This week's MP3 Monday comes from local singer/songwriter Ben Hackett, who's about to release his second album in more than 15 years of performing. The Blue Hour, a 10-song CD, comes out this Friday, with a release show at Club Cafe. Show starts at 7 p.m.; Chelsea Jones opens. Tickets are $12. Stream and/or download the third track off the album, "Broken," below!
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In one of the stranger bookings in town so far this year, Snoop Dogg — Wiz Khalifa's co-star in the upcoming High School, and friend of "Luke Luke Ravenstahl," is playing at Altar Bar tonight. It's an intimate booking for the superstar, and as of right now is not yet sold out. Tickets are $60 in advance and $65 at the door; all the info is available here. I'll just leave it at that, and spare you all the "dorky white guy talking like Snoop" stuff.
We spoke with Nicolay, a Grammy-nominated producer and instrumentalist and one half of the duo Foreign Exchange, in advance of his show at Shadow Lounge Tuesday.
I’ve read that you’ve worked with guitarist Chris Berner through your Foreign Exchange project, and in that project you were making more hip-hop and electronic stuff. This EP sounds a lot more classic, like you can lounge to it, whereas Foreign Exchange stuff kinda makes you wanna hit the dance floor. Can you tell me a little bit about how this EP came to fruition? What drove you, personally, into this smooth jazz sound?
I’ve always been a very big jazz fan. You can definitely also hear that in a lot of the Foreign Exchange records. But it never really went beyond being an influence. I’ve always dreamed of doing an actual “jazz” project, but not really claiming it to be jazz as much as it is just my interpretation of it. As you say, I’ve really tried to come up with a very classic sound where everything is played on actual instruments. There’s no sequencing or computers or any of that stuff involved. In a lot of ways it was about a desire for me to further challenge myself and really look for depth in a direction we don’t normally go in.
I know that you’re a classically trained musician; was jazz a large part of that education?
Not really. I’ve studied music in general, both in terms of the theory of it as well as to practice actual composition and playing. And with jazz it’s always been something I’ve been very familiar with never truly dabbled in it. I don’t really see myself as a “jazz musician,” and I would never really claim that.
In general I like various genres. I like to sorta kinda give my take on it, whether it’s dance music or hip-hop or jazz. So it’s not something that I’ve really always done or have been taught to do. This is more just like me kinda bein’ like a rhinoceros in a porcelain cabinet. Just tryin’ to hold my own in front of people who actually are trained and are jazz musicians.
Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process and what it was like working with the Hot at Nights on this EP?
Well, it’s real cool because, as I said earlier, in a lot of ways it was very different from the record making process as we do with the Foreign Exchange — which is Phonte, my partner, and myself — and we, in reality, never collaborate at the same moment in the same room. It’s always just a back and forth of our, kind of 50% of the total puzzle. In this project it was actually 4 guys in a room set up with headphones and instruments and it was a very in-the-moment thing. We did it in one day.
The whole thing in one day?!
Yeah, I drove up to Durham and we unloaded the stuff and we checked the sound and we were off and we didn’t really stop until late, late. But it was still one day. It was really part of the challenge for us to not allow any of the luxuries you would normally have in the recording process: fixing mistakes, over-dubbing yourself. A lot of those things we felt it would be really cool if we were really put ourselves in the hands of the moment. Almost like as a Dogme, ya know, we wanted to do that and so it was honestly a great experience because you’re directly faced with the people who make the music at that moment. And so if things go wrong, they go wrong horribly, but if they go right, they go right in a way that you can’t predict up front. You can’t rehearse for that; those are improvisational moments that come together right there. That’s why I love the project, more than anything.
That’s kind of a blind process there. Like you said, you don’t see the other musician face-to-face. Do you think that that takes away? Do you think that there’s a little bit more humanness to creating music live as opposed to sending it over e-mail back-and-forth?
I actually have the theory that it’s the other way around. That because we’re not in the same room together we’re not faced with the same sort of inhibitions that people have when they make music together. Even the most gifted and talented know about just inhibitions. I feel strongly that when Phonte and myself, for instance, create a song, we’re really able to put 100% of ourselves into it rather than have to come up with a sort of compromise or any sort of collaborative process because we’re in the same room. The result, I think the music actually has a passion to it that you wouldn’t really get if you were in the same room. For instance if you say 'I’m gonna write this song and really put myself out there but there’s another dude in the room who’s lookin’ and if I put this out he’s gonna laugh at me,' or whatever. That’s not a factor in our working process and I think it has honestly helped us more than it has hindered us.
