sabrina is not in this chat Are LA’s Freshest And Sharpest Trio

To write about sabrina is not in this chat in terms of influences is a tremendous disservice to their inventiveness and originality. The Los Angeles-based experimental rock trio test the constraints of rock music, pushing against punk rock’s insistence on brevity and experimental music’s formlessness with destructive élan. Sharp, smart, and wholly refreshing, Sabrina quash easy comparisons to their peers or forebears. Yet it’s nearly impossible to think about the group without considering the striations of No Wave, Post Punk, and Math Rock that run prominently across the group’s DNA.

Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Olivia DeBonis, bassist Maddie Calderon, and drummer Siena LaMere, Sabrina have been slowly gaining traction in the West Coast experimental scene and beyond. Last fall the group embarked on a tour of the East Coast. The previous summer, they played a smattering of shows all around California, as documented in a rough, guerilla-style home video. The band’s debut full length album Not Recommended for Sensitive Skin was released January of this year, which has generated critical acclaim and even a co-sign (albeit, an obscure one) from Cherry Glazerr.

I met with Maddie in Pasadena to discuss Sabrina’s history, the future of the group, and the overall experimental scene in California.

Tell us about the band’s history.

Siena and Olivia have actually known each other for around five years. They went to school together and had played in bands together before. I met Olivia through my best friend Julian when they had started hanging out. Siena and Olivia had started a band already and Julian kept going, “You know they need a bassist right?” And I had just picked up my bass and I was still kind of learning and getting a feel for it. I went and jammed with them and it just worked really well. We’ve been doing that for two years now as of February.

Had you been in any bands before that?

No, it was my first. I like to say that I learned how to play bass in Sabrina. It wasn’t their first band, they used to be in a band called Kindergarteners… but this was my first band. I’ve been in other ones since then, but this is my baby!

Did you know about Kindergarteners before meeting them?

Julian had told me about them, but I hadn’t seen them. They’re actually from [North Hollywood and Studio City] so they’re from a little bit different of a scene than I was. I’ve been in Pasadena for the last six years. So there’s a little bit of distance there, but it’s starting to overlap.

How long have you been with Penniback records?

I’ve personally been working for Penniback for a long time. I met Julian—he’s the co-founder—in high school. And at the end of our senior year was when we started hanging out and we’d ditch at lunch and go get fish tacos… and he said, “You should come to a show,” and the first show I ever went to was a Penniback show and it was at The Smell. The Buttertones and the Meow Twins were playing. I was like, “Woah, this shit still happens?!”… That’s our community. That’s where we got our start.

We [Penniback] have always been booking shows as a promotional group and we recently got a website where we could showcase what’s going on and anything new with our artists. But we’ve always been a record label, just I think our media outlets are changing, but not by much.

Has everything Sabrina’s released been through Penniback? No self-releases or other labels?

No, our first two were through Penniback. We’re probably the most independent band on that label as far as functioning on our own and getting stuff done, which is cool. We took care of all of our recording stuff and they helped with the PR.

Some of the songs on Not Recommended have been released previously as singles or on EPs.

Yeah, we have around three new tracks on the album and we took the last two EPs, and they were kind of like demo recordings, and we got serious about recording everything. We wanted it really nice, so we met up with Andrew Oswald, who recorded everything for us, and he’s recorded so many of our favourite bands and we just love what he does. So it was cool to be able to work with him. We were actually supposed to go up to San Francisco to record it, and his studio got shut down or it had to be moved, and he was in between spaces so he was like, “Fuck it, I’ll just come to Anaheim, I’ll just come to you to record!” And we packed all three of us, all of Siena’s drum kit, my bass amp, Olivia’s guitar, and day packs in my little Honda Fit. And we made it to Anaheim.

Did you always have the intention to put the songs on a full length album?

We knew that eventually we were going to want to rerecord and make them nice. I think the initial point of when we first released the first two EPs was like, “OK, let’s get our stuff out so we can be heard as fast as it can be,” and then towards the end we thought, “We have some new stuff and we want to get a little more serious and clean things up a little bit more.” It was intentional, but I don’t think we knew when we first releasing the EPs that we were going to rerecord all of it. But I’m really glad we did.

Do you feel like you’ve gotten more attention since putting everything out on an LP?

Definitely. It was definitely more costly, so we were like, “Let’s really push it!” The album art—I made the actual set and we got together and fucked with the lighting and the toys to find out what works. It was definitely a long process.

Can you talk about the writing process for the album?

I feel like the writing process has never really changed from our dynamic, which I kind of love. Hyena and Clean are the first songs that were ever written, and that was before I joined the band, actually. And then everything from there—either I’ll bring a bass riff or Olivia will bring a guitar riff and we’ll jam on it. There’s so many recordings, 45-minute recordings on my phone where we were trying to record some songs for a demo and we accidentally jammed for 45 minutes, and we’re like, “Oh shit, that was so tight, I’m so glad we were recording!” [Laughs]. A lot of our stuff has come from that, which is really cool.

