Konichiwa, NoiseTraders-san! I’m not usually one to toot our own horn too much on a week’s-worth of features, but for this week… TOOT TOOT, you guys. In case you missed any of it, this week we featured a wonderfully eclectic sampler of new songs, demos, and rarities from alt-rock phenom Tracy Bonham, a stunning new album primer with EP sidecar from singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen, and an exclusive batch of exciting live tracks (with bonus interview) from violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling. Our cup runneth over, for sure. If all three offerings aren’t already in your music library, you’ll want to remedy that with the quickness. While you’re doing that, I’ve also got a few more recommendations to download while you’re roaming around the site. Genre-wise, it’s all a mixed bag, but there’s a common denominator that they all share of being well worth your time. Alrighty, get into all the things!
I first wrote about Phoenix-based rapper Jordan Taylor back in April and I believe it’s high time to rep another one of his hip-hop street hymns. The first time around I described him as “grungy hip-hop with innovative production and hope-fueled, street-wise rhymes.” After listening to his newest single “Ambition,” I need to add “molasses smooth flow over atmospheric, thick-beat tracks” to the mix. Hear me now friends, Taylor is one to keep your eyes on. He’s an incredibly talented lyricist and his creative production choices showcase a confidence that many young rappers end up taking years to develop (if they even get there at all). Taylor seems to already at that level and his career is just getting started. I also love the fact that many of his songs contain snippets of Tupac interviews, which is totally extra icing on the cake for me.
My first experience hearing the Spin Doctors was somewhere around the spring of 1992 and my friend Todd and I would spin their Pocket Full of Kryptonite album at every youth group function that summer like it was Abbey Road or Pet Sounds. If you would have had told me then that the scat-singing, fun-time frontman would eventually become an endearing acoustic-loving singer-songwriter, I’d have called you straight-up crazy. However, Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron has done exactly that. Currently, he’s been releasing a series of singles that will be on his forthcoming solo album If I Stop Laughing, I’ll Cry. “Angels and One-Armed Jugglers” is his newest single and, along with being one of the strongest songs he’s released so far, it gets bonus points for being the song that contains the lyric that spawned the album title.
Smiling Cynic is the work of producer-songwriter Christopher Hawes and he has generously enriched NoiseTrade’s sonic catacombs with 11 lush, electro-pop releases (gotta catch ‘em all!). My current Smiling Cynic favorite is his Do Robots Have A God? EP, due in large part to the mesmerizing instrumental track “Beat Me” that I can’t seem to listen to enough. Something about the mixture of percussive elements and the stereo-panned electro-drum fills bring to mind some of my favorite Moby moments and the pulsing washes of synth layer everything in a relaxing wave of sound that creatively compliments all of the rhythmic action going on underneath.
Lance Shaubert’s Life After Aesthetics is a short, philosophical book that reads like a themed collection of essays mashing up big-thought questions about beauty and art with history, pop culture, and humor. According to Schaubert, the book “compares Adele to Geoffrey Chaucer, evaluates Hitler based on Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette, and asks the question: do elephants cry?” With a cover sporting a man emulating The Thinker and wearing an Incredible Hulk boxing glove and a four-foot afro, it’s safe to say you’ve been summarily warned as to what you will be presented with in its pages.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t wanting to buy you rockets, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Get to know a little more about acclaimed violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling in this exclusive NoiseTrade One-on-One Interview where she discusses how she came up with her unique pairing of classical violin with hip-hop and electronica elements, how she started incorporating intricate choreography into her performances, and why her new live DVD Live from London is a fantastic way to experience the full scope of her artistry.
NoiseTrade: What made you first want to incorporate dance into your violin playing? Were you just curious to see if two of your passions could be incorporated together or was it something more intentional?
Lindsey Stirling: When I was preparing to go to collage I competed in a talent competition in order to win scholarship money. There were several violinist, one of which was the best in the state so I decided to fill my routine with charisma. I didn’t want to just impress, I wanted to perform, I wanted to entertain. In the beginning it was extremely simple but the audience’s reaction was electrifying. I’d never felt so charged and I knew that I’d stumbled upon my passion.
NT: When did you first start mixing your classical violin playing with elements of hip-hop and electronica? Do you remember what caused those first sparks of inspiration?
Stirling: I had gotten burned out on classical music. I just wasn’t enjoying the violin anymore so in attempts to reinvigorate my passion, I started to play along with my favorite radio hits and I began to be excited again. After experimenting with different styles I found my sound and started writing.
NT: Is it possible to describe what is going on in your brain when you are simultaneously playing an intricate violin piece and conducting full body choreography?
Stirling: It totally depends on the moment and also how far into the tour we are. Sometimes I’m focused more on making sure my violin playing is precise, other times I’m focusing on my balance as I do a leg extension, there are moments when it am completely tuned in to looking into the eyes of my fans and connecting with the audience and sometimes my mind is just plain wandering and I suddenly am brought back to the fact that “oh my gosh focus, you’re in front of 5,000 people.”
NT: Do you ever feel that your recorded albums only show a portion of your artistry or are limiting in any way (being that they are only audio)? Do you feel that your new live concert DVD Live from London will help to present the full experience of what you have to offer?
Stirling: I definitely feel like my art is meant to be visual. The music is only half of the painting which is why I love live performing. I love being able to bring the music to life on stage and it’s really exciting to have a live DVD that anyone can now experience.
NT: As you prepare to head out on your summer tour at the beginning of August, is there a special moment or two during the show that you are really looking forward to every night from a performance perspective?
Stirling: There are so many moments that I look forward to. There are several moments where the audience definitely gets surprised and every night I look forward to hearing the gasps and applause, and I love seeing the little kids pointing at certain elements in excitement. It makes the show new and fresh every night because I can see it for the first time through the eyes of someone else.
