Friday, December 23, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Dawes

Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes

Dawes is a California-based quartet formed by Taylor Goldsmith (vocals, guitar) with brother Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Wylie Weber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (piano). Often pegged with a Laurel Canyon sound reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dawes plays a gritty mix of Americana, folk rock and soul. The backbone of Dawes’ inspiring tunes are themes of love lost and the search for home.

The band recorded their 2009 debut, “North Hills,” live to analog, resulting in a sparse but achingly authentic album. “Nothing is Wrong,” Dawes’ 2011 sophomore effort, maintains the tight, minimalist and haunting vibe of the first release while delving deeper into Taylor Goldsmith’s relatable yet profound lyricism.

Dawes is best experienced live, where audiences bask in the band’s soaring vocals and charismatic energy. Dawes, a hardcore touring act, has graced stages with the likes of Blitzen Trapper, Deer Tick and Mumford & Sons and recently backed legend Robbie Robertson for his “How to Become Clairvoyant” record. The band has been sought out by Chevy advertising execs and was picked as one of VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artists. Taylor Goldsmith has also recorded as part of Middle Brother, an indie supergroup of sorts.

I talked to Taylor Goldsmith between Dawes’ latest sold-out show at First Avenue and their upcoming two-night stand at the Varsity Theater for New Year’s Eve.

Minnesota really has a thing for Dawes. Would it be accurate to say we were one of the first states that picked up on you right out of the gate?

Taylor Goldsmith: Our shows in Minneapolis are the biggest and sell out the quickest than any other place on tour. Dawes has a greater fan presence there than in our hometown. It’s been an organic experience; it’s not like we owe it to a blog or something. The reason why we're received so well there is pretty straight up: Minneapolis has a winning combo of a radio station that people love, a record store people love and really cool venues. You put those three things in place and people want to come to shows.

Talk about the transition from “North Hills” to “Nothing is Wrong.” While both albums speak to personal pain and suffering, it seems as though the first album was rawer and in the second album, there’s a sense of surrender.

TG: I try to keep mindful about what I write without being manipulative. When I think of songs that I’ve really liked, it’s because they've had a story that gives perspective on a situation. I’m not trying to teach the listener a lesson by any means—because what the hell do I know about anything—but I am trying to create an experience. I write to help myself, so if the songs sound like they have more resolution, I might just be getting better at it or…processing experiences differently?

A lot of your songs are about heartbreak, love and relationships. You’ve also said that the songs on “North Hills” and “Nothing is Wrong” were about different women. Is dating more difficult when songwriting is involved?

TG: It can be…but not all of our songs are about love and not all of the songs are about one person. And it’s not that I haven’t had positive, healthy relationships; it’s that I can never tap into something about losing someone when I’m in a relationship. When songwriters write about something they’re not experiencing, you can see through it. I always want Dawes to create music that people hear and say, “Yeah, that experience sounds authentic.” I never want it to be concocted.

If you had to choose between being successful in music or being successful in love, which would you choose?

TG: Music is what I love most but I would never sabotage love for a song. As awesome as it is to be an artist, what really matters is having someone to love and relationships with family and friends. What I appreciate most about this experience of being in a band is spending time with the guys and my brother. It’s not about, “Listen to this cool song I wrote.” It’s about relationships. So, love. Absolutely love.

How many shows has Dawes done this year?

TG: Somewhere around 200.

How do you keep the performances fresh, both for the band and the audience?

TG: That’s dictated by the audiences. When I’m playing “When My Time Comes” for the 500th time and people are responding by singing the lyrics back to me, it brings me back to what it meant when I first wrote the song. So in that sense, it never gets old.

Have you had any particularly memorable or creepy experiences with fans?

TG: Lots of our fans have become good friends; in fact, one of them is from Minneapolis. He came up to us after a show and we talked about what a certain song meant to him and then we talked about books and music and we’ve just become closer and closer ever since then. And, yeah, there have been creepy experiences, too, but I’d hate for someone to read about that and feel bad.

Over the past year, you’ve done a lot of interviews. What is the one question you’d be happy to never hear again?

TG: There are a few, actually. Some questions feel like they’re set-ups or like someone wants to stir up something scandalous. I’ve been asked what I think about a certain pop star and I can’t answer questions like that without incriminating myself or sounding like an asshole. Other questions are just unnecessary, like people who have never listened to the music asking me how we’d define our sound. It’s a difficult thing, to describe Dawes, but it feels like some people are trying to search for something that’s not there.

Let’s try some unconventional questions. If you ever make it to Sesame Street, which character would you like to collaborate with?

TG: I would be so honored to play on Sesame Street with Oscar the Grouch or Big Bird...or Bert and Ernie, either together or with just one of them. I don’t even know if they’re both still on there? I also love the Muppets. It’d be cool to play with them.

