Hot on the heels of last Friday’s release of Real, Lydia Loveless’ highly anticipated brand new album on Bloodshot Records, we spoke with the fiery alt-country singer-songwriter for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Loveless opened up about the songs on her new album, her lyrical evolution between releases, her approach to cover songs, and her thoughts on the IBM Selectric typewriter.
NoiseTrade: What can you tell us about the two songs from your new album Real (“Same to You” and “Longer”) appearing here on your NoiseTrade sampler?
Lydia Loveless: I think “Same to You” has more of a classic Lydia Loveless alt-country style, I suppose, with the classic feedback and crunch. Whereas “Longer” has a more subtle, layered approach that honors our love of pop music and harmony.
NT: For Real, you chose to work with producer Joe Viers again. What have you learned from him while working together on your last few releases and what went into choosing him again for your new album?
Loveless: I honestly learned work ethic from him. I used to really think of being in the studio as a chore where my opinion was unwelcome. Now, it’s my favorite place to be. He helps me really listen to the song and what it needs. He’s taught me to be confident and take risks. I really just felt like he belonged on this record to show how much we’ve grown together.
NT: You’ve contrasted the lyrics on your previous releases as being blunt and raw against the lyrics on your new album being honest and true. What do you see as the differences between those two lyrical approaches?
Loveless: I think I’ve just calmed down a lot and I was coming from a more heartfelt place. I’m a little more vulnerable on this record. Less desperate and demanding, I think.
NT: I love that you’ve included “Boy Crazy” from your EP of the same name on this sampler. How do you feel this beautifully fuzzy, in-and-out release fits within your catalog?
Loveless: It’s one of my favorites we do. I think that EP really marked our departure from genre confines. That particular song went through many changes stylistically, from blues to Jesus and Mary Chain before we settled on a poppy feedback version. Pop and feedback are two of my favorite things.
NT: Over the years you’ve recorded some incredible covers of songs by Prince, Kirsty MacColl, Elvis Costello, Echo and the Bunnymen, and others. What determines whether or not you’ll cover a song and how do you go about making them your own?
Loveless: It’s either really being able to relate to a song or really being able to make it my own. Sometimes, I just get stuck and want to channel someone’s energy for a bit.
NT: Finally, I’m a huge fan of the “odd facts found on Wikipedia pages” game and your page certainly qualifies. Can you expound upon the entry “Loveless is an avowed fan of the IBM Selectric typewriter”?
Loveless: Well, I own one, ha. I like them because they’re old and loud and clunky.
Letters to Cleo got the band back together and they’ve got new music on the horizon! In anticipation of their upcoming album, we talked to the band for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Lead singer Kay Hanley, guitarist Michael Eisenstein, and guitarist Greg McKenna detail the band’s reunion, their new songs, and the secret behind their Midas touch when it comes to cover songs.
NoiseTrade: First off, to what do we owe the honor of new Letter to Cleo music? What got the band back together?
Michael Eisenstein: Stacy was coming off of several years of heavy touring and we ran into each other at a Johnny Pilonsky show in LA last fall. He asked if we should get together and write with Kay. So we agreed to get together after the beginning of the year and give it a crack. Greg sent us some MP3s of guitar ideas he had and the first one became “Can’t Say.” We wrote that and “Hitch a Ride” that first day.
NoiseTrade: Once everyone got back into the studio, how was the vibe playing together again? Did it take a moment to kick back in or was it like riding a bike for you guys?
Kay Hanley: When someone mentioned that it had been 17 years since the band’s last recording session, I was really taken aback. Even though we were trading tapes back and forth with Greg in Boston, the process of writing and recording this batch of songs was so focused and easy. It seemed like we’d never stopped. I guess we all just speak the same language.
Greg McKenna: I remember listening to the iPhone takes of the initial writing session recorded on the west coast and just missing the camaraderie we had as a band. So the next writing session, we agreed that I should be there. It was a little spooky how easily we slipped back into writing as a group. But a nice kind of spooky!
Eisenstein: It was even easier than back in the day because we have all been doing so much other music for the last 15 years that the confidence level is so much higher. We didn’t feel like we needed to overthink anything or worry too much about any musical decisions. We would record a basic track pretty much right after the song was written with Stacy on drums, Kay singing, and me on electric guitar. It was a few runthroughs to get the arrangement down and then get a take. We would then send that to Greg and he did his overdubs in Boston. Then a month or so later, Greg came to LA and we got together and wrote the rest.
NT: What new songs are you most excited about unleashing on Letters to Cleo fans and playing live for them?
Hanley: There’s a song called “Back to Nebraska” which is probably the most personal and literal song I’ve ever written. I’m excited to play it because it’s the kind of warm, mid-tempo driver that Michael and Stacy are really great at. I’m nervous to play it because I will cry. “Four Leaf Clover” is going to be a blast, too. 100% Letters to Cleo, no striving for maturity.
Eisenstein: All five! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about our fans, it’s that just about every song is someone’s favorite. So I’m really excited to release them and play them all at every show and see what people respond to. But I think “Hitch a Ride” will be a live favorite when we start gigging.