Howyadoin’ there, you lovely NoiseTraders? July is quickly dwindling down and August is just around the bend, which can only mean one thing… we are so close to fall, ya’ll. I don’t mean to start the countdown clock too early, but for me, summer is just a “get through” season on the way to the better half of the year. I must admit though, my first summer in Chicago has been absolutely outstanding and – dare I say it – quite enjoyable. I’m not saying the summer Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, but I am willing to talk about summer with far fewer raised fists to the sky. But since we’re still smack dab in the middle of the season, how’s about some more summer-sanctioned tunes (and a beach-worthy eBook) for your weekend? Alrighty, get into all the things!
First things first: No, the boss didn’t ask me to write this. (In fact, he probably wouldn’t approve of me including him, but better to ask for forgiveness than permission). Derek Webb is celebrating 10 years of his landmark Mockingbird album in high fashion, including: pressing the album on vinyl for the very first time, reimagining the album into an additional completely remixed release, playing a run of house shows, and throwing a special full-band concert in Nashville (find out more and pre-order HERE). He’s also giving the stellar album away digitally for free again, a move that originally spawned this whole NoiseTrade thing in the first place.
Minneapolis, MN’s Highchair Kings embodies the melody-meets-garage spirit of their hometown heroes The Replacements and early Goo Goo Dolls on Three, a trio of songs from their forthcoming Six EP. The incendiary guitar tones of opening track “Crush Gravel” will transport you to the late 80s, early 90s college rock/alternative scene where the genre’s pre-commercialized atmosphere celebrated bands who colored outside the lines. “Suckers of the World” and “Never Alone” follow in kind, showcasing a more relaxed side of Highchair Kings that still wonderfully highlights their enchanting mix of melancholy melodies and alt-rock riffs.
It’s the last weekend of July and you owe it to yourself to make sure you squeeze as much of summer as you desire out of the remaining sun-soaked days. Slospeak Records is doing their part to sonically assist you in the process with their Slospeak & Friends Summer Soundtrack, an 18-track collection of indie rock goodness from a variety of bands on their roster. Tracks like “Bugs” and “Don’t Spit in the Sink” can propel your days and tracks like “Aftermath” and “Forget You in LA” can chill your nights. With multiple bands and almost 20 songs on the compilation, there’s a good chance you’ll find much to love here.
St John Karp describes himself as a “writer, historian, and ornamental hermit” and his left-of-center adventure tale Radium Baby perfectly paints his peculiar personality. I get a strong Kurt Vonnegut vibe from Karp’s one-two punch of absurdist narrative and imaginative prose, a combination that makes Radium Baby a knockout to read. One reviewer praised the book by saying: “Much like a brilliant episode of The Simpsons, this story synthesizes a greedy fistful of whimsical elements to hypnotic effect.” If you’re looking for a fun and fantastical read, look no further than Radium Baby.
Jesse Harris has made quite a name for himself as a songwriter (even winning a Song of the Year Grammy in the process) for artists like Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, M. Ward and more. However, Harris has amassed quite the catalog as a solo performer over the last two decades as well. In our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, Harris looks back on his SXSW 2015 experience and reveals his favorite shows that he saw during the week’s festivities. He also breaks down some of the diverse influences for his songs on The Secret Sun Sampler and talks about his unique chemistry and years-long musical partnership with Norah Jones.
NoiseTrade: First things first, thanks so much for playing one of our SXSW Day Parties this year! How was your 2015 SXSW experience overall?
Jesse Harris: Rainy but fun. SXSW is such a frenetic environment that it brings out an intensity in the playing which I really enjoy, both as a performer and an audience member.
NT: How did this year’s SXSW festivities compare to years past for you? What sticks out as your most memorable SXSW experience this time around?
Harris: I played more shows. The more the merrier at SXSW. But my favorite thing about festivals is getting to see other bands all in one place. Things that stick out: seeing Thee Oh Sees, Delicate Steve, and Deerhoof, and hanging out on the East side having cold brew coffee at Cuvee.
NT: The Secret Sun Sampler features a handful of your back catalog songs that really showcase the sonic diversity and the seamless genre mix in your songwriting. What musical (and non-musical) inspirations do you find yourself being drawn to that feed into that aural assortment?
Harris: I get a lot of inspiration from the musicians around me. Star Rover influenced the sound and songwriting of this latest album, as well as some new songs I’ve been writing. In the past few years I’ve worked with John Zorn a lot as a lyricist. Along the way I’ve taken a look at how he uses chords in his compositions and I’ve tried to incorporate some of his tricks.
NT: One of the songs on The Secret Sun Sampler is “Rocking Chairs,” a shuffling ballad that features your oft-returned-to-musical-partner Norah Jones on background vocals. How did you first start collaborating with Jones and how would you describe the unique sonic chemistry you’ve both created together over the years?
Harris: I first met Norah in Denton, Texas when she was a student at UNT studying piano and voice. We became friends and she moved to New York not long after, where we started a group together and played many of the songs on her first album. Frankly, I think it would be hard for anyone not to have musical chemistry with Norah.
NT: “Miyazaki” is another stand out track from The Secret Sun Sampler that showcases the variety in your songwriting. Can you tell us a little about the track’s origin and the inspiration behind the eclectic instrumental?
Harris: Over the years I’ve written many instrumental songs that have appeared on various albums of mine. I’ve even recorded a whole album of instrumental music (Cosmo, on Tzadik Records). I wrote “Miyazaki” with a high fever in the midst of a bad flu last year. Each night I would watch a different Miyazaki film, so I named the song after him. Recently in Tokyo my friends took me to the Ghibli museum!
NT: Finally, I’ve always admired the score work you wrote for Ethan Hawke’s 2006 film The Hottest State. Can you describe the different approaches between writing for an album and writing for a film? Also, do you have any personal favorite film scores from other composers?