If you were to do a jingle for a cereal commercial, which kind would you want to write about?

TG: The band has become pretty health conscious, so I don’t know…if we eat anything close to cereal now, it’d be random granola. I couldn’t even come up with a brand name. Thinking back to what we liked as kids, it’d be Cap'n Crunch.

Who uses the most hair products in the band?

TG: I don’t think that any of us uses products. It's just shampoo. Griffin is blessed with a lot of hair—and I’m not just saying that as a biased brother. Tay washes his hair everyday, Wiley has that long black hair…and I have a normal haircut.

How did you get involved with Middle Brother and are there any future releases in the works?

TG: Dawes was on tour with Deer Tick and John (McCauley, the frontman for Deer Tick) said, “Let’s make a record.” I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, but then it did, so I suggested bringing in Matt (Vazquez) from Delta Spirit, who I was already friends with. John was cool with that, so we made a record. There’s nothing planned for the future. Deer Tick just put out a great record and Delta Spirit is going to have another album out soon, too.

Do you have anything special planned for the New Year’s Eve show at the Varsity? Disco balls? Champagne?

TG: We’ll work up as much material as we can beforehand, probably some covers, but beyond that, we don’t have any big plans.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Macklemore

Macklemore, a hip hop artist from Seattle, has taken the nation by storm with his equally uplifting and unflinchingly honest lyrical style. On his albums, which include 2005's "The Language of My World" and 2009's "The Unplanned Mixtape," the man born as Ben Haggerty showcased his unique ability to craft personal songs that speak to universal experiences. Macklemore, never one to shy away from controversy, uses his music to explore race, politics, consumerism, addiction and any other loaded topic he can “rap” his mind around.

Macklemore is currently touring the U.S. with Ryan Lewis, his right-hand-man and producer of two EPs, "VS." (2009) and "VS. Redux" (2010). I spoke to the rapper in anticipation of his sold-out show at First Avenue on Dec. 14.

ER: Where did the name Macklemore come from?
M: It was given to me by three elderly women who lived by my house when I was growing up. I cut their grass on Wednesdays. They’d give me cookies and biscuits and oven pizzas and by 15 they started calling me Professor Macklemore. The name stuck and got around school and then I started rapping.

ER: Is Macklemore a persona? And if so, how is Ben different?
M: No, I try to be as much the same person as possible. My goal is to have no separation between the art I create and who I am. I’m as honest as I can be. If there is any difference, it’s that Macklemore—and here I am talking about myself in third person—is somewhat livelier onstage than Ben might be.

ER: When you sit down to write a song, who do you write for? Do you have a target audience in mind or is it more of a cathartic process for you?
M: I try not to think like that. I just write whatever I’m inspired to write. And even when I’m not inspired, I write through it. When I write, I don’t have any expectation of what kind of song it will become or who it might reach. As it gets more developed, that might come into play, but I try to fight that. I try not to direct myself. I think the best songs are written that way.

ER: A lot of your shows are all ages; is making your music accessible in that way important to you?
M: Most of my shows are all ages and it’s definitely important. I also have a younger fan base—ages 25 to 35. Of course there are some younger and some older, but the majority are in that age range. I think music should be experienced by people all ages. I understand that clubs need to make money and they do it by selling alcohol, but the shows I went to in high school shaped my way of thinking and everyone should be allowed to experience that. The energy at all ages shows is just great. The kids are super enthusiastic because they haven’t been seeing live shows for 15 years. For many of them, it’s one of their first concerts. The energy is contagious.

ER: Tell me about the process of sampling. What factors determine which songs you use in your music?
M: Sampling contemporary artists was the concept behind the “Versus” EP. Who we sampled was up to Ryan (Lewis); he chose a lot of indie rock music that I had never heard before and picked the best loops. The new album we’re working on is sample-free. Ryan’s doing a lot of instrumentation on it.

ER: Does Ryan always do the music while you focus on lyrics? Do you ever switch roles?
M: We have a hand in each other’s production. I write raps and I’ll spit them for him and he’ll tell me what he does and doesn’t like. Then he’ll bring me his stuff and I’ll do the same. I’ll tell him “I like those drums” or “I like that melody.” It’s a constant collaboration and a joint effort.

ER: As much as you’re comfortable, would you share how making music helped you overcome addiction?
M: Music was an easy way to gauge what drugs and alcohol could do to the creative process. I became aware at a very young age of the effects it had on my music. That was my main passion, always has been, and it was obvious by the time I was 16 that there was a direct correlation between addiction and how deep I could go creatively. Addiction made it very difficult to write from the heart. So music gave me that gauge and it gave me a higher purpose. It was the positive momentum to keep sober.