NT: During your initial run in the ‘90s, the band played some pretty big tours with bands like Sponge and Our Lady Peace. What do you think will be some of the biggest differences between touring life then and when you guys hit the road in the fall?
McKenna: I think everyone has gotten so much better at performing. When we started, we were raw, enthusiastic and didn’t really know what we were doing. Everyone has gotten so much better as musicians and performers. That and earlier bed times.
Hanley: More airplanes, less Cracker Barrels.
Eisenstein: Well, even those tours were all clubs and some smaller theaters, so it won’t be too different. The biggest difference is that we won’t go out for a solid year and cover the county 2-3 times on a bus, as well as Canada and Europe. We will do short regional runs with long weekends here and there and fly and stay in nicer hotels.
NT: Finally, the band has always had a knack for releasing some incredible covers like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” The Cars’ “Dangerous Type,” Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind.” What do you think is the key to crafting a good cover song and do you guys have any new ones you’re working on?
Eisenstein: Thanks! I think the key to a great cover song is to have Kay Hanley sing it. In all seriousness, she’s the main reason those covers are great. She is able to take something like “I Want You To Want Me” which we didn’t change at all (other than the key) and make it her own despite the fact that the original is sung by one of the great rock voices of all time. I had an idea for a new cover the other day. I won’t say which song, but it’s a solo song by a former Beatle.
Hanley: What a nice thing Michael said! As I think back to the when and why of our cover song choices, I’m struck by the total lack of self-consciousness we had back then. I think we approached those songs with enough reverence to stay true to the source, enough balls to try and do it better, and enough humility to know when to quit.
McKenna: Along with Kay’s vocals, are the songs themselves. We were careful to choose great songs that we could do justice to. The real credit goes to the original songwriters that wrote such amazing songs!
To coincide with our streaming exclusive of Trent Dabbs’ new album The Optimist, we talked to the sonic storyteller and in-demand songwriter for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to hear Dabbs discuss the writing and recording of his tenth solo record, his collaborative partnership with Daniel Tashian, and his picks for a couple of favorite duo records.
NoiseTrade: The Optimist marks a creative milestone for you as it’s the tenth solo record of your career. What are some of the similarities and differences you hear between your newest album and your debut, Quite Often?
Trent Dabbs: The difference would be that my songwriting has been much more influenced by what I have learned from the greatest songwriters in the industry over the last decade. I’m a much happier person now and I like uptempo songs too. Ha.
NT: While you have been quite the collaborator throughout the years, you decided to work only with Daniel Tashian for The Optimist. What drove that decision to keep things tight for this album?
Dabbs: Daniel has always been one of my favorite writes in town. It’s always unashamed, fun, and mostly 70s influenced sonically. I thought it would give the songs more of a cohesive sound rather than scattered with many different writers. Also, I hadn’t ever tried that type of approach to writing and recording before.
NT: What song on The Optimist did you have the hardest time writing or feeling like it was “finished”?
Dabbs: “Optimist” was the hardest song to write for sure. We had maybe three versions of that song and I just wanted the most natural sounding version. It started as a stripped down, tremolo heavy (kinda “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M. vibe) and then we added drums and I sang it in a few different keys. Once I heard the playback on the final chorus, I was sold.
NT: Once you got into the studio, it only took about a week to record the whole album. To what do you attribute the quick pace of the recording sessions?
Dabbs: While we recorded I basically tried channeling the time I played my first bar chord as a kid. I want to feel everything and experience everything while recording. The impulses are usually right when you stop thinking and start feeling the song as you write. We would just bring random sketches and riff until we landed on some serious inspo. Also, I told myself that whatever came about was what we would record and use because that was meant to happen.
NT: Consequence of Sound described your new single “Closing Time” as having “bubbling bass and sashaying guitars.” Do you feel those slick, soulful elements have always been ingrained into the DNA of your songwriting?
Dabbs: Soulful, yes, slick, no. I think everything I sing when it’s layered sounds more clean and I just can’t get around that. I’ve stopped trying to sound like anyone other than myself over the last decade. That being said, all of my heroes are soulful and I think that has always been in my DNA.
NT: Finally, seeing as you worked so closely with Tashian for The Optimist and you’ve also released duo albums with Amy Stroup and Ashley Monroe, what are some of your favorite albums by duos that you like to listen to from a fan perspective?
Dabbs: Is the XX considered a duo? I was all into those two voices when it came out. Other than that you can’t touch the original White Stripes albums which I considered a duo. The other end of the spectrum would be Kings of Convenience. Strangely, I don’t actually listen to many duos.
With her most recent album, Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, turning heads and tilting ears, we talked with Americana-turned-soul singer Charlie Faye for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. In our chat, Faye delves into the ’60s girl group vibe of her album, her songwriting inspirations, and which soul classic she wishes she could’ve written herself.
NoiseTrade: Your newest album, Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, marks a sonic shift from your previous Americana output to an unabashed ‘60s girl group vibe. What led to this new creative direction for your songwriting?
Charlie Faye: I’ve always been a big fan of 60s soul and pop, including girl groups like the Ronettes, the Shirelles, and the Supremes. If you listen to my last solo record, you’ll hear hints of that stuff in a couple of songs. As I started writing for this record, that influence seemed to just get stronger and stronger. The songs that were coming to me were these little soul pop gems. Eventually I had dozens of them on my hands, so I knew I needed to do a whole record with that vibe.