The last two songs that were added to the album were This Innocent Fish and Relief. Both of those are pretty insane, they’re definitely the craziest songs we’ve written. They’re very abrasive, but more technical. I feel like Relief is kind of a cult classic; I feel like a lot of people aren’t going to get that one. This Innocent Fish… I didn’t think too much of that song when we released it, but our friend Alex was like, “When are you gonna play that one again?

I came across an interview you did with Urban Outfitters.

[Laughs] It’s so old! That was our second or third show we did, the Play Like a Girl show. That’s what we did the interview for. I can’t even remember… they set up a photo shoot for us at the park. It’s really old. That was a weird show!

Was it all right? Did it go well?

I think our first five shows were pretty rough, but good in the right aspects. Everyone was still able to kind of understand what we were doing even if weren’t able to articulate it well enough. People were like, “That shit’s weird, I’m down!” Cool, glad you get it!

Our first show was a house show and it was crazy, it was almost a joke. We had barely practiced, my bass broke and I was trying to tune it with pliers… and it was kind of intimidating to me at the time. Olivia got wiped out by some kids moshing, she was tossed over her amp and the drum kit. It was crazy, we’ve come a long way. But I truly love house shows. I think I can speak on behalf of all of us that they’re the most intimate setting you can have.

Do you play more house shows than bars or other venues?

It’s pretty even, actually. For the last few months we were getting ready for tours so we slapped a guarantee on some stuff and we saved up to go out, so as of recently it’s been more venues than house shows, but we usually have a pretty even cut. Bars are always super frustrating because I’m the oldest and I just turned 21, so we usually get told, “All right, sit outside until your set, get back out there when you’re done,” or, “You have to stay in that corner and you can’t leave!” [Laughs] They don’t care!

You said earlier that your sound is very abrasive. How do live shows typically go, are people generally receptive to that kind of style?

Most of the time, I think we’re pretty fortunate. We play to a lot of musicians, so I feel like the response from that is kind of different from someone who doesn’t play music. But even from someone who just listens to music, we get good responses. I [recently] met this girl who just came up to me and was like, “Your band is sick,” and I’m always baffled when someone is like, “Yo, that’s cool.” I just wonder, “Really? You think so? I’m just getting shit out!

But, people are pretty receptive, and if not, there’s always at least one person that’s really down with it. We played a house show in D.C. and people were sitting down and they started leaving, but there were two people who were like, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” They bought us drinks later and we hung out. That one person is really all I need. But usually it’s pretty good.

Tell me about the tour you did on the East Coast last fall.

The last time we did a tour we did South by Southwest and then we went on a West Coast tour, but this was the longest we’d ever been on the East Coast and we did a lot of damage. We went to a lot of places. We crashed our friend’s van the first night of the tour in the snow. It was so bad, we were driving to Skidmore for a show we almost cancelled… It took us five hours, and thirty minutes from our destination, we were going twenty miles per hour, and it was the calmest collision. We were there for two hours, but we got the car back the next day in perfect condition (aside from cosmetically damaging it). My homie ended up actually buying it off him and drove it back over here. But we did the whole tour in that van.

We went to Philadelphia, Boston, and I swear to god, we met someone way more eccentric than the night before. The weirdest people and situations just kept happening and it was very surreal. We ended at The Glove in New York. It was amazing, we played with Godcaster… that whole night was so surreal but it was a great way to end it. It was emotional: it was cold, it was long, there were tears, there were laughs… lots of bagels, lots of bread [laughs].

How does the East Coast compare to shows back here in California?

It depends on where you’re at. Philadelphia was kind of difficult, one our shows in Philly dropped and the other one—we had fun, but it was weird. So much had come down at that point and we were just a little bit delirious. I actually just screamed through the entire set for no reason, and it was honestly one of the most fun sets we’ve ever played. There were five people and this big ass dude who said, “Quantity or quality?” and Olivia said, “How do you measure quality?” and he was like, “I SELL PURE COCAINE!” What’s happening?! Where are we?!

But we’ve played some really crazy LA shows, so I haven’t really noticed a significant difference. I feel like New York is more receptive to experimental stuff, so we definitely get a lot of feedback when we’re there, which is cool.

You have some songs like This Innocent Fish, which are very tightly structured and seem difficult to improvise over, but there are also songs like Intermission and Sabrina the Nut that are more meandering and maybe easier to improv with.

Sabrina the Nut is just an iPhone recording jam. We don’t perform that, it was just something we started doing and we were like, “What’s happening? I don’t know, just keep doing it!” And Intermission is a completely improvised jam that we did at the end of recording. We really wanted to do a completely fresh jam. They’re not songs we play live and they’re just completely improvised.

Do you do improv on stage?

Sometimes, we definitely have to be feeling it, but we’ve done some pretty cool improv. We’re very much a jam band in that aspect, we’re really good at feeding off each other’s energy and knowing what’s to come or how to counteract what’s to come. It’s nice.

A lot of these songs shift abruptly into new sections that don’t really sound like anything that’s come before. When you write these songs are they cobbled together from different ideas that have been floating around or do you deliberately set out to write pieces with all these disparate parts?