Your bio notes that your influences range from Stevie Wonder to Neil Young and we’ve already talked about your classical background and your hip-hop and R&B work; so you’re coming at music-making with so many different sounds in your repertoire. I’m curious: When you’re making an album do you hunker down in your studio and surround yourself with particular records or artists?
It’s not something that we predestined, if you will, before we start a new project. I think that every project that I do or we do in a group setting, they’re all kind of portraits of us in moments in time. There’s a lot of times where you’ll find yourselves particularly influenced by one artist or one sub-style of music or even genre. For instance, when Phonte and myself worked on Authenticity, both of us listened to lots of Neil Young and James Taylor and stuff like that and really wanted to encapsulate that whole 70’s singer-songwriter directness approach of just the song, very stripped down I guess that’s something that we admire about music like that. If you just strip it down to the bare essentials the song is still there.
At moments in time like that we do really listen to certain stuff over and over again and really take away what we feel is something we could use without making style copies or do something that is “throwback.”
Going back into the conversation that we edged into about communicating over the Internet and creating an album that way, you made your first album “Connected” in ’04. That’s a while ago in Internet years. That way of making music is ubiquitous these days. I know so many artists who collaborate with others who live across the country and they do so very easily. Would you say that the Internet has bolstered the quality of work out there or just kind of created a cacophony of too much going on?
I think it’s done both; it’s such a wide broad scope that includes people who would not be in the traditional music industry model and that includes a lot of good and bad. Not only the Internet but computers getting faster and faster and the music technology that came with that, like having a whole studio in a laptop, those kind of things. Obviously they made the threshold that was already like the big speed bump, you had to have money or a label. Especially to be able to record and to record something that would stand up against other stuff. If you’re creative and tech-savvy you can push your stuff further than you could like when we did that first album ‘Cause at that time there wasn’t really anything like Gmail, definitely not Facebook and Twitter, so we kind of pushed it in an “old-fashioned way”: instant messenger and e-mail. Even though I don’t think by any means we were the first, we were definitely in a group of the firsts to complete entire records without ever meeting each other face-to-face. Nowadays that is pretty much how it all works.
NICOLAY with THE HOT AT NIGHTS. 8 p.m. Tue., Jan. 31. Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty. $12. 412-363-8277 or shadowlounge.net
Signs of the weather’s havoc were only noticeable on coat racks at Shadow Lounge this past blizzard-y Thursday. As a visual and audio artist, Tycho — aka Scott Hansen — presented his dreamscape art project to a house packed with a bleary-eyed crowd ready to soak up his sun-drenched blanket of beats.
His music fits somewhere on the experience spectrum between lounging at the beach and gliding along ice: always peaceful but never mind numbing. As a multi-sensory artist, he’s attempting to tie sight to sound, and to do so in a way that fuses the two as opposed to mapping one on the other in the sort of haphazard A/V efforts one might typically see in live electronic music. You could call it a live soundtrack to a filmic montage, but that wouldn’t really be doing it justice. Excuse the hippie conceit, but his performance that night was experiential like a breath of sepia-toned psychedelia.
Brooklyn duo Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett opened up with their pop-bass project, Beacon. Coming off the release of their 2011 EP “Nobody,” the guys eased everyone into a brightly colored torpor kissed with downtempo beats and an almost James Blake-like tendency towards jilted romantic lyrics.
Hansen, accompanied by a live drummer and bass player, transitioned from that state of audible bliss veering away from Beacon’s R&B washed vocals that center around young love and moved the whole atmosphere over to an otherworldly realm. While images of ocean waves and 60’s era Bohemians moved across the screen, Hansen proceeded to lullaby the crowd with his meticulous construction of blunted beats and glistening melodies.
Longtime fans of his music will forever find it difficult to listen without being reminded of Boards of Canada and his former allegiance to that more experimental electronic sound. Hansen’s performance at Shadow seemed to smash the Tycho-legion’s predisposition for comparison with several moments that begged the crowd to dance. While a glaze of experimental still exists in Hansen’s newer stuff, he reminded us that the rhythm patterns of drum & bass are also an informant of his work. Between the long languid chill-on-the-beach stretches to minutes of frenetic 180 bpm cadences, Hansen never let the crowd be totally passive.
The most dance-inducing and, dare I say, rave-like moment in his set came when his drummer and bass player stepped away and he went to work improvising on his live PA set up. The music constructed for those 3 to 5 minutes could’ve graced the set of any dance/bass-inclined DJ and while it seemed to rock the faces on the audience members amped enough to stand right in front of the stage, the rest of the room appeared to be unsure of how to take his break-out into raveland. It was a demonstration of his range, an ode to his LTJ Bukem- and Roni Size-stained past and, really, the highlight of his set.