NT: That soulful, Motown/Stax sound isn’t one that just any musician can easily replicate and reinvent. What inspirations did you pull from while you were writing the songs and then recording them in the studio?
Faye: Oh, so many! The Stax catalog is pretty much ingrained in my psyche, so that tends to come through a lot. But there are other songs, like “Heart” which everyone says sounds like a Buddy Holly song – I didn’t necessarily think that when I wrote it, but it makes sense, because I love that music too. I was also working with some people who are just fluent in that stuff. Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s go-to drummer) referenced some deep cuts when we were in the studio, and even brought up a certain old guitar player’s sound when we were looking for the right guitar vibe on one track!
But we were mindful to not imitate too much. The songs themselves already felt like they came from that era, so to put them in the present moment we used some more modern instruments and mixed the record with a modern approach.
NT: Your new songs are beautifully augmented by the background harmonies of The Fayettes (vocalists BettySoo and Akina Adderley). Did you hear these additional vocal parts in your head while you were initially writing the songs or did they come along later in the process?
Faye: A couple of them, yes. For instance, “One More Chance” came into my head with all the background parts in place. But for the majority of the songs, BettySoo wrote and arranged the background vocals. On top of being an amazing singer, she’s a great musician and arranger, and she’s been on board with this project since day one.
NT: I love the sentiments laced throughout the groove-laden “Eastside,” especially the lyric: “Was there something you loved about it / Were we all too young to care / Will we level all the rough spots / Make it look like everywhere?” What’s the story behind that song?
Faye: Well, as a musician, I get to spend time in different cities. I probably spent the most time in Austin, L.A., Nashville, and New York. I realized that in each of these cities, the East side started off as the “rough” side of town, and, because it was affordable, became a haven for artists and creative people, and then, later, became the super-hip side of town. Why is it always the East side? I still haven’t figured that out. It’s always kind of the last bastion for artists and working class people in a city that’s on the rise… and with growth come growing pains. That’s what this song is about. The growing pains of the East side, of all the East sides. Are they going to lose that personality, the heart and the culture that make them such vibrant places to live, if we don’t make sure to preserve some of that?
NT: Finally, I was very impressed that there’s not a cover song in the mix of your 11 “retro-riginals” on the new album. However, if you could’ve written just one song from the huge list of ‘60s girl group classics, which song would it be and why?
Faye: “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. It’s been my favorite song since I first heard it when I was a kid. Plus, who wouldn’t like to have written a song that made Brian Wilson pull his car over!
With a brand new album set to soundtrack your late summer shenanigans (Alone Together, out September 9 on Dualtone), we nabbed Thad Cockrell of Leagues for a short-and-sweet NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to find out about Leagues stunning sophomore follow-up to their breakout debut You Belong Here, why it was recorded twice, and whether or not the live version of their new single “Dance With Me” will be peppered with references to the ‘70s mellow classic that shares its name.
NoiseTrade: It’s been almost three years since your breakout debut full-length You Belong Here. What was the signal that let you guys know it was time to get back in the studio and record what would become Alone Together?
Thad Cockrell: I think the signal was that we had done everything that we could with that record. We viewed that first album as a friendly hand shake or a hello. We came out of nowhere so it was a great trust builder with the audience and also with the industry. We just realized we were ready to go back to work in the studio.
NT: The new album’s first single “Dance with Me” feels like it explores the electro-dance-pop influences of your first album even further. What are some of the sonic inspirations that found their way into your new tracks?
Cockrell: We both love electronic music and always have. Growing up we both gravitated to music that compelled movement. And we thought about what we thought might be a fun live experience for the big collective “us”.
NT: Is it true that the version of Alone Together that’s being released is actually the second version of the album? What led to it being recorded twice?
Cockrell: Yes, the rumor is true! It wasn’t like we didn’t like the first version, but the whole idea of Leagues is doing what we don’t know how to do. Being just enough out of our depth that it makes us uncomfortable and excited at the same time. To put it quite plainly, the first version was our best version of what we knew how to do. The final version of Alone Together is the best version of what we didn’t know how to do.
NT: Were there any songs from those first sessions that didn’t make the cut the second time around? Any unreleased Leagues b-sides floating around out there?
Cockrell: Only 4 songs from the first version made it on to this final version. So, yes! Lots of b-sides that we know in time will see the light of day.
NT: Now that you guys are a duo, are the creative responsibilities split 50/50 between songwriting and producing or did those lines get blurred once you both got in the studio?
Cockrell: It’s always been a shared experience. There are two songs that were solely credited to me but those are exceptions to the rule.
NT: Finally, when playing “Dance with Me” live, have you guys toyed around with the idea of throwing a few lines of Orleans’ stone cold classic of the same name into the mix and if not, would you consider doing that next time you swing through Chicago?
Cockrell: Hahaha. Sure! We will check it out. We can’t wait to come back to Chicago. It’s in our top few places to play.
For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One we had the pleasure to talk with Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts. During our enlightening chat, we talked about the enduring legacy of hymns, the spirit behind the creation and mission of Bifrost Arts, his new album Lamentations, and his hand-picked recommendations for other hymns albums.