Sometimes it’s very deliberate and other times it’s like, “Yo, that other thing we were jamming on a week ago would be really sick on this.Sabrina was pretty deliberate; a lot what ends up in the song… it made us laugh. At first when we were recording it, two of our homies were like, “Are they serious?!” But it’s very playful and jokey, but the bass is more sinister. That is intentional. I feel like there’s a good mix of intention and appreciating free form and going with some kind of flow, but intentionally so.

I’ve read that you describe your songwriting style as “choppy.” Do you still stand by that?

I do! I think I was talking about my lyrical style being choppy, but also musically I’m kind of choppy too. I’m writing in an emo band now and so I’ve got to be better at transitions. But vocally and lyrically… I practice writing without stopping. Sometimes it’s not always coherent, but if I keep going, what I want to come out or what I feel needs to come out, does.

But it’s not a full sentence, it’s just statements or words. But my brain’s kind of like that too; I have a very hard time organizing my thoughts, so it’s easier for me and I feel like it’s more honest. But I also love Built to Spill, and that motherfucker—just paragraphs and paragraphs [laughs]! It’s whatever is sincere and honest to you.

It seems like [Los Angeles club] The Smell has been a big part of the band’s history, can you talk about your experience with that?

I feel like it’s a big part of our entire community’s history. The first show I ever went to in LA was at The Smell. I grew up in a tiny, tiny town, and when I moved here I didn’t get out of Pasadena, and my dumb ass thought Pasadena was LA and I was like, “This is kinda whack!” And I went to the show and was like, “Woah, this shit happens?! This is real?!” And I wouldn’t be playing my bass today if it wasn’t for The Smell.

I probably wouldn’t be in Sabrina, I wouldn’t have met Olivia. Where I met Olivia was at The Smell. That’s like a huge, fundamental part of our community. Joe Smith is our dad, he provides us with a safe space to grow what we’re doing and expose others, and we’re forever grateful.

What do you think it is about the LA experimental community that draws so many people in?

The LA experimental scene, I don’t think it’s that big. I think we’re coming out of… I missed the whole Burger Records wave, I came right as that was dying out. I came when a lot of bands were trying to rip off those bands, trying to ride off that wave, and it was like, you missed it!

As of recently, there’s definitely been some weirder stuff popping up. It’s almost getting more math-ey, but not in a commercial way, in a less obnoxious way. I love math rock, but there’s definitely a lot of people who are like, “I can’t listen to this! There’s too much going on!” But I feel that [style] being implemented more. I definitely think that it’s up and coming and that we’re inspiring each other to make new weird stuff and challenge the next thing. It’s growing for sure. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

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Talking About New-Age Hip-Hop with LaLion

Everyone has something to say about the ‘new’ wave of rappers, most of it being unfairly slated by old school hip-hop heads afraid to see the genre evolve or change. Rid yourself of this apprehension and you’re sure to find a bunch of extremely talented individuals (e.g Lou The Human) out there that have somehow flown under the mainstream radar, Seattle based rapper LaLion being just that. With his fast delivery, clever bars, and hard beats he’s slowly gaining the attention he deserves. With 2 albums already released, he’s targeting the big time.

The 21-year-old started rapping at the age of 11 and, much like the running theme of new age rappers, took inspiration from genres other than hip-hop. While he grew up listening to notable big shots like Biggie, 2Pac, and Kendrick, LaLion states “I spent most of my teen years playing in bands and practicing guitar. So, a lot of my inspiration comes from rock bands like Linkin Park, The Strokes, and Nirvana“.

A rock influence is nothing new for a lot of rappers nowadays but it has certainly helped the likes of LaLion to pave a new chapter for the genre they hold dear. Kurt Cobain went on to inspire a plethora of kids with guitars but he’s even gone as far to heavily influence hip hop long after his death, with his bleak and gloomy outlook becoming the foundations for others to build upon. Denzel Curry may just be the bluntest about this, naming a song ‘Clout Cobain’ which revolved around the consequences of fame while dealing with paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The late Lil Peep could have arguably been heralded as carrying the Nirvana’s star flame into the surge of SoundCloud rap.

LaLion has ensured that this gloomy aesthetic isn’t merely just that, his adamance about his music being more than just a look being truly palatable. “My music is made to cater to the person who is struggling through something in their life.  My music style reflects anger towards the modern normality’s that are causing kids to kill themselves. If we are talking stylistically my music is a mix between Bone-Thugs and Linkin Park.”

His childhood and surroundings have also played a part in his lyrical content too. “Seattle is a dark and depressing place. Growing up in the Seattle area has made an impact on my music.  We have grey clouds nine out of the twelve months and homeless people on every block.

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While he has his hopes set high, LaLion is a firm believer in staying humble and hopes to make that firm for any young rappers with lofty goals but don’t make time for their craft. “It is the most important thing you could do.  I see a lot of young artists with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, but they release one song every three months.  And that song ends up not sounding very good. But it depends on the type of artist you want to be. If you want to be the best, you need to work more than the rest.

The rapper also thinks it’s vital for youngsters to understand history of hip hop. “You need to understand who built the foundation for where you are standing”. With the conversation about culture vultures and appropriation in music still ongoing, it’s definitely a perspective worth bearing in mind.