ER: Do you think music should be included in treatment programs for addiction?
M: Of course. Counselors do use it; my counselor’s curriculum included playing music. Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.

ER: Is it true that you are now addicted to shoes?
M: [Sighs] Yes. Yes.

ER: How many pairs are we talking here?
M: Oh…I don’t know…40 to 50 pairs? I should get rid of some of them. There’s peer pressure from my girlfriend. The closet is kind of overflowing.

ER: And yet your song, “Wings,” is all about the perils of consumerism.
M: I think that song came from the overflowing closet! It was about examining my need to get more and more and more. “Wings” was about me digging deeper and figuring out what am I trying to achieve by buying all these shoes? Why do I feel like I have to go shopping and buy a new pair every few weeks? How does that process affect me? What is it about that serotonin rush?

ER: I also hear you like hats.
M: [Laughs] I do have hats but I don’t really wear them anymore.

ER: Why not?
M: I got a haircut I really like. I didn’t like the hair before, so I wore hats. Now that I like the hair, I’m not wearing hats. I’m wearing the haircut.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Quietdrive


Quietdrive is a band comprised of five of the Twin Cities’ finest young musicians: Kevin Truckenmiller, Brandon Lanier, Will Casesar, Justin Bonhiver and Brice Niehaus. Formed in 2002 and later discovered and signed by Epic Records, they released their debut “When All That’s Left Is You” in 2006. The band’s follow-up, “Deliverance,” was recorded and released in 2008 with the Militia Group. A year later, Quietdrive released their EP “Close Your Eyes” through their own label, Sneaker 2 Bomb Records. A third, self-titled full-length dropped in 2010. I talked to front man Kevin Truckenmiller in anticipation of Quietdrive's annual holiday show at the Varsity Theater.

The song the average listener associates with Quietdrive is your cover of “Time After Time.” How did you decide to cover that song and why do you think it blew up the way it did?

Kevin Truckenmiller:
It was a spur of the moment thing. We love that song, so we did a version of it and it turned really well; it surpassed our expectations. We did it for fun and didn't think the label would push it but they did a bunch of crazy testing and it tested off the charts. As for the success...I don't really know how to explain it. It surpassed our expectations.

Over the past nine years, you've been on a couple of different labels and now you're on your own, working independently, correct?

We've been producing and putting out music through a label in Japan and in the U.S. we've been releasing on our own. We're trying to make connections with other countries so we can get into those markets, too.

Does being on your own label allow you more creative freedom?

Absolutely. On a label, there are certain constraints that you have to abide by. There is creative control involved. On our own label, we get to do what we want as far as our sound and our songs go.

You recently tweeted about starting an Oasis cover band. How’s that working out for you?

[Laughs] I posted that half-heartedly but I do really want to do it. I have four brothers, so growing up we had a five-piece, stereotypical garage band and one of my brothers said, "Dude, we have to do an Oasis cover band!" We love Oasis. I think they're better than the Beatles. I love the attitude. I love the songwriting. It would be fun to mimic them onstage and wear costumes.

Quietdrive did a tour of Iraq last year. What were the highlights and were there any terrifying moments while you were there?

When we went to Iraq, they considered us VIP class, so they treated us really well. They almost protected us too much, more than the soldiers. There was not a point where we felt unsafe. It was kind of crazy, though, because we'd fly in Blackhawks from base to base and I had never been in a helicopter before that. Flying in a helicopter is absolutely frightening because you feel like helicopters shouldn't be able to fly, but they do. Then you notice there are machine guns all around and there's this sense of, "What could happen?" When you fly in a plane, you have that sense, too, but it's more like, "Oh, turbulence." When you're in the middle of a desert, it's rockets! [Laughs]

As five young, attractive, talented guys who are in the public eye a lot, you must get hit on all the time. How do you stay Minnesota Nice and keep from getting into trouble?

There's always that awkward moment where you have to distance yourself from it, whether it's getting hit on or being asked out to lunch, but the important thing is to make time for your family. You can't always be doing work. I try to separate the two. It's a balance between keeping plans with the family and going to the bar with fans. Sometimes it can be crazy. Sometimes it's like, "Let's just keep this professional" and other times it's "Yeah, let's hang out." It depends on how bored you are, I guess.

You guys get really sweaty onstage. Do you hit the showers as soon as you get offstage or do you change? And who ends up doing all that laundry?

We work really hard onstage. We've always been a sweaty band. [Laughs] We always carry a wardrobe with us. We change all the time. We don't wash our pants every day because...well, no one washes their pants every day, do they? We do wash our undergarments as much as possible. And venues always have socks for us. It'd be weird to ask a venue to give us underwear, but we do ask for socks.

According to your Twitter feed, "Breaking Bad," tater tots and scotch are among your favorite things. Anything else you'd like to add to that list?