NoiseTrade: As someone who was raised on (and is still quite enriched by) hymns, I’m curious what your first memories are of singing and connecting with hymns?
Isaac Wardell: I grew up mostly singing the praise and worship music of the 80s and 90s, so it wasn’t until I began studying music in college that I delved into more historic worship forms. The hymnal came alive for me, and I took courses on hymnody and church history. College was really the place where my course was set in terms of worship and music.
NT: While hymns may sometimes be considered antiquated or out of step by fans of more modern music genres, why do you think they not only have staying power, but are continuing to be written and sung?
Wardell: I think a common thread of the best-loved hymns and the greatest modern worship songs is the ability to weave in the beauty and truth of the Scriptures in and out of the deepest struggles of our lives. While many of the best worship songs do have a universal sort of quality, I find it’s often the case that those songs were actually written to address very particular issues in their time and place. So, I’m actually even more passionate about seeing songwriters bring that sort of ethos back into worship music than I am about solely rediscovering the beauty of the older hymns.
NT: What led to the creation of Bifrost Art and how have you seen it continue to grow over the years?
Wardell: A longtime friend, Joseph Pensak, approached me while I was working as a musician in Brooklyn and he was as a pastor in Connecticut. He and I shared a vision for helping the church better use music and the arts to bring to life the beauty of the gospel in a way that we didn’t feel like was happening on Christian radio. So the two of us formed Bifrost Arts and very quickly began inviting other musicians and collaborators on board. Joseph continues this vision with a church plant in Vermont as well as an art gallery and I’ve continued in the work of developing musical resources.
NT: I first heard of Bifrost Arts through David Bazan, Sufjan Stevens, and Leigh Nash’s contributions to 2009’s Come O Spirit! album. How did that debut album come into being and how did you go about getting so many incredible artists to participate?
Wardell: I’ve been asked this question before and I wish I had a more interesting story about it. In short, I had already compiled a decent amount of material from several years in church music, and I also had some good relationships with other musicians from working in New York, so when we started making the record I just emailed and texted with friends and contacts, and for the most part people just said yes. Many of them shared our core conviction about the need for a deeper approach to worship music, and I also made it easy for them – they’d just meet me in the studio or I’d bring my mobile recording rig to them, and we’d do vocals in an hour or two. The whole was done in a very relaxed way.
NT: You’ve just released your most recent album, Lamentations. What can you tell us about the songwriters and performances on this stunningly rich collection?
Wardell: One of the most common requests I hear from church musicians is for mores songs of lament. And for all the conversations about it and articles criticizing its absence, it seems to me that there haven’t been a lot of resources generated. So that was the heart of this project – to address a particular need for songs of lament in worship. It also has a more low-fi aesthetic. I recorded the record pretty much with one microphone just in my office and rehearsal spaces. The songs and performances a generally from my friends and peers and the whole thing was done in just a few weeks.
I’m really glad that people have responded so well to it, as I’d been a little worried that it’s really stripped-down feel might be an unwelcome surprise, in comparison to our other records. Also, for any young musicians just getting started, we made Lamentations for about $700 from start to release, so money really should never be a barrier to recording and releasing the songs you’re excited about.
NT: Finally, what are some other hymns releases that you’ve enjoyed and would recommend listeners check out?
Wardell: The best worship project I’ve ever been a part of is Sandra McCracken’s Psalms record, so that’s the first thing I’d recommend. Other than that I’ve been really enjoying Liz Vice, Audrey Assad, and Josh Garrels. For some stuff that’s a little more under the radar, I also recommend The Silver Pages and Michael Van Patter (both of whom appear on the last Bifrost Arts record). Finally, they don’t sing hymns but one of the best acts on the road right now is Lowland Hum, and they do have some awesome Psalm lyrics interwoven into their music. I highly recommend them if you’ve not already heart them on NPR or any of the other outlets acclaiming their work!
For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One we sat down with the legendary Andre Williams, the 79-years-young soul man with a brand new Bloodshot Records release ready to become your new favorite Saturday night album. We talked with the jovial frontman about his new album I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City, his time working with Stevie Wonder in the early days of Motown, and the secret to his 60-years-strong (and still going) musical run.
NoiseTrade: You’re new album is called I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City. Where’d the inspiration come from for that title and what does it mean to you?
Andre Williams: It’s what I would consider a tribute to a great city. I’ve spent a lot of time in Detroit and I’ve learned a lot there. I felt it was time for me to give back to the city for what it’s done for me.
NT: The title track is a slinky little blues number that’s equal parts hypnosis and funk. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of that song?
Williams: I had the song in my memory bank for quite a while. But I didn’t know when I would do it or if I would ever do it. It showed up again and it wound up being in the right place at the right time. That’s how I got it done.
I’m really excited about the song because I thought about those tracks a long time. I’m happy that I finally had a chance to put them all together. That right there was a great experience.
NT: Continuing with the Detroit theme, what was it like working at Motown in the 1960s and producing legends like Stevie Wonder and Mary Wells?
Williams: I really can’t explain it. It was such a great experience to be a part of that situation when it first started. I learned a lot from there and I learned a lot afterwards that helped me. It was such a big part of my whole musical experience.