Talking of the ‘new wave’, artists like Lil Pump, LiL Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld have faced criticism for their style of hip hop because of their so called ‘lazy lyrics’ and ‘auto-tuned effects’. However, there’s a place for every sound and most criticism these artists have faced can seem almost venomous. LaLion agrees and thinks there’s room for all types of hip hop. “The ‘new school’ rappers as you put, are club artists. So, if I’m in a club or a party, sure, put that shit on.” But he also believes it is extremely important to stay unique. “That’s probably why all these kids are getting face tattoos. They want to be impossible to copy with their image. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the music and they end up sounding like the last guy.

But where does LaLion see himself in the coming years? His dream one day is to “Be the best in the game. Grammy’s. Most streamed. The best.” Just like his idol and favourite rapper of all time Eminem.

I wouldn’t say that I am recognised even now. But when I started this, yes.  I came into it with the thought I will be the best in the game without a doubt.  Confidence is key.” – Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs)

A Wee Chat with…Velveteen Riot

As they prepare themselves for a tour that will take them all over the prime cities to play in Scotland, there’s never a better time to sit down with Velveteen Riot than right now.

They’ve undoubtedly become more prominent over the past year, in no small part to them being brought on to support Wolf Alice in 2017 and following that up with a sturdy new EP. So before they set off to Perth in a fortnight’s time, let’s see what the band have to say as liam menzies (@blinkclyro) asks them about their career so far, what makes them stand out and much, much more.

 

photos fae Mairi McAnena (FB)

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TRANSISTOR: Your EP ‘She Rains Over Me’ dropped last month – how have you guys felt since putting it out into public? Is there anything you’ve learned from any of the feedback received?

Velveteen Riot: We were really excited with how much of a response we got with it. It got way more attention than we anticipated and people were reacting really well to it. It’s definitely the work we’re proudest of so far.

T: In your view, what makes Velveteen Riot stand out as a band?

VR: I think what makes us stand out is that we’re basically the ABBA of shoegaze. Though joking aside, we’re not trying to stand out, we’re just making music for ourselves. We started out as four strangers who met online that wanted to play music but as times gone on it’s been out friendship that has driven the band forward. We’ve become really close, Velveteen Riot wouldn’t work without all of us – we’ve not had any lineup changes because to do that would be to change the entire dynamic of us as a band. I think this is what grabs people’s attention as we’re just trying to be ourselves rather than trying to emulate anyone else.

T: In addition, what’s your general view of the Scottish music scene, specifically Glasgow?

VR: Glasgow has such a rich music scene with so many great bands and venues. Although, there can be a very cliquey nature to some of it and a lot of smaller scenes have formed within it that can be quite hard to get into if you don’t know the right people. It’s a bit like high school in a way – if you get in with the designated cool kids you’re able to get much more attention than the bands that are still starting out, or running their own gigs.

That being said, we’ve had such a great experience playing in Glasgow and have gotten to play with some great bands. We’ve all grown up listening to Glasgow bands and are incredibly proud to be one ourselves and to be a part of such an amazing music scene.

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T: You got to support Wolf Alice – what was that like? Are there any other bands you guys would be keen on supporting in the near future?

VR: Wolf Alice was surreal. It’s been a year and none of us really believe it happened. They were some of the nicest people we’ve ever played with and that gig was one of the moments that made us think, “huh, people actually really like what we do”. It was a big confidence boost for us going forward and it’s given us a real determination to keep developing our sound.

The list of bands we’d love to support is endless really, of course, there’s Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. We’re also all big fans of Sunflower Bean. Additionally, it’d be very cool to support some of the Scottish bands we grew up loving such as Franz Ferdinand, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Pastels.

T: Speaking of gigs, how has your experience playing live turned out? What makes a Velveteen Riot show?

VR: Lots of fun and lots of mistakes. Playing gigs is one of our favourite parts of being in a band. What makes a Velveteen Riot show for us is having a lot of fun and not taking ourselves or the show too seriously. Our confidence playing live is constantly evolving, none of us are very extroverted so it has taken some time to find our feet on stage. We aim to produce the best sound we possibly can and just enjoy ourselves. Overall, I think our authenticity and pure passion for the music is what makes a Velveteen Riot show.

T: Lastly, is there much in the way of plans for the rest of 2018?

VR: We’re planning a mini-tour in Autumn with a couple of our friends’ bands which we’re very hyped about, details on that will be announced very soon! We’re also are planning on recording more music and getting as much stuff out as we can before the year ends.

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stream velveteen riot’s she rains over me here

catch velveteen riot on tour:

18th October – Green Room, Perth

19th October – 13th Note, Glasgow

20th October – Secret Set, Dundee

21st October – The Cellar, Aberdeen

SWAY: Standing Out and Speaking Up

words fae liam menzies (@blinkclyro), photos courtesy of Daniel Blake (FB)

In a year that has seen both great things occur, such as bands like The Vegan Leather landing a tasty spot on the Electric Fields billing, as well as harrowing events, the loss of the O2 ABC being a prime one, the music scene in Glasgow is certainly one thing and that’s active.