Harris: That was the only film I’ve scored and I was incredibly lucky to work with Ethan. He is a true music lover and really knows what he wants. We scored that film mostly with new versions of my songs by a host of celebrated singers. As for the instrumental parts, I emulated the technique in old films of using a recognizable theme repeated over and over in various styles. During the recording, we played while watching the film on a monitor and timed the cues to the picture. I do rue the days of the great film composers and how integral a film’s music was to its overall identity. Composers I admire: Nino Rota, John Barry, Lalo Shifrin, and Ennio Morricone.
This interview can be downloaded in its entirety on NoiseTrade Books.
Sarah Dalton is a bestselling YA fantasy and horror author who credits her over-active imagination to her childhood in the middle of nowhere, in the countryside of Derbyshire, England. The Blemished was Sarah’s debut novel, and she has since gone on to publish two more novels in The Blemished series as well as two Fractured novellas, which are set in the same dystopian world.
Sarah’s other novels include the YA horror series Mary Hades and the YA fantasy series White Hart, and her short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Through a Tangled Wood and Something for the Journey, as well as Apex Magazine, the Medulla Literary Review, PANK magazine, the British Fantasy Society publication Dark Horizons, and the Wyvern publication Fangtales.
I was drawn into the eerie dystopian world Sarah has created in her Blemished series from the first book, as well as the fast-paced narrative. There is never a dull moment! Fans will be thrilled to know that The Blemished books are available as a boxed set, and I am excited to talk to Sarah about the series, her writing process, and what she’s working on next.
Can you please give our readers a summary of The Blemished in particular and the series in general?
The Blemished is Mina’s first story. It’s about her realization that the world she lives in is corrupt, and that she has to fight back against the Ministry. The Blemished is a “what-if” tale of dystopia. What if genetic engineering wasn’t ethically controlled? What if natural procreation became taboo?
The Blemished series is all about rebellion and fighting for the ability to choose your own destiny. We follow Mina through the series as she realizes her own power. There are a few twists and turns, and some fantastical elements thrown in there. Lots of secrets and lots of action!
You’ve said that The Blemished started as a sci-fi thriller about a teen princess on another planet who could smell other people’s emotions. Can you tell us about the transformation the book went through to reach its current incarnation?
I think the transformation was that part way through writing that draft I realized it was really, really bad! The whole premise was bloated and confusing. I decided to simplify the story a lot. Teen dystopia had just started to become popular, and it reminded me of all the adult dystopian books I loved, so I decided to adapt those interests and write out a plan for a story that would make sense, and also have a powerful message for the reader.
Despite drastic changes to the setting and plot of the novel, did your characters change much as well, or were they more of a constant for you?
The only character that made the final cut was Mina. Everything else was scrapped. I think the original Mina was very two-dimensional so by the time I fleshed her out for The Blemished, you could say she was completely different.
Did you know right away The Blemished would be a series, or did you finish the book before knowing there was more to Mina’s story?
I did. But I wrote The Blemished so that the ending was appropriate for both a standalone novel and a series. That was partly because I’d just been burned by a huge cliffhanger (Patrick Ness, I’m looking at you!) and partly because I had hoped to find a publisher, and had been told that it’s best to keep the ending neutral. I have no idea if that’s good or bad advice, because in the end I scrapped that idea and self-published!
In The Blemished world, the Genetic Enhancement Ministry (GEM) uses a futuristic combination of eugenics and genetic engineering to divide the British population into a fascinating (and terrifying!) caste system. Did you spend much time researching these topics, or was the GEM largely drawn from your own imagination?
I think it was largely from my imagination, but definitely drew upon fictional and historical ideas. I tried to describe Mina’s home as in a part of the town that’s something between a British council estate, and the Jewish ghettos in World War Two. The genetic engineering and the way women are treated was influenced by Margaret Atwood’s novels, especially Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course The Hunger Games and Divergent were a huge influence, too.
With three novels and two Fractured novellas set in the Blemished world, do you feel the story is finished, or might we hear more from Mina and her friends?
I do think it’s finished, but I have thought about a story I could tell in that world. The only problem is, it’s very hard to go back into that world, especially after writing so many different books since then. It’s also really hard to find time to sit down and plan anything when I have other series to work on! Maybe one day I’ll actually be able to write that last story!
The Blemished was your debut novel, although you had published short stories before it. Is this the first novel you wrote, or did you have others “in the drawer” before you decided to publish this one?
This was definitely the first. I wasn’t sure I was going to finish it, to be honest. I never expected that I would have the staying power to sit and finish an entire novel. No one was more surprised than me!
Tell us a little bit about your development process. Do you consider yourself a pantser or a plotter?
I’m actually a pantser who is becoming a plotter. I’ve never written a novel, or a series, without at least a vague idea how it ends, but I would let the story develop as the ideas flowed. The problem is, that way generally led to moments of losing inspiration, and wondering what to write. I’ve recently come across a way of writing down the bare bones of the story and gradually fleshing it out. Right now I’m working from bullet points, which is nice, because I can tick off each scene as I write it.
You write full-length novels, short stories, and novellas. Does your process vary depending on the length of the project?
Not really. Although something does seem to change in my mind. It’s like I’ve flicked a switch that says “short story”. Novels do require much more planning. Short stories can take you by surprise. Sometimes they are far shorter, or far longer than expected.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I try to treat it like a 9-5 job, because I’m an author publisher. If I’m drafting a novel, I’ll try to stay at my desk until I’ve written as many words as I can, and then I do some promoting or communication stuff. (I now have a treadmill desk, which is exciting, but I only do short bursts at a time until I can get used to it!) If I’m editing, I spend most of the day editing, and the rest answering emails, booking promotions, making book covers etc. I have to do a lot of quite boring things like formatting an ebook, uploading an ebook to lots of different sites, filling out loads and loads of forms to book advertising, oh, and in between all that I try to keep my Facebook, Twitter and website up to date.
What’s in your writer’s toolbox?