My greatest experience was with little Stevie Wonder. I started with him as a kid and I’ve followed him all the way to now. Working with him was absolutely one of my greatest experiences.
Everything that I learned from Motown is what I’m all about now, if you know what I mean (laughs). Every single thing that I experienced from that time is what made me who I am today.
NT: Finally, some people say rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game. What’s your secret to be turning 80 this year, having over 60 years in the business, and to still be hustling so hard?
Williams: Well, whoever said that this is a young’s man game was not thinking about what’s really going on (laughs). I don’t think they really know what they’re talking about. Period (laughs).
My secret is: As long as the good Lord keeps me out there, I’m just going to keep on going. I’m not going to stop at my own game. When I stop, it’ll be because I need to stop, you understand (laughs).
For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we talked with Savannah Buist and Katie Larsen, the relentlessly driven duo behind The Accidentals. In this in-depth chat, Sav and Katie give a little introductory back story on their band, introduce the songs on their new Parking Lot EP, and talk about their love for both touring and being home – as told through their eyes in their “Michigan and Again” music video.
NoiseTrade: For those not familiar with The Accidentals, how would you describe the sonic atmosphere you three create as a trio?
Sav: It’s a raw kinetic energy, much like the weather where we are from. It’s constantly moving, changing, and shifting. It’s dynamic and somewhat unexpected. If you don’t like it, wait for the next song. It will be completely and authentically different from the first.
The songs are independent. We switch instrumentation on each song, depending on the nature, mood, and message of the song. Each song has its own story and influence. So, sometimes it’s a blend of strings and driving rhythms, at other times a combination of three part harmony and a breeze of sound. When we were touring with Keller Williams, we wrote some straight up funk music influenced by his style. It’s a different sonic atmosphere with each track.
In our recorded music, our signature is the strings. They are the common thread throughout. Katie and I met playing cello and violin in our high school alternative styles group, covering rock songs on electric orchestra instruments. So we still create soundscapes on those instruments that lend emotion to our music. The cello and violin are great friends so they share the spotlight. We don’t have a lead vocalist, we share that role too, so we mix vocals like the Beatles – everybody in. Our mix isn’t typical but it is part of that signature as well. .
When we get together to work out arrangements, it’s about coming out of that personal process and thinking about the listener. We care about translating that moment in a way that they feel what we feel. So we really think about the musicality, the rhythm changes and effects, the ebb and flow that make the music both intense and interesting.
Katie: There is synergy in our relationships, it’s organic. We truly fit together in a way that is intuitive and so the music is sonically tight, intentional. Whether we are telling a story or using instrumentation to bend a genre, we want to make music that people can relate to and that captures the moment. We are huge book readers and writers. Sav’s songs tend to be descriptive, like the blending of dark thoughts and light melodies. My songs are more abstract and allow the listener to create their own story.
NT: What can you tell us about the songs and the songwriting on Parking Lot EP?
Sav: Parking Lot EP is a compilation of moments over the last three years. “The End” was written in the midst of college applications and the agony of putting yourself out there for critique and then ending up not going to college to pursue musical opportunities. “Epitaphs” was written about commercialism, that feeling when you know you are not comfortable conforming and you have to decide it the consequences are worth the fight. “Sixth Street” was about the way we felt after our first SXSW. That was a powerful week for us. It was a pivotal point in our growth as a band, as friends, as people. It was also a hard look at how we treat each other as a society and the ripple effect of that. “Turn the Wheel” was our first attempt at writing a song for a commercial, together. We wrote it for HometownGiving.com. “Parking Lot” was about the struggle in our industry to break through and the talented people that never see the light. Later it became a inside joke because we are under-age and got left out in the parking lot until show time a couple times. It became the title of our EP because we felt like we went too long without releasing new music and it was time to get out of the parking lot.
We added a bonus track of “Parking Lot” featuring Rick Chyme (wordsmith) because we believe in the realness of collaborating across the genres and erasing the boundaries. Rick’s lyric is the perfect message to our frustration in the chorus of the song, “Push it past potential each day, manifest your dreams”.
Lastly, “Michigan and Again” is about coming home from all of these experiences and seeing with different eyes. Passing under the Michigan sign is literally a letting go of the road pace and being present in the comfort of your space with your favorite animal. It’s a thank you to the people that welcome us back every time.
NT: The band already had three albums released before graduating high school. What similarities and differences can listeners hear between those albums and your newest one?
Katie: Every album we’ve put out so far has captured where we were in the moment. We put out our first album at 15 and 16 as a folk duo in high school and it was influenced by the Juno soundtrack. We literally wrote it and recorded it in two weeks. It’s adorable. Bittersweet was recorded a year later with award winning producers in two weeks over our Spring Break from high school. After three years of listening to it, we still love it. It is exactly us at 16 and 17. It is still primarily indie folk but there are hints of blues, jazz, and pop thrown in.