The same can’t be said about Paisley based rock outfit Sway: thankfully the shoegazey foursome haven’t split up but this year has been a relatively quiet one which mostly comes down to some hapless occurrences. “We sadly didn’t hit the ground running this year due to some unfortunate circumstances outwith our hands,” tells frontman Craig, the details of which are unclear but regardless, it’s not all doom and gloom. “We took it slow for the first half of 2018, but for these last few months of the year? You’re gonna be hearing a lot more from us” adamantly states Matt, the band promising not only new material but branching out with their gigging by hitting some other locations across the UK they haven’t yet played.

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If you so happen to find yourself nearby a venue SWAY is playing at though, why should you bother to fork out and go along? JonJoe doesn’t mince words when declaring what makes the band stand out, the group priding themselves on “the darker topics we explore through our music and our different perspectives, as well as our interests, bleed into that“. This isn’t just a bit of PR fluff either – To Be A Man saw SWAY take aim at a toxic relationship bubbling over with manipulation, all juxtaposed with poppy sensibilities that no doubt take influence from the bleaker state of rock during the 80’s. Not only that but their latest single Another Lover sees the bass agonising over a fittingly desperate set of lyrics that pack in equal parts heartbreak and determination.

While the boys are no doubt focussed on their newest material, Matt is sure to use their time to sing the praises of other acts that are often overlooked. “There’s a fair amount of people who I’d say don’t get enough praise, but personally I’d say Lizzie Reid definitely doesn’t. Lizzie is an incredible singer/songwriter who’s been playing in and around Glasgow for some time now. I saw her at the Old Hairdresser’s not that long ago and was stunned at how moving her performance was.

You may be wondering where cool as a cucumber David DIV Roberts is through all this but don’t worry, he didn’t keep hush through this entire interview as he chimed in to talk about one of his favourite releases of the year. “For me, Shredd’s EP is astounding,” he says, Jonjoe concurring, before going on to reminisce about The Walkmen record The Rat which fills in whatever other time he has left. 

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All those days spent writing and gigging must take a toll on you but it seems SWAY have a pretty healthy coping mechanism in the form of, well, each other. “Personally writer’s block has been a constant problem,” Craig says “that I’ve had to deal with since I started to write music especially with outside factors over the past few years that suck your motivation and drive out of you. Luckily enough I’ve always been able to bounce off the rest of the boys and get back into it when going through a slump.

As the photos included throughout show, SWAY are a wholesome bunch of boys who aren’t afraid to dabble in some fun as well as some sombre topics. The fluidity and brotherhood displayed between them all, while often seen, is refreshing in the scene considering how they channel it into their music as well as their live shows. The band are very much that in general: refreshing, like a nice cold glass of water, though with probably a tear or two in there.

stream sway’s new single Another Lover here

Vistas: Touring, Tuts, and Teasing

words fae liam menzies (@blnkclyr)

It’s a sunburn inducingly warm day in Glasgow and already you’re probably asking yourself “is this interview lying before it’s even started” but no, it really was one of those special afternoons where the weather wasn’t as bleak as most of the general public were. Sitting (well standing, the tables turned and I was put in the hot seat) out behind the rubble littered back streets behind the iconic King Tuts venue, Prentice (vocals + guitar), Jamie (bass) and Dylan (guitar) of Vistas all crowd around the touring minivan, their soon to be humble abode when the boys set off a UK tour later this year. 

The prospect of a UK tour probably seemed like a faint glimmer in the band’s eye when things started off back in 2016 but two years later and the Edinburgh based band have found themselves excessively trailing over the country, accumulating millions of streams on Spotify and rubbing shoulders with inspirations like Circa Waves and The Magic Gang. Their brand of indie pop tunes, having started off more in the rock side of things, has obviously struck a chord with fans who have stood by them as they’ve further tinkered with it. According to Prentice, fans can expect a new EP in “September, October-ish” which they feel will be more of a new chapter for the band compared to their first one Medicine.

When it comes to prodding about the long-anticipated debut record, the answer is a bit murkier, Prentice simply saying that the band doesn’t want to force things out until they feel more comfortable. “We’re a very cautious band and we don’t want to do too much too soon before we’re ready and we get asked quite a lot when that album is coming out but admittedly we’re not prepared to do it“, going on to say how excessive touring can throw a further spanner in the works.

On that touring note, the boys aren’t taking things lightly; “We’re set to do around about 24 shows in the space of 30 days, give or take” Jamie states, teasing that there are quite a few to be announced though goes on to clarify how fatigued the experience can be. “When we did our first UK tour with touts, we were away from home for a month and looking back it wasn’t all that bad. Compared to our last two shows in London, we were absolutely done in from it” though Prentice builds on that by saying the horrible heat hasn’t helped matters which is probably for the best considering the energy of a Vistas show is a huge drawing in factor, both in the fans’ view and the band’s.

We’ve come on quite a bit the past six months but I think the fact we care so much gives us that edge, especially when we’re aware that people are spending £8-10 that they could spend elsewhere” Prentice chimes. Dylan chips in to say that while there is definitely that element to it, the band themselves have so much that they make the trip that people venture on to see them worth it, Jamie mentioning how many are off to see them tonight from Edinburgh where that journey can last twice as long as their set.

