressure involved with my schedule [being] very hectic. I have a lot of things to deliver and to do all the time. It has definitely changed. That’s what happens when you become successful.

I read that Chaka Khan is quite at admirer of you. Have you worked with her at all?
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. I met her, a couple of times when I was quite young and I sang for her. She said, “Wow, you really have a good voice.” Recently she did an interview in the UK and someone said, “I hear you’re a big fan of Sam Sparro” and she’s like, “Who’s Sam Sparro?” So we don’t know each other, I met her casually about 15 years ago.

You’re working with Lindsay Lohan on her next album?
Yeah. We haven’t started working together yet, but we're hoping to do some stuff together. It’ll be quite danceable, electronically produced, it should be quite exciting. I’m really looking forward to it actually.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I’m doing a headlining tour of Europe and the UK. I’m going back to Australia to do some things, going to Japan, doing some writing and producing with other artists on some of my side projects and then I’m going to start working on the next album.

Do you have any ideas for your next album?
Yeah, it’s going to be quite electro with influences from gospel to classic rock. There’s going to be a lot more guitars on it.

Do you play all the instruments heard on your record?
Most of time I do. There are a couple of collaborations I did with other producers where they played a lot of the music, but most of the time I play and arrange everything. Sometimes they bring in live horns or bass or guitar, stuff like that.

What would you be doing right now if it wasn’t for the music?
Probably still waiting tables. [Laughs]. Yeah, not much.


Share your links easily.