Our sound is continually evolving. We’ve carried forward our love for vocal harmonies, my weird song structures, Savannah’s story-like lyrics, and our signature violin and cello. It’s been three years and we have played over 1000 shows with our full time drummer, Michael Dause. We have new life experiences, electric guitars/bass, Boss/Roland effects pedals, more energy, and an better idea of what “our sound” is. Parking Lot is self-produced, so it’s 100% pure us, capturing where we are in this moment.
NT: Are your songs written collectively or do you all write separately and bring in your individual parts?
Katie: Sav and I tend to write songs individually. It’s a personal process for us. A lot of times we are writing about books we have read or experiences we have had. We go into our introverted shell to create music/lyrics, then flesh out the arrangements together. More and more we are being asked to write for commercial or to score scenes and those are less personal so we write collaboratively with a theme or a product in mind.
NT: Apart from writing traditional album songs for your records, the band has also scored two films, composed an opera-dance project with Son Lux, and written original pieces for a 72-piece orchestra and a 30-piece string ensemble. Do you approach each project from a different headspace or is all that music tumbling around inside you at all times?
Katie: I think we live with a tiny orchestra bouncing around in our heads.
Sav: Each situation is uniquely different. When we write for an album, we are just pouring out our thoughts. So the songs can be personal, no rules, no boundaries.
When we are writing for commercial or to market a product we have to think like the consumer in terms of catchy tunes sell product and find good musical hooks. We have to think like the brand and make sure that we are writing to their demographic, that the music/lyrics fit the brand so that is a selfless process where you are being intentional, writing with purpose.
When we score a film it is all about emotion. It’s about creating a feeling that helps the scene have meaning or enhance or foreshadow. That requires a lot of communication and understanding of what the intent is. It is also really technical and you have to consider frequencies depending on the nature of the scene. So, that is a really different process. You also have to be ok with rejection. We re-wrote one piece four times before it had the tone that the producer was looking for. It wasn’t angry enough, bouncy angry enough, dark strings bouncy, angry enough… finally it was all the things. Again, a selfless process.
The first time we scored a piece for an orchestra we forgot to write in rests for the horns, so they had no way to breathe. DISCLAIMER: we don’t play horns so we didn’t know. The difficulty of the score depends on the experience of the orchestra so when we arrange parts it is important for us to know what the limitations are. Scoring parts for an orchestra is a serious blend of rules, a lot of rules, and pushing the limits, within reason.
Honestly, it is being flexible enough to love all these things that keeps us challenged, never bored, and gives us a break from the touring/writing/recording/touring that can become a spiral. We are finding the balance.
NT: Finally, your scenically gorgeous video for “Michigan and Again” seems like an ode to both the road and home. As traveling musicians, is that a bittersweet dance for you or does one routinely take precedence over the other?
Katie: We all have supportive families and friends who we miss when we’re constantly coming in and out of Michigan. Touring has really taught us a lot about time management. We are all over-achievers (nerds), so when you own your own business there’s not a lot of down time. We tour for a few weeks at a time, then when we have 2-3 days at home that’s when we really have to catch up on all the work that couldn’t be done while we were on the road. Saying that, we are learning how to make time for everything we love. Personally I love traveling, meeting new people, learning new perspectives, trying different foods, and seeing the country. Michigan will always be our home though, and by this point we’ve memorized every ‘Michigan’ highway sign and road marker there is.
Sav: It is both. When we are touring 250 shows a year, our lives are lived in hops and jumps. I came home after a month long tour and my brother had grown a couple inches, his voice had changed, and he had acne. So you learn to not take anything for granted. Your time at home becomes sacred. We have met some amazing supportive people while traveling and they have cared for us so completely. We have seen incredibly beautiful landscapes from sea to forest to desert all in a day. I wouldn’t change that for anything. It has been a privilege to tour the US. We are thankful for the journey. It’s exciting to start each adventure and a relief to end each adventure in a place as beautiful or community as supportive as Michigan. It is not just a state to us, not just a landscape, not just people, it is where we come from and where we return to, it’s our home.
As a companion piece to his exclusive Maxrospective career-spanning sampler, we talked to Kevin Max for an insightful and exciting NoiseTrade One-on-One. During our discussion, Max opened up about his new album Playing Games with the Shadow, his two singles from the album (“Girl with the Tiger Eyes” and “William Blake”), and how he views his dual creative approach as songwriter and poet. We even got him to tell us his five favorite music videos in honor of his own new music video for “Girl with the Tiger Eyes” as well.
NoiseTrade: You’ve described your song “Girl with the Tiger Eyes” (offered here on Maxrospective) as “a semblance of my youth, bottled up in new romantic forms.” How do you find that perfect balance between nostalgic homage and forward momentum? Is it intentional or intuitive?
Kevin Max: I am not sure if there is perfect balance to anything…. but with that said, I feel that my music is largely intuitive. I don’t think of radio, or labels or positioning or what’s happening in the now when I am creating. It either sounds right to me or I chuck it. There have been many stabs at ideas that I have lurking on recorders and computers, but I usually go with the first thing that comes to me. I am not a perfectionist at all, more of a free spirit, and an experimentalist.
NT: Another song included on Maxrospective is “William Blake” – one of my favorites from your catalog. Artists like Bob Dylan, U2, Patti Smith, M. Ward and many others have looked to Blake for lyrical influence as well. What can you tell us about Blake’s influence on your artistry and specifically about the songwriting spark for “William Blake”?