For plotting, I use a notebook and a pen. For writing and editing, Microsoft Word and an ergonomic keyboard. That’s it!
Do you listen to music while you’re writing, and if so, does the music you listen to impact your work?
Sometimes, but I must admit that silence is usually better. I like to listen to atmospheric spooky stuff when I’m writing Mary Hades. The only thing is, I often get creeped out!
I read in an interview that you like to design your own covers, and that you sometimes design the covers before even writing your books. Does having a cover prepared seem to steer your writing in a certain direction?
Actually, it did for the book I’m writing now. I knew that I wanted to introduce an important character into this book, and as I’d already made the book cover, I ended up basing the description on the girl on the cover. I wouldn’t recommend all writers do this, but it was fun this one time.
What is your editing process like? Do you edit yourself, or does someone help you?
I do a lot of editing myself, but I always have someone else read it before publishing. 99% of the time I hire a copy editor and proofreader before publishing, but if I’m very tight on time or funds, I do it myself, with the help of willing beta readers.
My biggest tip is to listen to the book using text to speech, or read the book backwards. It really helps make mistakes stand out.
Do you work on one project at a time or switch between multiple books? If you work on more than one book at a time, how do you keep everything straight?
I’ve tried to work on more than one book but it never works. I always have to work on one book. I have alternated between two series though. That was tough, and I wouldn’t recommend it!
How long does it typically take you to write a book? Has that rate increased since you first wrote The Blemished?
The Blemished took around two years. Since then, it usually takes me between three and six months. I’m hoping to reduce that time by planning the books in more detail before starting them.
What do you do to relax when you’re not writing?
I’m a TV addict! How can I not be? It’s basically writing that’s being spoken to me in my own home. Penny Dreadful is the most underrated and awesome show ever.
Besides The Blemished series and the Fractured novellas, you’ve also written two other series as well as some short stories. Can you tell us about your other work?
I like to genre hop! White Hart is a YA fantasy set in the fictional world of Aegunlund. Mae Waylander is craft-born, which means she is the only girl in a generation who can use magic. The king wants her to marry his son so that he can control the magic, but Mae is a stubborn peasant girl who much prefers riding her white stag Anta than boys. This series is for fairy tale and epic fantasy fans. I just published the final book.
Mary Hades is a long, open-ended series of dark gothic YA books. The target audience is a little older, and it has more violence in it than the other books. Mary can see disturbing things that other people can’t see. She has to figure out why she can see them, and what she needs to do with this talent. At the moment I’m working on book three, Nocturnes.
Do you plan on sticking to YA for now, or might you venture into other categories at some point in your career?
I keep wondering about writing adult books, but I enjoy reading and writing YA so much that I can’t see that happening for a while. I might venture into New Adult territory at some point. I’d love to give that a go.
One driving source of tension in The Blemished is the love triangle (or square, as Mina puts it) between the young adult characters. Do you feel it’s necessary for all YA to have a strong romantic component?
Not at all. In fact, Possess, the second Mary Hades novel, has no romantic component at all. I think that relationships are a part of life, and that YA is about life as much as adult fiction, but I don’t think all YA books need romance. It’s actually quite refreshing to read books without it.
One pet peeve of mine is that so many books focus on two teenagers who are “meant” to be together. I’m a sucker for romance, and I must admit, I’ve loved this trope in the past, but now I find myself rebelling against it. I want my protagonists to have multiple relationships, because it’s possible to have more than one great love in your life. It’s also okay to just like someone, or to have a fling. Any of that is okay.
I’ve read in interviews that your reading tastes range from classics to the current YA craze. How does this omnivorous approach to reading reflect on your own writing?
Well, I am a genre hopping writer, so there is that! I hope that my writing is fairly consistent across all the books. I know that readers like to pick up a book by an author and have an idea about what the book is going to be like. Hopefully, my writing doesn’t change too much from book to book!
What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m working on Nocturnes, book three in the Mary Hades series. Hopefully this one will be out late September or early October. The first draft is going well so I’m crossing my fingers!
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Dearly beloved NoiseTraders, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Will’s Weekend Wrap-Up. You guys, we are SO STOKED to announce a new collaboration with The Basement East in Nashville, TN for our very first New Faces Night this Wednesday, July 22! We’re excited to have the opportunity to spotlight Nodaway, Caleb Groh, Fleurie, Clemency, Carolina Story, and Nightingail in a live setting and it’s going to be a guaranteed good time. For the many of us outside of the Nashville area who sadly can’t attend the festivities, we’re offering a New Faces Nite Mixtape featuring a track from all six bands. You can find out more details and RSVP for the show HERE and you can download the mixtape HERE. Alrighty, get into all the things!
No matter how many people I talk to about it, I just can’t seem to recommend LEVV’s Arrow EP enough. LEVV is the new electro-pop duo consisting of Audrey Assad and Seth Jones and Arrow provides the first taste of their uniquely creative collaboration. This 4-track introductory EP features the cinematic singles “Arrow” and “Dream,” as well as two remixes of “Arrow” that showcase the song’s inherent strength and elasticity. LEVV will be releasing their official debut Strange Fire later this summer and having heard some advanced mixes, I can tell you that LEVV has created some of the most arresting and infectious tracks you could ever hope to grace your heart, mind, and ears.
About a month ago I recommended Gospel Lee’s single “Friend Zone” as a do-not-miss track to check out. Well, Lee is back in a big way with his brand new single – “Spirit Animal (Aslan)” – and it is equally as compelling and catchy. “Spirit Animal (Aslan)” was just released this week ahead of Lee’s forthcoming Brilliant EP scheduled to hit in August. The track was produced by Wayne Klassik and features Lee’s vocal mixture of smooth, in-the-pocket grooves and syncopated rapid-fire delivery. Those familiar with the Lewisian character of Narnian lore will recognize Aslan’s name and appreciate its inclusion in Lee’s faith-based brand of hip-hop. Get on it, folks!