As the interview draws to a close, and Graham (drums) appears, no doubt from the drawn-out soundcheck that had happened prior to this, I wish the band luck on their performance tonight though I could have done the complete opposite and they would still have a successful night: photos from the Tuts gig flood into my social media feeds, the venue looks packed to the brim as the gratitude of the members are unashamedly painted on their faces. It’s easy to fawn over the popularity of Vistas but what’s worth mentioning is the sheer down to earth attitude that only goes to add to their likability: millions of listeners could easily fill up an ego but all that extra air has gone straight to their lungs so they can keep that consistent quality more than steady. 

 

 

Mom Jeans’ Eric Butler Discusses Touring, Collabs and Latest LP ‘Puppy Love’

words by Ryan Martin (@ryanmartin182)

Mom Jeans is a four-piece emo outfit hailing from southern California. After releasing their debut Best Buds in 2016, the world was introduced to their bouncy and addictive melodies that set the background for their aching post-breakup lyrics. The album really hit home for a lot of fans and garnered a mass cult following, all anxious to watch the band make their next move. Since then, Mom Jeans have been touring relentlessly, mostly with bands surrounding the independent label, Counter Intuitive Records. CI, (Counter Intuitive) has quickly become one of the most exciting up-and-coming labels in indie music for their roster of fresh and exciting new bands, most of whom exist within the indie/emo scene. Mom Jeans put out their first record on Counter Intuitive and planned to put out their second on SideOneDummy, home to acts such as PUP and Rozwell Kid. But when SideOneDummy began to slip and stopped signing new bands, Mom Jeans took it back to CI to release their second full-length, Puppy Love. I got the chance to chat with lead vocalist and songwriter Eric Butler to get a more in-depth look behind the album.

RM: Was there any pressure during the writing process for the album? Best Buds really clicked with so many people and really brought the band to another level of popularity. Did you feel Puppy Love had to have the same impact or were there any thoughts of trying to capitalize on what made the first record so special?

EB: I mean honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever gone into writing music with an intent of creating an impact, we’ve always just tried to write music that we think sounds cool and that’s fun for us to play. I think all four of us get a lot of gratification out of learning how to play new songs and sharing ideas and trying to make every song as fun as possible to play. For all of us, playing music has always been about having fun, having fun playing music together and getting to spend time together as friends has always been the number one priority. Playing big gigs is always cool and selling records is dope too but at the end of the day we just wanna make music together. In that respect, nothing really changed between best buds and puppy love. I can def say that putting a release together with the expectation that people would be listening to it/anticipating it was definitely new to us, but we really tried to set that aside and just make a record that we could be stoked on no matter what other people think about it.

RM: What was it like putting Puppy Love together? What songs were written first? Were there any that came together quicker than others?

EB: I’m definitely a super slow writer, and it was definitely tough to get the ball rolling as far as writing songs for an album rather than just writing songs. I think sponsor me tape and season 9 were the first songs that I was like “ok these are goin’ on LP 2”, but in general it’s pretty hard for me to keep writing/working on something unless I’m super into it or unless I feel like it’s really going in a direction that I like. From there like usual I brought all the song skeletons to Austin, Bart and Gabe and we hashed them out and everybody wrote parts that made sense and that they liked. Pretty much every song that we’ve put together since best buds (minus the split songs) ended up on puppy love except for maybe one or two.

RM: The CI family is having such an amazing year, it must be pretty surreal at the moment. Has surrounding yourself with like-minded musicians and friends helped push MJ as well as other bands forward creatively?

EB: Absolutely! For us I think it’s really important to be surrounded by like-minded and similarly-oriented people. Playing hundreds of shows a year can get pretty tiring and I think a lot of people get burnt out on playing and touring pretty fast, but for us I feel like every tour or project that we work on is super exciting and super motivating because every single band that’s around us is absolutely killing it. Most of the musical influences that got me inspired and excited to work on new music came from listening to other CI bands like Just Friends, Nervous Dater, Retirement Party, Prince Daddy, and all the extended fam like Chatterbot and Open Door Records bands. 

RM: The lyrics on both albums are both very confessional in their own ways. Is it more therapeutic to write the lyrics and then put music to them or to perform the songs live?

EB: I think each is therapeutic in their own way, but like the physical act of playing songs is what compels me the most. Lyrics have always been kind of like a diary where I can express thoughts and feelings that are hard to discuss so plainly otherwise, and actually saying them out loud for real is extremely therapeutic and I feel like it allows me to feel like I’m addressing them by at least acknowledging them. Even just getting lost in a live setting (not even necessarily performing just like playing together) l has always been so addictive to me. There’s a magical moment that happens every once in a while, where things just come together perfectly, and I feel like I forget about everything that’s bothering me and I just zone out on the music. I fkn live for that moment where everything just sounds perfect and new and special. 

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While Best Buds was more centered around a break-up, Puppy Love deals with voluntarily distancing yourself from those you love. There is an established sense of confidence in Butler’s voice when he details isolating himself. It doesn’t sound like it’s what he wants to do but it also sounds necessary in order for both people to grow and become more individualized.