Max: William Blake is one of my all time heroes and I’ve always wanted to write a song about his influence on me. It’s interesting that a lot of modern artists cite other musicians as their influencers, but rarely does anyone mention classic literature or poetry. Blake was one of the first poets I was introduced to as a child and then I dove into his work, including his paintings and writing about history. His book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell continues to be one of my favorite things to read. He was one the first experimentalists in my opinion, and one that had an uncanny ability to explain the supernatural. He was also a free thinker and didn’t subscribe to establishments or organized religion. His beliefs about ‘Energy’ and the ‘Soul’ were extremely interesting to me, and in my opinion still undiscovered by a great many people. To understand Blake, is almost like understanding the magic of poetry itself.
NT: You’ve said that your most recent album Playing Games with the Shadow feels like your “first real album” due to the personal nature in which it was created. For someone with a pretty extensive catalog behind him, to what do you credit the new authenticity and openness?
Max: It very simply boils down to the fact that I wrote this album without any help. Not that I really needed help on other albums, but I was so used to collaborating when it came to writing a song. I grew up doing that in large part during my time with DC Talk. Collaboration is amazing, but there is something very pure and I find it quite passionate to create without any outside influences. When I started writing this album, I was listening to a lot of my favorite ’80s new wave artists, I think that really informed the style of this project. I was listening to early Japan and a bit of The Cure and all of these songs came pouring out. I think this album really should’ve been the album I made after I left my short stint with Audio Adrenaline, as the project I created at that time (Broken Temples) was like a watered down version of Playing Games with the Shadow.
NT: Since you write poetry and spoken word pieces as well, how do you know whether the words that are coming to you are meant for a poem instead of a song? Do you have strict delineating lines between the two forms or do they often blur together?
Max: I write poetry very separately from song lyric. I always have. I find poetry much more pure. I don’t have to worry about the masses hearing it or judging it. When I am writing a song lyric, I know it will inevitably be heard by a lot more people. I have found that the more poetic I get with the lyrics, the less people understand or want to grasp it. So, for me, the moment of compromise is when I decide to keep the poetry to myself.
NT: Finally, you’ve made some seriously stunning music videos over the years, including your newest for “Girl with the Tiger Eyes”. However, if you could only pick five favorite “must see” music videos from other artists/bands (old or new) for readers to revisit, which videos would you pick and why?
Max: I used to love music videos. I grew up on them, as a child of the ’70s and ’80s, and they came into being before my eyes. I remember Friday Night Videos before MTV. But as time progressed I think the art of the music video kind of got lost. It became more fabricated and homogenized. I don’t put much stock into music videos anymore because I have been let down by so many as of late. But you asked the question so let me answer……
My top 5 favorite videos are:
1. David Bowie – “Ashes To Ashes”
2. Duran Duran – “Hungry Like The Wolf”
3. Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer”
4. Michael Jackson – “Billy Jean”
5. The Police – “Every Breath You Take”
This blog post was written by Chandler Coyle - Founder/Publisher, The Coyle Report and Instructor, Berklee Online
A question I often hear from artists is: “Why can’t booking shows be easier?” Booking often feels like a neverending job. The challenges of booking shows are legendary. Spending time calling, emailing, and faxing instead of creating new music, recording, or finetuning your live show.
The human aspect of the booking process may be art knowing the venues, relationships with the talent buyers, negotiating the best deal. The rest of the process the administrative part is science, same crap, different day and, quite understandably, it can be a pain in the butt. While you can’t automate the art elements, I always wondered if someone would try to streamline the science part. Pare Booking has done just that.
Pare Booking is booking made easy. They describe themselves as: “The only booking agency that allows artists to independently and professionally manage every aspect of the booking process through a clean and simple mobile application.”
“It feels great to have the booking agent in the palm of your hand”
– Ethan Luck (Solo Artist, Studio Musician and Touring Musician for Kings Of Leon and The Lees Of Memory)
No, Pare isn’t just another app dreamed up by Silicon Valley tech geeks. Similar to NoiseTrade and PledgeMusic both platforms founded by working artists Pare was envisioned and built by Brandon Breitenbach after spending over 13 years working with touring artists struggling with these same booking hassles.
I spoke with NoiseTrade founder and career touring musician Derek Webb what he thinks about Pare Booking and he responded:
“In the years since I founded NoiseTrade, I’ve watched a handful of friends develop ideas in an effort to help the everevolving music community. Few have excited me as much as what Brandon and his team are up to at Pare Booking. Having toured as a blue collar artist for 20 years, I was grinning from eartoear as he showed me their intuitive platform for helping artists book, advance, and manage their shows. it’s detailed and powerful, clean and simple, and cleverly and lovingly crafted by folks who intimately know and understand the problems they’re solving. I can’t recommend Pare highly enough.”
Here’s what a few members of the NoiseTrade community said about Pare Booking:
“As technology continues to influence how we do business in music, Pare Booking could be the perfect companion for upandcoming bands to bring their booking operations into a more efficient digital space.”
- Jordan Mattison, Showdown Management (The Vespers)
“Finally, no more printing, scanning, and faxing contracts. [Pare] will be a great tool for the independent artist moving forward!”