Sam Pinkerton’s honeyed-voice and relaxed, double-vocal delivery make her cover of “The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate” creep and crawl at a beautiful pace. The original song appeared on mewithoutYou’s 2009 album It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright in a far more plucky, Ren Faire-esque fashion, so Pinkerton’s breathy interpretation gives the song an additional layer of emotion to drive the song’s quirky narrative. Don’t miss out on this smoky, acoustic gem.
Rarely does a book’s title so accurately and unquestionably detail the contents contained within its pages. A Million Random Words from John Vorhaus is exactly that… a book of a million random words. No literary structures needed and no thematic devices to be found – just quasi-legit word combinations and phrases like “shedable vulgarian” and “Quern Ranpike” and the like. Whether you’re using it as a comedic escape, creative inspiration, or a fun drinking game, A Million Random Words is worth a view.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t calling up that shrink in Beverly Hills (you know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright), you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
There’s no question that Third Eye Blind’s current run of shows with Dashboard Confessional has been one of the most buzzed-about tours of the summer. Recently, we got to chat with Third Eye Blind’s frontman Stephan Jenkins about the band’s newest album Dopamine, how the audience response has been to the brand new material, his incredible cover of Beyonce’s “Mine,” and what it will be like to close the tour in the band’s hometown of San Francisco.
NoiseTrade: Your brand new album Dopamine is your first since 2009’s Ursa Major. What’s the band been up to in the last six years?
Stephan Jenkins: First, we spent a good year and a half on tour for Ursa Major. It was our first album to go #1, so that took us all over the place. Then, we changed personnel. We brought Kryz, Alex Kopp, and Alex LeCavalier into the band and it takes a minute to develop real chemistry. But most of the time was really spent by me hemming and hawing over lyric choices. Kind of silly in hindsight, really.
NT: What let you know it was finally time to get back into the studio?
Jenkins: I think it was the excitement over the material and the enthusiasm we’ve felt from fans when we play festivals.
NT: Dopamine is the second album you guys have released under your own label Mega Collider Records. Was there anything that you learned with Ursa Major that made things any easier the second time around?
Jenkins: No, it’s always uniquely hard in it’s own way each time. I think though, I’ve been a lot happier in making this record. So, I had more fun!
NT: Dopamine was released in mid-June and you’ve been touring these new songs since the end of May. What’s the response been like to the Dopamine tracks in the live setting?
Jenkins: Everyone goes off to “Everything is Easy” because it was released early. “Something in You” went over immediately without needing to be heard. Now, towards the end of this run, everyone has the album. So things seem to go seamlessly. We tend to lean towards the more pulsing tracks live, but “Get Me Out of Here” goes off too.
NT: Appropriately enough, you guys are closing the tour with two hometown shows at The Masonic. What’s it like for you guys when you play San Francisco and have you got any surprises in store that you can tease here?
Jenkins: Oh, it’s so much pressure and I like it. There are people coming from all over the country to those shows. So we will make the set list accordingly. As for a tease, well… We hope to record a live EP over those two nights.
NT: As a band who has successfully traversed the recording industry boom of the 90s to also find success in the current wild, wild west of today’s music scene, what advice can you offer to new up-and-coming bands that are just getting started?
Jenkins: Develop your intuition about your art and then stick to it. Then you’ll have something authentic.
NT: Finally, earlier this year your incredible cover of Beyonce’s “Mine” gained quite a bit of buzz. What’s your approach when crafting a cover song?
Jenkins: When I cover a song, I look for what resonates to me and then I just sing to that. “Mine” is one of my favorites and thank you for your praise of it. I’m glad you like the version. I obviously love the original as well.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t wanting something else to get him through this semi-charmed kind of life (baby, baby), you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Reminisce about this year’s SXSW with indie orchestra Mother Falcon in our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. In this exclusive interview you’ll also get details about their previous SXSW experiences, their upcoming album Good Luck Have Fun, and their fantastic new music video for “Kid”.
NoiseTrade: First off, thanks so much for being a part of our NoiseTrade SXSW Day Parties this year! How was your SXSW experience overall?
Tamir Kalifa: Thanks for having us! That show at the Blackheart was a lot of fun. Overall, we had a great time at the fest, which is par for the course. This was our 6th year as official performers at SXSW, so by now we’ve got the hang of it.
For the past few years, we’ve performed at least eight times and this year was no exception. We play the fest like a touring band trying to get the most out of their time in Austin, yet, we get to sleep in our own beds at night. So, the fact that we are local is one of the things that makes our experience unique. For example, most of us have jobs that we need to schedule around. Dusty (Bass) is a chemist that works at a local lab, Matt and Claire Puckett (both play guitar and sing) work at a juice bar, and Evan (pedal steel) is a live sound engineer and had to miss all but one show.
I’m a freelance photographer and ended up working for Esquire Magazine throughout the week. Through a feat of scheduling acrobatics and fast driving, I managed to shoot portraits of Wayne Coyne, Will Butler, Shakey Graves, Hippocampus, John Legend and Snoop Dogg without missing a single show. I cut it pretty close though – on two occasions I hopped on stage five minutes before the set started. Regardless of whether one holds down a job during the week or not, I think everyone in the band would agree that SXSW is a marathon.
NT: How did this year’s SXSW festivities compare to years past for you guys? What sticks out as your most memorable SXSW experience this time around?
Kalifa: Like running a marathon, playing at least eight shows in six days doesn’t really get easier. You just learn to anticipate what is going to happen, plan accordingly, and brace yourself. Last year, we went way too hard. Mother Falcon played 10 shows as a band, a majority of us played an additional five shows as the backup band for our friend Kelly Pratt and his solo project “Bright Moments,” and about half of that number played a single show with local band “Sip Sip.” That put most of us, myself included, at 16. I think Sterling (tenor sax) won the gold medal: he played all of these shows and more, putting him at a whopping 22 shows. This year we only played eight times, which gave us a chance to actually enjoy the festival.