Butler also takes sharp aim at his own flaws all over the album; what he is putting into his body, his emotions and why he is feeling that way, and efficiently communicating with those around him. Perhaps it’s a way to say those flaws out loud with brute honesty in order to move one step closer to breaking those bad habits.

Musically, the band has never sounded tighter. Bart Starr from Graduating Life has been added as a second guitarist and it really helps fill out the band’s sound. There are more tasty riffs and more transitions that add more depth to each song. (SPOILER ALERT CLICK AWAY NOW) There’s also one really sick part during the outro of Glamorous where Weezer’s Sweater Song is interpolated. Brianda Goyos León, from the CI-signed band Just Friends, appears on the 7th and 10th track and adds a beautiful layer of harmony behind Butler’s voice. (Just Friends recently put out an incredible record called Nothing but Love on Counter Intuitive Records).

RM:  I really enjoyed Brianda’s vocals paired with yours on the album. Will there be more vocal collaborations in MJ’s future? If so who would you be interested in collaborating with?

EB: I mean hopefully! I like doing vocal collabs because I feel like I’m honestly not a very good singer so getting objectively talented vocalists to perform is always super fun and I feel like it truly adds an aspect that we couldn’t pull off on our own. Brond is literally the best and having her voice on the record is a huge privilege and I’m so grateful that she was willing to sing on it. As far as the future I can’t really speculate because in general the lyrics are pretty tailor made for me, but you can always count on the day one homies being part of the picture. 

RM: You guys have been touring so much! How’s it been? Do you feel you’ll be rested enough before you head out again this fall?

EB: It’s definitely exhausting but we had a really nice break this spring after getting home from tour with Tiny Moving Parts. We took about 3 months off shows and just focused on spending time with our partners and families and made the record and I think it was really worth it. We all literally just got back from a full US tour with Graduating Life (Bart’s project that Austin and I play in) but prior to that it was the longest break we’ve ever had since we started touring. I definitely feel like we’re ready to hit the road in the fall especially because we get to bring so many of our good friends with us.

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For an album that deals mostly with self-loathing and distance, it’s hard to find a song on the record that isn’t fun as hell. If pop punk isn’t your cup of tea and it generally makes you cringe, it’s fair to say that this record isn’t going to change your mind very much. There isn’t much that Mom Jeans accomplish on their second album that Fantano would call “reinventing the wheel of emo”. Basically, meaning in some sense it’s just another pop punk record. What makes this album special is how much it allows you to become invested in it. Best Buds offered a comfort blanket for those reeling from a break-up. It was an album that made you feel better musically but also addressed how you might be feeling so you don’t feel so alone. Puppy Love functions the same way and with each listen, you may find yourself sinking deeper into your own feelings and how it relates to what Butler is saying. A perfect example of the therapeutic effects emo/pop-punk music has to its long-time listeners.

RM:  I love the TV references scattered throughout the album (Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Workaholics, Rick & Morty). What are your top favorite shows of all time?

EB: I’ll cut it off at 5 to save us all some time aha. I gotta go with Grey’s Anatomy, Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, Bob’s Burgers, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.

RM: Do you enjoy being a musician more or less since graduating from school?

EB: I don’t know if I enjoy music any more or less than I used to, I think the role of music in my life has just changed dramatically. I feel like playing in a band used to be a super small portion of my life that I loved a lot but didn’t get to prioritize because I had to focus on school and work and being a functioning human. Nowadays my whole life is the band, from my friends to my daily priorities to my long-term goals to the way I love my daily life are contextualized by this band and the experiences I’ve had playing music. I’m entirely grateful that I get to walk this path and though I think I definitely don’t think appreciate music as a whole ecosystem as much as I used to I still enjoy playing songs with my friends as much as I did when I started my first band when I was 12.  

 RM: Any long-term goals for the future you’d like to share?

EB: Just trying to enjoy this ride and have as much fun as we can. We have a big tour coming up in the fall and some plans to take the MJ train international at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019. At the end of the day we’re just here to have fun and keep playing shows as long as people are willing to come and see us and hang out!

 

Puppy Love is available on all streaming services via Counter Intuitive Records.

 

A Wee Chat With…Anna Burch

words fae madeleine dunne (@kohlgrrl)
photo fae louise patterson

Michigan-born singer and songwriter Anna Burch spent her emerging years as a supporting player: first, as a band member of folk-rock band Frontier Ruckus and later in 2014, co-fronting the four-piece Failed Flowers.

The world finally got to hear Anna in all her creative agency with her powerful solo-debut, ‘Quit the Curse’, released through Heavenly Recordings and Polyvinyl back in February of this year. It’s diverse, tight and upliftingly honest – a relatable record that can rouse you from the throes of heartbreak with its catchy melodies.

I talked to Anna about the shift from band member to solo artist, musical identity and earnest lyricism ahead of her show at The Hug and Pint.



There’s quite a diverse sound running through ‘Quit The Curse’, particularly with tracks like ‘Belle Isle’ and ‘Asking 4 A Friend’. Was that multiplicity an intentional choice?