"Breaking Bad" is my favorite show on television right now. Tater tots...I don't know where that came from. I do like scotch. I'll tell you what I don't like: Johnny Walker. I think it's overrated. I like P.D. My Dad makes scotch so he gives a couple bottles every now and then. I think one thing the general public doesn't know about me is that I'm a huge nerd. I love technology. When we're in the studio, we use the computer as much as possible. I love using technology to connect people with our music. It keeps us close to our fans.

Where do you like to hang out when you're in Minnesota?

I go where the crowd goes, usually, though lately I try to stay out of the crowd. If I go out, it's during the week; I let the city have the weekends. I used to go to the Uptown area a lot...and downtown...though me and my friend got jumped a while back, so it kind of scarred me. If I go out now, I try to avoid the scoundrel hour at two in the morning. [Laughs] You have no good reason to be out at that hour.

Your annual holiday show at the Varsity Theater is coming up. What are the Christmas songs that you never get sick of?

"Carol of the Bells" is one of those songs nobody gets sick of. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is a favorite. I've been thinking we should do a version of "O Holy Night." I think that's an Eric Cartman thing. It'd be cool to do a symphonic rendition of that song; not along the lines of Michael Bublé, but more like Muse. I love how they incorporate symphony into their songs.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Erica Rivera Reviews Beirut At First Avenue

Zach Condon of Beirut

Beirut took the stage before a sold-out crowd at First Avenue on Fri. night.
For those not yet on the Beirut bandwagon (just wait, you will be), it may come as a surprise that frontman Zach Condon hails from Santa Fe, where his primary musical influences were Mexican. It wasn’t until a European escapade with his brother that Condon was exposed to the riches of world music.

When Beirut began in earnest, it was not unlike many modern outfits, consisting of Condon, recording solo, in his bedroom. Times have changed and Beirut is now a Brooklyn-based, critically acclaimed six piece that is taking the indie music biz by storm.

First Avenue’s stage decoration hinted at the old world romanticism on deck with red and white bulbs strung overhead. Touches like this made it easy to see how Condon’s former, more humble life (including a job screening foreign films at an independent theater) has been incorporated into Beirut’s vibe.

The band was met with eager applause when they emerged. The crowd had clearly memorized the lyrics to many of the 14-song set list, a mark of dedication since Condon, whose weary-beyond-his-25-years baritone, has a tendency to emphasize projection rather than enunciation.

The instruments outnumbered the musicians with an accordion, trumpets, tuba, trombone, French horn, drums, upright bass and bass guitar all getting air time during the 90 minutes of almost non-stop music. Though Condon himself never picked up a guitar, he certainly had his hands full as he alternated between playing ukulele and trumpet.


The audience at First Avenue basked in the performance as trumpets dueled, Condon crooned and his supporting musicians sweated through their button-down shirts. The venue, at elbow-to-elbow capacity, swelled with the ripe, lush melodies of Beirut’s hard-to-pin-down mix of Eastern European orchestration, ‘80s rock and gypsy folk sounds.

While Condon seemed completely comfortable and confident in the spotlight during the songs, he did not venture much into small talk between the tunes. The most he uttered was, “You’re allowed to sing along. It’s dark. No one can see you.”

And sing along they did. The mood in the mainroom was downright celebratory, with audience members dancing, kissing and clinking beer bottles to the band’s soundtrack. One felt transported to another place and time, and for a split second, could even imagine standing under an open sky in an unknown land, awaiting the arrival of a valiant warrior on a stallion. A younger, more female audience might have swooned.

That said, what’s so charming about a band like Beirut is that there’s no gimmick attached; it’s just authentic, unpretentious artistry. Think Mumford & Sons, before the Grammys got to them, and more instrumentally diverse.

Songs played were primarily from the band’s latest release, “The Rip Tide,” but tunes from previous albums “Gulag Orkestar” (2006) and “The Flying Club Cup” (2007) were also featured. Condon has said that much of his music was inspired by youthful dreams of traveling the world; now, after years on tour with Beirut, one wonders if life is imitating art or the other way around? It’s unclear, but with a sound so all-consuming, who cares?

As the final song in the set list came to a close, it was clear the audience wasn’t ready to go home. “If they don’t play another song,” a man in the crowd said, “There’s going to be a riot!”

After several minutes of thunderous applause, Condon returned to the stage and played a ukulele solo. When the band joined him for three additional songs, fans were met with a spectacular blast of horns. Condon was visibly moved by the audience’s response and it seemed as though he would’ve played all night if he could.