As far as memorable experiences go…For the past few years, Mother Falcon has kicked off SXSW by curating a show full of our friends’ bands and bands we hope to become friends with. Last year we gave it an official name: All the Friends Ball. The idea is to get as many friends to play on a bill as possible. We invite our Austin homies, who we’ve played shows with and known for years, and invite bands we’ve toured with or met on the road. We also invite people whose music we love or are curious to hear. This year we had music on three separate stages from 35 bands including two Pakistani bands playing traditional music, a folk quintet from Alaska, a Sun Ra-style arkestra and every other genre imaginable. Seeing four traditionally-dressed Pakistani musicians sitting on the stage and performing inside at Empire Control Room, then walking outside to hear our friend Gina Chavez play incendiary Latin jams made me feel incredibly lucky to know all of these badass musicians and to live in the fine city of Austin, TX.
NT: You also shot an incredible music video for “Kid” that doesn’t seem like it was a very easy, laid-back process for co-lead singer Claire Puckett. How did you all conceive of the idea for the video and how did you convince her to go along with those underwater takes and cricket-covered scenes?
Kalifa: The music video for “Kid” was conceived as a meditation on the near-death experience that Claire had as a child. In the song she reflects on coming face-to-face with death and, later on that same day, killing crickets in the hallway with her friends. That cognitive dissonance that resulted from thinking about the fragility of life followed by casually killing crickets inspired the imagery for the video. Our goal was to create a feeling and evoke a visceral reaction rather than pursue a more literal narrative.
Believe it or not, Claire didn’t really need much convincing to do any of this. She was totally game and enthusiastic from the beginning. I believe that because it’s an interpretation of her story, she was willing to put herself in more physically demanding circumstances to raise the level of emotional intensity. It also helped that the whole project was produced in-house. Matt Puckett and I came up with the idea, I directed, shot, and edited it, and band members and close friends stepped up as crew members.
Claire and I have known each other for seven years, so there was an element of trust and comfort that streamlined the process. Plus, for every scene that Claire is underwater, I’m in there with her. We did a handful of takes with the live crickets and after each shot, the crew had to run around the room catching and returning them to the bag so we could reuse them and avoid causing an infestation in our friend’s studio. It was definitely a shared discomfort (that Claire bore the brunt of) but I don’t think the video would be as effective if we didn’t deliberately put ourselves in these gnarly situations.
NT: Along with “Kid,” Mother Falcon Summer Sampler also includes tracks from your previous albums and an extended version of “Waltz” that’s exclusive to this release. What inspired you to pick these specific songs to introduce the band to a new audience?
Kalifa: Because it is summer, we want to be there with you. To ensure that you won’t shrug us quickly, we wanted to give you the range of sonic elements we had to offer. For that perfect summer morning, trade your alarm clock in for “Fireflies”. Afternoons, as you sit in your car shaking off the heat with a little AC, treat yourself to textural baths of “Porcelain.” “Sleep” and many others offer you that late night magic that ensures this will be a summer like no other.
If you become hooked, this mix also gives you hope for what our new album could offer you. The exclusive “Waltz” gives a little glimpse into the second half of our new record – an instrumental suite dedicated to the lives of the Starcraft gaming community. Our single, “Kid” gives a hint to what might be into our next chapter, our slow dive into the groove pool. We are pumped that you have chosen to let us in those ears of yours. Enjoy and remember, this summer is all about good luck and having fun.
Hello again, my NoiseTrading friends! Summer’s in full swing and I’m back with another batch of songs to guide you through the long days and (hopefully) cool nights of the sweltering season. This week’s group of tunes has a bit of a sprawling international lineage (Nashville, New Zealand, and Finland) and they all sound ready-made for a rolled-down window road trip or a day by the pool/beach/watering hole of your choosing. The book recommendation this week is a stone-cold classic as well, so don’t pass it by. Alrighty, get into all the things!
A couple of weeks ago I highlighted SOCIAL and their debut single “F.I.Y.E.” because I was truly impressed with the band’s sound and their infectious melodic flourishes. “Drive” is their equally strong follow-up single and its propulsive beats and lush synth tones combine for another just-can’t-get-enough sonic journey. It’s no coincidence that SOCIAL have released both singles in time for your summer soundtrack inclusion because both tracks have an undeniable energy to them that will pair perfectly with sun-soaked days, long drives, and late-night hangs.
Name your band after a B-52’s song (especially one from their debut album) and you can guarantee it’ll grab my attention. In the case of Auckland, New Zealand’s Planet Claire, that single listen will turn into multiple listens very quickly. Planet Claire has released two EPs so far (A and B) and both are packed with new wave-inspired electronic instrumentals that will sweep you away to new places that are perfectly built on warm nostalgic sounds and modern production touches. Out of the two EPs, I’ve returned to B a couple more times than A, but only by a very few spins. Try them both!
Who says album artwork isn’t important in the age of iTunes and digital-only releases? The cover to Llamassence’s Abyssmal Gigantism EP sports a pleasant underwater scene complete with a curious scuba diver, a sprawling sea floor, and a docile half-llama/half-octopus. Yes, you read that right. Were that not reason enough to pause and give Llamassence a listen (and really what else do you need?), the six sings contained within are a really interesting mix of soaring guitar riffs and prog-rock song structures. Also, half-llama/half-octopus, you guys.
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the scorn of many a high school student over the last century, is actually a pretty unbelievable and fantastic read. Whether you loved or hated it in school – or are just tired of not getting the “Call me Ishmael” or “crazy Captain Ahab” references sprinkled throughout pop culture – then this weekend is the perfect time to crack open this dense-but-worth-the-read classic. Hop aboard the Pequod, try to keep up with Ishmael’s rambling asides, and pray the coffin keeps you afloat until the end!
This interview can be downloaded in its entirety on NoiseTrade Books.