Electronic music’s persistent push onto live stages — whether they’re small galleries like Shadow or large stages at Coachella — keeps begging the question, how can we make this stuff interesting to watch? Hansen’s set that night worked its way into a grander sphere of artists who take that question very seriously and it satisfied every craving for a perfect marriage between artfully produced video and intricately produced music.
On a warm, sunny January Monday, I'm bringing you a track from an ex-Pittsburgher who's currently headquartered in warm, sunny Hollywood. Lakookala is the project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Nico Ranalli, once of the Pittsburgh band Medic Medic. She was kind enough to supply track 2 from her album, Songs for Zemean. Below, stream and/or download "Mother Biiiirds":
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Every once in a while, we here at FFW>> mention a local band raising funds via Kickstarter. Right now, locals Meeting of Important People, whom we've told you about before, are working on collecting enough money to fully fund a self-released second full-length. Some of you have seen this band! Some of you like this band! Some of you might want to join the nine(!) people who have already pledged at the $50 level, thus assuring that this band will write a personalized Valentine's song for your sweetie! Or the six(!!!) people who have pledged at the $150 level, entitling them to mac and cheese and fish sticks with the band!
The campaign ends Feb. 9, and the band — one week in — is already at over $4,000 of their $5,500 goal. So, if you wanna put them over the top, go for. The campaign page is here.
Just wanted to update you all on the second annual Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards that took place Sunday night. As you may have heard about before — in the Local Beat space last year around this time, or in Critics' Picks last week — Backallie Music again put together the awards show, which was juried based on posts and likes on Backallie's Facebook page. Scientific? Absolutely not. But then, remember last week when it was revealed that of the five NHL players headed to the all-star game via fan vote were Ottawa Senators? For that matter, do you remember CP's reader's poll every year? Point is, nothing's all that scientific.
Without further ado, a list of the categories and winners from Sunday, courtesy of Backallie's Allie Nickel. (Sad to report that my favorite category, "Best 'Oh Shit' Moment," apparently didn't get enough nominations to go forward.)
Best Alternative Band
1) Fist Fight in the Parking Lot
3) 28 North
Best Metal Band
2) Delusions of Grandeur and Ascend the Fallen
3) Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Best Hardcore Band
2) Where Angels Fear to Tread
3) The Real 50 Caliber Dream
Best Punk Rock Band
2)Ernie and the Berts
3)Channel 4’s Finest
Best Indie Rock Band
3) New Era
Song of the Year
1) Chux Beta: Fooled me Twice\
2) Delusions of Grandeur: Shaq Fu
Album of the Year
1) Chux Beta: Heartbroken Underground
2) Ascend the Fallen: Create. Conquer. Destroy.
Video of the Year
1) Dethlehem: Circle of Death
2) Delusions of Grandeur: Shaq Fu
Best Live Performance
1) The Bloody Seamen
2) Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Best Local Venue
1) Altar Bar
2) Fallout Shelter
Best Radio Station
1) Locals Only
2) Ray Mears
I know it's late in the day, I know you're weary, but it's my duty to bring you an MP3 for MP3 Monday! So, without further ado, let me give you a track by The Beauregards, whom I reviewed just a couple weeks ago. I thought the album was pretty good; hopefully you'll enjoy this track, "Work"!
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Just a few quick alerts regarding upcoming shows that didn't get a peep in the paper; if you're looking for something to get up to this weekend, this might help.
— Local faves Triggers and Satin Gum play with the appropriately named The Winter Sounds at Brillobox.
— New outfit Torn Apart Hearts, featuring some old scene heads, debuts at Thunderbird Cafe.
— Richard Marx, seriously, is playing at the Palace Theater.
— Cleverly named Columbus, Ohio horror punks The Suicide Ghouls headline at the 31st Street Pub with local support from The Wakening and Jericho Theory.
— Well-coiffed local outfit LoveBettie plays Altar Bar.
— Young-bucks-who-play-old-music-really-well Moldies & Monsters play Howlers.
— Donora headlines Thunderbird Cafe, with support from Allison Weiss and a band called Mitten, which is a thing you'll want to have two of if you're walking to this or any other show this weekend.
Go forth and party!
Just dropping a quick line to let you know that Temporary Residence, the Brooklyn-based label that reps Majeure and Steve Moore, the two members of the Pittsburgh-born duo Zombi, is currently streaming the Majeure side of the upcoming split the two did. The LP is called Brainstorm, and the Majeure track, posted below for your listening pleasure, is a 20-minute ambient jam called "Atlantis Purge."
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