Zach Condon of Beirut

As concert-goers filed out into the frigid streets of downtown, it was clear they were under the influence of a sonic afterglow. Beirut’s evocation of restlessness and wanderlust is a feeling that Minnesotans on the brink of winter hibernation can relate to.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Erica Rivera Reviews Rye Delicatessen

Rye Delicatessen

Rye, newly opened in the former Auriga space (North of the intersection of Hennepin Ave. and Franklin Ave.), has staked its claim as the first delicatessen in Minneapolis to declare itself Jewish. With veteran chef Tobie Nidetz and restaurateur David Weinstein at the helm, Rye specializes in contemporary, high quality, locally sourced food made from scratch.

Rye Delicatessen

What sets Rye apart from its competitors like Mort's and Cecil's is that Rye boasts a full bar. You might wonder if a neighborhood deli that also dishes up French toast and porridge can mesh with the Twin Cities drinking crowd; one step inside Rye's welcoming yet sharply designed space, however and you'll wonder why restaurants don't operate this way more often.

Rye Delicatessen

The flow of the venue and the wrap-around room ensure that families have ample space, sunlight and a wall-sized chalkboard for their little ones up front. Separated by the counter and deli case, Rye's bar has a distinct vibe from the dining area, so those wanting to imbibe can enjoy flat-screen TVs, tall tables and adults-only conversation near the back of the venue. There's also a third seating area with smaller tables, banquettes, quirky artwork and soft lamplight that makes an ideal escape for friends catching up over coffee or independent eaters working through lunch with a laptop.

Rye Delicatessen

With breakfast, lunch, dinner and kids' menus, Rye offers endless options for every palate. Traditional Jewish noshes like cabbage borscht, cheese blintzes, matzo balls, bagels and lox make an appearance, of course, but so do modern twists like grass fed burgers on toasted bialy, challah grilled cheese and the Vera Schwartz sandwich (chopped liver, red onion, chopped egg on rye).

Corned Beef Sandwich from Rye Deli

You really can't go wrong at Rye as long as you include bread in your meal. Baked in-house, the bagels are love at first bite. The sandwich breads are robust and the bialys deliciously dense. The tabouleh packs a wallop of parsley, mint and onion; a few forkfuls are all you'll need to feel satisfied. Likewise, the corned beef sandwich we sampled packed enough meat for two meals and that's without all the fixings! For those with stealthier stomachs, we dare you to polish off a plate of Poutine (crispy fries, cheese curds and gravy with optional smoked meat) or the Deli Debris (bagel chips, smoked meat, cheese, hot and sweet peppers).


Prices are moderate and service was attentive. As far as first impressions go, Rye is as stunning for the eyes as it is for the tongue. The owners' vision of a family friendly deli that doubles as a hip hang-out has certainly come to fruition. Here's hoping Rye becomes a staple on the Uptown eatery scene.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Austra


Austra is an operatic dance trio from Toronto featuring vocalist-pianist Katie Stelmanis, bassist Dorian Wolf and drummer Maya Postepski. Though Stelmanis’ name has graced other albums, including 2009’s “Join Us,” Austra’s latest release, “Feel It Break” (Domino Records, 2011) is considered by many to be her true debut. Stereogum called the trippy, hypnotic collection of tunes “excellently dark and danceable” and "100% dud-free." I spoke to Stelmanis in anticipation of her show at the Triple Rock Social Club on Nov. 26.

Your music career originally started in opera. Talk about the decision to move away from that genre of music and how it still influences you today.
Katie Stelmanis: When I was 19, I went through a transitional point in my life and I decided to take a break from opera because I'd discovered different types of music and I just never went back. I still go to the opera and it obviously influenced how I got into music, but it's not a big part of how I'm making music now.

The focus of the music you make now is not lyrical, so when you compose a song, how do you know when it's finished? Is it a feeling that you're going for?

It's a feeling, in the same way you know any piece of art is finished. The lyrics are one small aspect of the completion of a song. When all the pieces fit together, it's finished.

Is the aim of your songs to help listeners zone out or are you trying to get them more in touch with their bodies through dance?
KS: Both. Previously, I would write music to be listened to with headphones, but that didn't translate well to the stage, so as a band we decided to try upping the drums and the bass. That reverb, the heavy drums and the bass lines are what make the live show more enjoyable. It's the best of both worlds.

The band's name is also your middle name, which means “goddess of light,” yet your music is so often labeled as dark. Can you speak to the other contrasts of dark and light in your life?
KS: Austra is my middle name, but I didn't know that it meant "goddess of light" until well after the band was formed, so it wasn't conscious. The variation in contrast is exactly what we're trying to attain in the music with the major and minor chords, the slow and the fast-paced music.