New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler is the creator of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories. His works are available from Crown Publishing and Del Rey Books.
In 2005, Scott built a large online following by releasing his audiobooks as serialized podcasts. A decade later, he still gives his stories away — for free — every Sunday at scottsigler.com. His loyal fans, who named themselves “Junkies,” have downloaded over thirty-five million individual episodes.
He has been covered in Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher’s Weekly, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, io9, Wired, The Huffington Post, Business Week and Fangoria.
Scott is the co-founder of Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his Galactic Football League YA series. He lives in San Diego, CA, with his wee little dog Reesie. They’re both diehard Detroit Lions fans.
Tell us about Alive.
My shorthand description is Lord of the Flies meets Saw. Alive is a story of survival in a world without rules, without safety. Far more “survival of the smartest” than “survival of the fittest,” it’s also a commentary on how the generation in power does everything it can to keep that power out of the hands of the young.
This is what I call a no-bookmark-needed book, because it’s impossible to put down for long enough forget where you were. The pacing was breathtaking, and a big part of why I felt so much a part of the characters. What was the writing process like? Was it a sprint through the first draft?
I’ve actually been working on Alive on and off since 2008, so it was by no means a sprint. Drawing the reader through the story is part of the writing craft. There were many drafts, many changes, tweaks and refinements.
Time in the book is very fluid— with no daylight and a constant fight for survival, time can’t be marked by things like meals and when people wake up and go to bed. Did you struggle with this at all through the process?
I struggled immensely with the lack of common touchstones, like meals, history, cultural references and even units of measurement. For example, I couldn’t use phrases like “knocked that out of the park” or “fire-truck red” because those are terms specific to modern times. The characters in Alive don’t have those references, or any references, when they begin.
The lack of familiarity is part of the Twilight Zone feel of Alive. Everything is new to the characters. They are forming their culture, relationships and alliances as they go. Not having that constant structure of pop culture and common values proved to be the hardest writing challenge I’ve ever had — you don’t realize how ubiquitous these things are until you sit down to craft a story where you can’t use any of them.
I thought you captured the voice of the adolescent female pretty amazingly in this book, especially as male writer. The thoughts, feelings and actions felt very true to the character, her age, and her circumstances. What was your process like for getting into the right headspace to do this?
I think teenagers and pre-teens at large are far more alike than they are different, regardless of gender. If I capture that feeling of being alone, being misunderstood, of fearing rejection and humiliation, then that’s something people not only identify with, they imprint their own emotional experiences upon it. That makes Em feel real.
Obviously, though, I am not — nor have I ever been — a teenage girl. I relied heavily on the input of several women of various ages. As with almost every facet of my writing it’s invaluable to get perspectives other than mine, otherwise all the characters would either feel wooden or feel like clones of one another. My nieces, in particular, were very influential in the formation of Em, as were my recollections of high school classmates that were obvious leaders or aggressive athletes as young women.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that Em is female. It doesn’t matter that Bishop is male. Alive is the story of a post-gender and post-racial environment. They simply don’t have the cultural touchstones to know if gender even matters. In Alive, no one cares about your equipment, they only care if you can get the job done.
What about your other characters? Do you do “interviews” or have any other tricks for getting to know the people in your books?
In all of my previous books, I have particular songs for characters that get me into their mind-set. That works because I’m usually writing from multiple points of view. For ALIVE, however, it’s first-person, and all from Em’s perspective.
Instead of using songs, I “cast” the movie with images of images of young actors, actresses, athletes and more that captured the essence of the characters. I printed these sheets out and put them on the wall behind my desk. When I needed to really dial in Em, for example, I spent a few moments looking at a picture of Michelle Rodriguez from the movie Girl Fight. For Bishop, it was Jai Courtney from his Spartacus days. Every character had a picture. They are still up on my wall as I am already working on Book II, Alight.
Often in sci-fi or dystopian books, the reader is thrown into a world and has to find their way around while the characters live. In Alive, Em wakes up in this new world at the same time as we, the readers, do, and we learn about it together. What is your process for learning about the world of your novels? Do you create drawings and models?
I do drawings and models both. I use anything and everything to help paint the picture in my head, so I can convey those perceptions to the reader. For Alive I used less descriptive detail than I have for other books, something I learned from Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins doesn’t spend much time with detailed description — she gives a few words and lets the reader’s head paint the picture. As young writers, I think we use too many words and get in the way of the most powerful painting machine in existence: the reader’s mind.
So the purpose of drawings and models is largely for continuity purposes. I can’t tell you a room is ten strides apart in Chapter One, then in Chapter Twenty-One a character runs fifteen strides from wall to wall. Most of the bookkeeping in Alive was to make sure I not only built a world in which you wander, but also to make sure that world had fixed rules that did not vary.
Based on the early reviews on Amazon, I think all of us want to know: when is the next book? We’re ready right now!
Alight is Book II, due out February 2, 2016. Book III, Alone, is due out summer of that same year.
For those that aren’t familiar with your other work, tell us a little bit about your other novels.
I have two main lines of work. The first is modern-day horror/thrillers, published with Crown Publishing. I usually describe this as hard-science horror, or “If Stephen King wrote with science instead of the supernatural.” These books can get pretty intense and — at times — gory. My favorite tagline for my modern-day books is: “If you want blood, you got it.”
The other line is my Galactic Football League series, based on a far-future American pro football league where sport is the only thing stopping racism from tearing the galaxy apart. I’ll list the description of Book I, The Rookie:
Set in a lethal pro football league 700 years in the future, The Rookie is a story that combines the intense gridiron action of Any Given Sunday with the space opera style of Star Wars and the criminal underworld of The Godfather.
Aliens and humans alike play positions based on physiology, creating receivers that jump 25 feet into the air, linemen that bench-press 1,200 pounds, and linebackers that literally want to eat you. Organized crime runs every franchise, games are fixed and rival players are assassinated.