- Brooke Waggoner (Artist)
The Pare app is free to download and offers a free 30day trial. After the trial ends, Pare costs $19.99/month (or $199.99/year) with the NoiseTrade community getting 50% off the first year (promo code: NOISETRADE). Pare Booking is nonexclusive and you don’t sign a contract to use the Pare app.
To learn more about Pare, I asked founder Brandon Breitenbach a few questions about Pare Booking and the Pare mobile app:
NoiseTrade: What past experiences led you to envision and create Pare?
Brandon Breitenbach: When I first started dreaming about Pare Booking, I had one goal in mind: Bring efficiency to artists, allowing them to book great shows and better manage their touring careers. Independent artists have always been at the core of that dream. In January of 2015, I had no clue that we would be where we are today.
NT: Is there anything you want to add to the way I described how Pare works?
Breitenbach: When we first launched Pare I wanted to hear from our artists on how we could improve the booking experience for them, and the number one response that I kept hearing is “I don’t want to pay a percentage of the show guarantee for a tool.” Now, that was hard to swallow at first, but then I started thinking about it in detail and how this is the way things have always been in our industry. Booking agencies have always taken a percentage (1015%) of the show for as long as I can remember. But, I asked myself a question “What if we did away with percentages?” What if artists could use Pare to book as many shows as they want and never have to pay a percentage again? This lined up so perfectly with our vision, and was a nobrainer change for us to make! I asked a few of our artists what they thought of this change, and it was a resounding YES! So, like lots of you know we made that change! Here is a simple breakdown example to give you an idea of how we are saving artists money with this change.
The old way: $10,000 @ 10% = $1,000 in booking fees
The Pare Booking way: $10,000 on our yearly plan = $199
A savings of over $800
As founder and CEO, I would like to personally invite you to take the next steps in starting a subscription with us. The subscription premium is a flat rate of $19.99/mo or $199.99/yr and includes a FREE 30day trial. However, if you choose to become a subscriber today, we will offer you a 50% discount that goes towards your first year with Pare Booking. You’ll be able to really dig into the app, book a few shows, and start tracking your touring expenses within the app. Simply add this promo code NOISETRADE when you complete the signup process.
NT: Can you tell us more about the expense tracking functionality?
Breitenbach: When you’re touring, keeping track of expenses is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Financial records and receipts can easily become lost in the shuffle as you travel from city to city. The Pare Team has extensive touring experience (After all, we are artists and touring pros ourselves!), so we understand how difficult maintaining your touring books can be. But we also know how important it is that somebody on your team handles this.
So, we designed our expense tool with all of the above in mind. Within the Pare app, you can track and record an itemized list of your expenses in seconds. It’s all there: per diems, gas, guitar strings, and much more. Fast, easy, and worryfree. Plus, with a single click, you can export all of your financial records for the year to an Excel document, then simply hand it off to your business manager or tax guy.
Trust us, come tax time; you’ll be glad this tool was in the Pare app, and in your pocket every single day of your touring life! This is just one more way we are saving you time and money, helping your touring career to run efficiently and profitably.
NT: We’ve seen a lot of tech platforms purport to solve the pain points of artists. In theory, they may be a good idea, but in practice, they may not get adopted and succeed. What do you think PARE has that will lead it to be used by artists and venues and, hopefully, make it successful?
Breitenbach: We aren’t reinventing the wheel here. We are simply taking the current process that large agencies use to book shows and automating it, making it available to any artist. Pare has seen shows booked in under 2 minutes, and this includes signing the contract and paying the deposit.
NT: Your focus seems to be solely on the artist side of the equation in your launch and marketing materials, but what about the venue talent buyers? What is their initial reaction to the app and do you have any guarantees that they will support it?
Breitenbach: We worked just as hard on the promoter/buyer side. The talent buyer fills out the offer form, and the system takes over from there. With autoreply emails the buyer doesn’t have to wait 35 days for a response.
NT: For an independent artist who books shows, streamlining the administrative process of booking shows is a no brainer. What about getting the offers in the first place? How do you think PARE will help an artist get offers for gigs?
Breitenbach: We are currently building a promoter platform that’s going to answer this question. Be on the lookout for this later this year!
NT: Is there anything else you want the artists of the NoiseTrade community to know about Pare?
Breitenbach: Pare has a killer team of touring musicians that are here to help! We want you to know that Pare is more than an application, more than a piece of technology. We are a company comprised of people who find great meaning in helping artists succeed. That’s why we have an artist relations team you can speak to via email or phone whenever you need, to answer any touring question, and to help in any way we can with your career as it grows.
We are a group of artists and industry pros who have lived where you live…on the road, in a van, in a bus, on an airplane. And we believe the solutions we are offering to your touring business will be real and lasting…just like the relationships we foster with you, the artist.
Contact us anytime, anywhere. We are here to help you meet your touring goals.
The Pare app is free to download and offers a free 30day trial. After the trial ends, Pare costs $19.99/month (or $199.99/year) with the NoiseTrade community getting 50% off the first year (promo code: NOISETRADE). Pare Booking is nonexclusive and you don’t sign a contract to use the Pare app.