As a Canadian who has spent a lot of time in the United States, what’s your take on the differences between the countries as far as censorship is concerned, particularly regarding your "Beat and the Pulse" video?
KS: That video being censored is a clear depiction of the United States and its stance on censorship. There's so much hateful, violent, racist material that is not being censored on YouTube, while our video just has female nudity. In contrast, the video is on Daily Motion, a French-based site and it's not censored. It's another example of North America being afraid of embracing sensuality and nakedness.

You’ve said you’re a musician first and a lesbian second. How much of a role does your sexuality play in your music?

The questions was "How would you define yourself?" and I said, "A musician first and a lesbian second," but as I thought about it, I realized they were integrated. I can't label myself one and not the other. As a musician, my sexuality is not at the forefront, but it is for me as a person. Both are important.

Does it offend you more when an interviewer does or does not ask about your sexuality?

I'm not offended either way, to be honest. If they don't ask, I think it's normal, because it's not the focus of the music. If they do, I won't shy away from answering. We are a band of diverse sexualities and diverse backgrounds. We celebrate that.

Tell me about performing at SXSW this year. Were there any other musicians you were excited to meet?

SXSW is amazing. It does big things for our band. We played a whole bunch of shows, big and small. We didn't get to see many other musicians play because we were so busy going to and from gigs. There are no cabs or transportation in Texas! But SXSW is where things happen for us; we were signed to Domino there and we were introduced to a lot of media and press. It's a very worthwhile experience for musicians.

What do the holidays look like for you, either traditionally or this year in particular?

This year in particular we will be finishing a tour on Dec. 18 in Europe, then playing New Year's shows in Germany and Latvia, so we'll be spreading out and staying with friends. It's going to be a fun, relaxing holiday.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Markéta Irglová

While her name might not immediately ring a bell, when you read through Markéta Irglová’s musical credits, you’ll know right away who she is. Irglova was thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 20 when “Falling Slowly,” the song she co-wrote with Glen Hansard for their sleeper film “Once,” won an Academy Award. Irglova was the first winner in the Academy’s history to be brought back by the show’s host (Jon Stewart) to finish her acceptance speech, in which she proclaimed, “Fair play for those who dare to dream.”

What followed for Irglova and Hansard seemed very much like a dream come true. The couple became iconic in the music world as their onscreen romance blossomed in real life. Irglova and Hansard continued recording together and soon released the album “Strict Joy” under the moniker The Swell Season. As their fame rose, the romance fizzled, but the two continued to tour the world together making music. The emotional journey of the conflicted lovers was caught on camera and recently released as a documentary which is quickly collecting accolades.

With the Swell Season on hiatus, Irglova embarked on her first solo endeavor, “Anar.” The album is an intense and deeply sentimental record that features themes of indecision, loss, and, ultimately, the redeeming qualities of love. On “Anar” (the Persian word for "pomegranate"), it is clear that Irglova, a woman already wiser than her 23 years, has matured and come into her own as an artist.

I talked to Irglova about the whirlwind of her career, accepting her celebrity status and what her relationship with Hansard is like now.

Erica Rivera: Describe the context in which these songs were written and why you decided to do a solo recording.

Markéta Irglová:
The Swell Season was going to take a break so I found myself at the point where I had to choose between not making music or go to college or whatever else I wanted to do at the time. I didn’t want to stop making music and I already had studio time scheduled to record an EP, so I created the circumstances and the conditions to continue making music.

In the Swell Season with Glen, I wrote two or three songs a year and the rest was mostly him. I was happy and comfortable with that and never felt the need to go deeper, but when I put myself in that headspace of doing my own recording, I found myself sitting at the piano everyday and the songs just started coming out. I was surprised, but so inspired. I kept going. When my studio time came, I had enough songs for a full record, which was not what I initially planned, but I thought, “Why not make a whole record?”

ANTI-Records, who worked with the Swell Season, found out I had recorded an album and they asked to hear it. Then they offered themselves up for "Anar." It was one of those times when something wonderful came out of the unexpected. It was a small idea that suddenly opened up a whole new chapter of embracing myself as a solo artist.

ER: That sounds similar to what happened with your success with “Once.” It must be both an exhilarating and overwhelming when you experience a rush of events that weren’t necessarily what you planned on.

I’m totally okay taking it on. I trust the flow of life. I try to listen to what my next step should be and I think these things happen because I’m not trying to figure out the next ten steps. I ask myself, “What am I guided to do?” When I meditated on that question in this case, the answers were 1) make music and 2) move to New York, which was more conducive to recording than being in the countryside of Ireland. Once I made that step, the next step presented itself.

As long as I focus on what I feel and don’t worry about where I’m going, it works out. Having no expectations but being open to everything is what makes wonderful things happen. If I don’t worry, there’s no obstruction and life flows easily. It sounds impractical, but “Expect nothing; be open to everything” is really all it is.

ER: What is it about New York that inspired you on this album?