Anna: I didn’t set out to make a very eclectic sounding record. Like, we used all the same instrumentation, it’s all a four-piece rock band, and I didn’t feel like there was a wild difference between songs while I was writing them. The sounds changed when we were getting into the arranging process and making aesthetic choices along the way, like “oh, this one has got a bit more of a grungy feel, we’ll put some distortion on the guitar”. The mixing engineer Colin Dupuis put this insane fuzz on a solo in ‘Asking 4 A Friend’ and it was jarring to me when I heard it because it had been so clean before. I think I hated it at first and then I sat with it for a bit and I was like, “oh, that’s cool”.

The production stage took a really long time. First the solitary writing, then the demoing where we incorporated bass and a little bit of drums. I was on tour with Frontier Ruckus during that time, so I was gone a lot and driving four hours to work with my friends.

I think I was really frustrating to work within the demoing stage. I would get asked to pin down the vibe or for reference tracks from other artists, but I was still unsure about pinning down the sound. I wanted to stay in this nebulous stage of indie-pop-rock, without leaning too hard into anyone else’s shit.

Recording the proper album went on for a really long time because I was recording in apartments and everyone helping had their own commitments. Then the album got handed over to Colin who helped me record in Detroit. It was a big personnel shift, and it experienced a lot of phases from the different musicians who helped me. We re-tracked like three songs, but Colin mixed it all and it sounds cohesive to me, which is surprising considering the lengthy and spotty nature of that timeline.

 

While a lot of the tracks are lyrically quite earnest with darker themes, they’re often counteracted with bright and uplifting melodies. Is that a juxtaposition you set out to make?

Anna: I wanted to preserve a balance. When I perform I want it to be a fun live show and people to be uplifted, I don’t want people wallowing and I don’t want to feel drained after the performance. You can dig too far into the melancholic and it just drains you after a while. I like the tension between the two. When I play with a band it’s less strange because I’m more feeling the music and it’s more of a performance. I try and tap into the emotions to keep it authentic but it’s not like I’m lost in a revere of emotions. But when I sing solo, which I rarely ever do, I feel much more vulnerable. It’s not something I’m super fond of. It becomes less fun.

When I was arranging the album, I went to see an Alvvays concert in Detroit and that was a big inspiration for me. They just blew me away, the soaring elation of their melodies was really moving, and I had this emotional experience, even though it was an uplifting one.


While creating your sound as a solo artist, what inspirations did you draw upon?

Anna: A lot of the choices for the album that came through subconsciously were percolating for a really long time.  I think that came from being in a band, being around musicians and people who love and share music. I grew up in a home where my mother played piano and my dad was a big music lover. We bonded over that, and I developed a relationship with my dad which revolved around him showing me the classics, like Joni Mitchell. I had a lot that was swimming around in my brain which I hadn’t had an outlet for.

I’d been with Frontier Ruckus on and off for a long time and I felt like my identity was wrapped up in it. It was interesting being associated with it because I’m not even that into roots music on my own, so it wasn’t an expression of me. When I was younger, I was really into indie music but in general that was much more folk-oriented, so it made sense. But as my tastes changed and indie music became more guitar focused I realised I was enjoying a lot of the music I had been listening to in high school like Elliot Smith, Modest Mouse, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins. I felt like that, the indie music that I listened to in high school before I got wrapped up, was more the direction that I could express myself in.

Moving from the solitary stages of writing, did you find it difficult to let people take control and make choices about your work?

Anna: I really appreciate the fact that I can collaborate with people and relinquish a little bit of control. It’s been kind of a lot … like, all of it. I’m not saying like “wow, whirlwind success” or anything, but my life has changed so much. My work bleeds in to my life and it’s all the time, it’s constant, be that social media, answering emails, playing gigs. A lot of it is fun and a lot of it is work. It’s nice to work with people that are talented and that I trust. We might not completely see eye to eye, but they don’t have my brain – they aren’t inside my head. It produces some really interesting tensions, and I honestly like that. It’s like, “it’s not what I would have done but hey, that’s kind of cool”. You’re never going to be able to present yourself exactly like “this is me”, because that changes all the time. I’m really grateful that I have people taking charge and making certain aesthetic decisions, because I would just be completely overwhelmed.


Have you seen yourself adapt the way you communicate with the people who work with you as a result of the role shift from band member to solo artist?

Anna: Absolutely. I think I was way more of a brat being a member of a band. I just had one opinion that was a small voice in a machine. It was easy to be a contrary nay-sayer and just be like “whatever, nah, fuck that, I don’t like that”. Now I have to be considerate of all these people who are spending their time with me, like the bandmates that come out for weeks at a time. I can’t really pay them enough to make it their full-time job, so I need to be considerate that they’ve taken time off work for me. I’m constantly trying to make sure no one hates me and they’re having a good time. I feel like I’ve had to become more of a diplomat and a leader, which is not a natural role for me. But this is the first tour I’ve worked with a tour manager and it makes it so much easier. It’s amazing, it’s so life changing. Being a solo artist, you can’t disperse responsibility because everything changes, it’s never the same line-up or the same bandmates. It’s really nice not being the first responder to everything. I like that little bit of separation from running all the minutiae of everything.