Follow the story of Quentin Barnes, a 19-year-old quarterback prodigy that has been raised all his life to hate, and kill, those aliens. Quentin must deal with his racism and learn to lead, or he’ll wind up just another stat in the column marked “killed on the field.”
Tell us about Siglerverse.
That’s the name for the timeline that encapsulates all of my novels and most of my short stories. In the Siglerverse, all stories are interrelated. Characters from one novel might show up in another, cataclysmic events suffered in modern-day stories directly impact the culture of stories set centuries later. Every event matters, because every event is a potential butterfly event that can impact the storylines that follow.
That’s not to say that every book is a sequel of the one that came before it. Not at all. Most stories are stand-alone, you can read them and enjoy them without having to have read the ten that preceded it. But the stories are all set in the same “world,” which is basically our world, with the cultures, empires, institutions and dynamics we deal with on a daily basis.
The Siglerverse entails:
- Pre-modern stories (the yet-unwritten Nocturnal prequel)
- Modern-day stories (Infected, Contagious, Ancestor, Nocturnal, Pandemic)
- Crypt-era stories, set 500 years from now (focusing on a hard-scifi military series called The Crypt).
- GFL-era stories, set 700 years from now
Does Alive fit into the timeline of Sigelerverse?
Yes. I can’t tell you what era, or how it fits in, but it is definitely a part of the Siglerverse.
You have a really unique publishing strategy, you release your books through serialized podcasts before you release them in the traditional formats. How and why did you start this process?
I landed a print deal with an imprint of AOL/TimeWarner, and Earthcore was supposed to be out in mass market paperback in May 2002. However, in the post-9/11 recession, TimeWarner scrapped everything that wasn’t profitable. My imprint wasn’t profitable yet, hence, the whole project was shut down. It took me about three years to get the rights back. By then it was 2005, I discovered podcasting, and thought it was going to be the future of novels, short stories and storytelling.
People often ask me if it was scary, giving away content for free that I had planned to charge for, without the guarantee of ever making a profit. It wasn’t scary at all, it was a huge opportunity to be the first to do something like this, and use that to build an audience. I saw the connections people make online, and knew that if I created a great product, some people would like it and instantly send their friends MP3 links via IM, forums, chat rooms, blog posts, email, etc. Giving the first book away was about building a brand name, and proving that my work resonated with the marketplace. At the time, I assumed I’d pick up 10,000 subscribers and land a print deal. I hadn’t counted on the fact that publishers had no idea what podcasting was, or MP3s, or downloads or really even the internet, for that matter. I accomplished the goal, but it took five books and three years to get there.
Does the book ever change from the podcasting to the print?
The podcasting is the audiobook, and the audiobook recording is usually the final phase of editing. Reading the book out loud lets me catch errors and little bits of language that might trip the reader up. I make those corrections as I record, then the publisher enters them, then it’s off to the presses.
I read an interview from 2014 where you said you have material built up for at least three more years of podcasting. Is that still the case?
At least! We have two full novels recorded that we haven’t podcast yet, as well as GFL Book VI, Alight and Alone which all have yet to be written, and three novellas we haven’t released that have yet to be recorded.
I know you’ve had some interest in doing television and movie adaptations of your books. How has that process been?
Rocky. It takes millions of dollars to launch a TV or movie property, and executives are adverse to risk. The business seems to move very slowly and methodically. Even for rock stars like Neil Gaiman, it can take over a decade to see a property even begin production.
My business partner A Kovacs and I know that those TV deals are up to other people, so we do the best we can to be good partners to our producers. We try to give them every tool we can so they can go out and land opportunities. Nothing yet, but we’re working hard.
What’s a typical day look like for you?
Up at 6am for “sleepy email reply” time. Running with the Dog of Døøm at 7am for a half-hour, with some dumbbell lifting while I watch the news to become more educated about our world (which is a lie, I usually watch an episode of Archer). Shower up, eat breakfast, be writing by 9am. Write from 9am to 1pm, then spend the rest of the day handling email, social media and other business opportunities.
When on deadline, though, all of that usually goes right out the window. It’s more like, up at 7am, eat a Pop-Tart, put the dog out back, write and edit from 7:30am to 11pm, go to bed, repeat for about five weeks until book is done, spend 24 hours sleeping to recover, wake to a Scotch and an afternoon of FIFA on the PS4.
Do you work on one project from start to finish, or do you work on several projects at one time? If more than one, how do you keep everything straight?
It depends on the deadlines. A and I are experienced enough now that we can usually clear the schedule and work on one thing only. The problem is that even though I outline extensively, so much of the story fabric and webbing are only in my head, and if I start working on Project B, much of the threading of Project A withers away, and the only way to get it back is to start from the beginning. That’s not every efficient, so we avoid it at all costs.
What are you working on now?
I am in full writing beast-mode for Alight, Book II in the Generations Trilogy.
With everything you have going on, what do you do to relax?
I play with the Dog of Døøm, play FIFA, play my basses, read and watch movies. Except for NFL season, then every Sunday is Lions Day no matter what’s going on.
I can’t write without music. It shapes everything I create.
What music is on heavy rotation in your life right now?
In This Moment’s entire catalog, Black Widow in particular, Postmodern Jukebox, Von Smith, James Brown, Maylene & The Sons of Disaster (I start every day of writing with “Step Up (I’m On It)” All That Remains, The Heavy, The Used, Skunk Anansie, The Donnas, Icon for Hire, Halestrom, Zoë Keating, Five Finger Death Punch, and always — always — AC/DC.
Other than that, it’s usually a story-specific playlist.
Do you have a favorite book/author that you want everyone to read?
Jack London, Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King are my favorites, but most people know them. Check out Jonathan Maberry, David Wellington and Pierce Brown and you can thank me later.
What are you reading right now?
A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Zerøes by Chuck Wendig
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
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