It was a fresh start for me. When I moved to New York, I felt very strong emotionally and mentally. Aside from touring, I’d spent a couple of years alone and because of that, I was able to go out in the world again. I was ready for a busy city and to interact with others. So, I guess I was inspired by life, really. I felt so happy and free and open and that reflected itself in my music. It was a very rich time, creatively.

ER: Is that the reason behind the image of a pomegranate on your album cover?

The pomegranate is a sign of fertility, which is what creativity is. It’s also a very feminine symbol and I think this album shows a very feminine side of me. With Glen, I had a beautiful balance between the masculine and the feminine. He brought the passion and the rawness and my aim was the harmony and the softness. Without Glen, I was trying to create something harmonious and very soothing and soft. I think I really embraced my femininity on this album.

ER: People who have followed your career since “Once” and the Swell Season might hear these songs and assume they’re all about Glen. Would that be an accurate assumption?

No, not really. I’ve been married for half-a-year and in a relationship for longer than that, so my current partner influences my music, too. He’s the closest person to me in my life and he makes his way into the songs. Aside from that, these songs couldn’t all be about one particular person because that’s not how I write. I observe relationships in my life and in other people's lives, I allow myself to go through emotional processes and then it all goes through a filter and becomes a song. The album is an outward reflection of what’s inside my head and my heart. I am the person I am because of the experiences I’ve had but I’m also creating a new self each moment.

I understand why people might think the songs are all about Glen. Of course Glen is in them…but in an abstract way. We’re still close and I love Glen very much. He’s dear to my heart and he continues to inspire me. But everything I write is a new opportunity to see things in a new perspective.

ER: In the Swell Season documentary, there are a couple of scenes in which you seem rather uncomfortable with the attention you receive from fans. Has that changed over time?

It’s changed a lot. The idea of celebrity has always been very strange to me because it’s taking the focus away from the music and attaching it to a person. When we put someone on a pedestal or idolize them, we’re giving our own power away. The reason it felt uncomfortable then is because I hadn’t processed it enough at the time, so it came out as resistance and feeling confused. I didn’t know back then how to say I didn’t agree with it.

The way I’ve found to remedy that is to try to interact in a sincere, honest way with people. If we relate like human beings to human beings, it’s a more open and sharing connection. I’m not unreachable. Don’t feel nervous or idealize me. I’m not perfect. When we strip off the celebrity, connecting to people on that level is really beautiful.

ER: The Broadway version of “Once” is opening next month. How does it feel to hand over your project to new actors?

MI: Funny you should mention that because I went yesterday to watch a rehearsal. Glen was there, too, though he’d seen it before. It was wonderful. I was pleasantly surprised. I really like it. I’m proud and I’m honored to see all these people taking a creation of mine and Glen’s and everyone who worked on the film and making it their own. Initially, I had the sense that this shouldn’t be a re-creation of something we already made; it should be a new creation and I didn’t feel right trying to control that. They kept the production simple, like the film is simple. It wouldn’t have made sense for it to be a shiny Broadway show. The core is still in there and I’m very, very happy with it.

Originally published on Metromix in November 2011.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Owl City

Owl City is the electro-synth-pop project of Adam Young. Raised in Owatonna, this Minnesotan musician shot to fame with 2009’s hit single “Fireflies.” Now, at age 24, Young has proven himself capable of more than one-hit-wonder status with three major label albums and extensive international touring under his belt.
I talked with Young in anticipation of his free performance, exclusively for college students, at the University of Minnesota’s Field House.

Your bedroom and your basement come up a lot in interviews. Does that weird you out? Are there any other rooms of your house that deserve a shout-out?

Adam Young
: [Laughs] It does come up a lot. The funny thing is that my bedroom was in my parent’s basement and that’s where I was banished from the time I was 16, 17, 18. There was only one room in the unfinished basement. Now I have my own place but I still work, sleep and live in the basement. The studio is basically taking over this big house. The rooms are like my children and I’m the parent.

What’s the most surreal experience you’ve had as a result of your fame? Is there a particular pinch-me moment that stands out most in your memory?

Yeah, the first time I flew out of the country, it was to Hong Kong, China. I was halfway through the show and I had this moment where it hit me that here I was, nobody from nowhere, and these people who lived a million miles away from me, who probably didn’t even speak English, knew all the words to my songs. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

When you go onstage now and see the enormity of the response to your music, do you still get the rush or have you come to expect it?

I still get the rush. The rush and butterflies. If either went away, I think the magic would stop. Despite the inevitable, mundane, routine that is part of touring—because touring is a repetitive thing, you’re doing the same thing night after night—I try to take time to recognize what an incredible blessing this is. I think of it as I get to do music; I don’t have to do it as a job.

Do you have a rider on your contract? What’s on it?

Yeah, we do. It’s typical, boring stuff…a lot of hummus. Tortilla chips. Mild salsa. I’m not hard core with the hot salsa. Guacamole gets on there sometimes—no runny, store-bought guacamole. Sandwich stuff, ham, lunch meat, Diet Coke. I’m actually Kidney Stone man now. [Laughs] Yeah, I get kidney stones—which are one of the most painful things, by the way—and the doctor said I should drink lemonade like nobody’s business because the acidity eats away at the lemonade has made more of an appearance on there.

What are your strategies for dealing with negative press?
AY: I’m like a tortoise in his shell. I enjoy not reading what’s being said about my music, good or bad. If I read the good, I’d probably have a big head and be a prideful bro; if I read the bad, I’d probably kill myself. Apathy is my strategy.

You’re playing at the U of M tomorrow. Did you go to college?

I went to a humble college in Owatonna called Riverland.

What did you study?

I went for general education...but I was told one-and-a-half semesters in that I was on academic probation because my grades were so bad.

If Owl City ended tomorrow and you were Adam Young, starting over again, would you go back to school?

Probably not. I'm sure I’d have to take a test to get in and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do it. [Laughs] I was apathetic in high school. I couldn’t do math. I was always in the refresher math course. My brain is small when it comes to figures. I can’t make things connect. So if Owl City was all over tomorrow, I’d probably go fill out an application to load trucks.

While I was Twitter stalking you, I noticed you bought a new car. Would you like to take this opportunity to brag?

[Laughs] I’m such a bro. I’ve never been a car guy. My Dad is a car guy and he was always looking over my shoulder, like, “You’re doing this all wrong. Why are you doing the music thing?” There was always this tiny thread of tension about why I wasn’t into cars, ‘cause I’m his first and only son. I’ve never had nice cars; I’ve always driven old minivans, but now I have the means, so I bought the total bro car, a Mustang. I went all out. I feel guilty and...I kind of don’t. [Laughs] In a small Midwestern town, that’s the thing; you drive a car like that and people stop and stare.

Are you growing a ‘stache for Movember?

[Laughs] These are amazing questions! I just haven’t shaved for two or three weeks. I’ve been on tour since June and I just got tired of shaving. I hadn’t thought about Movember, but it’s been 17 days…so, yeah, I guess I am participating. [Laughs]

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews The Cake Boss

The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro

Buddy Valastro is best known as the star of TLC’s wildly popular “Cake Boss” program. Mixing traditional recipes with modern design, Valastro is a man who lives on the cutting edge of culinary arts. In addition to whipping up incredible edibles on cable TV, Valastro has penned a new book about how he made Carlo’s Bakery a household name. Valastro is currently on tour, giving away the tricks of the trade in his live show “Baking with the Boss.” We asked Buddy about the Cake Boss empire, the must-haves for home bakers and how he “treats” himself.

Your new book “Cake Boss” is a combination of the story of how you became one of television’s most admired bakers paired with some your recipes. How did you decide which recipes to share with the public and which ones to keep top-secret?
Buddy Valastro: I tried to include a combination of recipes that were popular in my show and ones that are easy for the home baker to make. Some of the items (like lobster tails) are difficult to make at home but I still wanted everyone to be able to try it.

How has your baking changed since starting the show on TLC? Have you had to compromise your creativity or has it encouraged you to step outside your comfort zone?
BV: My recipes have pretty much stayed the same, but our decorating is at an all-time creative high. We've been replicating a lot of buildings for companies, which is always a creative challenge. I've also noticed that a lot of our cake orders are non-traditional; just this weekend we took orders for an Alice in Wonderland-inspired wedding cake and a bar mitzvah comic book cake. We're always trying new things, new ways to use edible materials creatively.

Some of your cakes look like they’re as much about baking skills as they are about engineering. How did you learn the construction part of creating cakes?
BV: Trial and error! Like most of my skills at the bakery, I learned how to do the frame work by learning from how other people used the tools. My brother-in-law, Mauro, worked in construction before the bakery and knows a lot about the engineering aspects of the cakes.

Despite the occasional drama on the show, you seem like a very positive person. How do you stay humble, happy and grounded in the midst of all this success and your professional obligations?
BV: It's all about family. We work together all day and then go home and make a big dinner. We might fight, but at the end of the day we're family and that's the most important thing to me.

For many of your fans, baking is a hobby and pastries are occasional treats. You bake day in, day out and could eat cake 24/7 if you wanted. If you had an entire day to yourself, what would your idea of indulgence be? How would you spoil yourself?
BV: I would love to sit at home all day and play with my kids. It's my favorite thing to do in my time off. All of my family is so close. We're always over each other's houses.

What do you miss most about your life, pre-fame?
BV: I'm still just a baker from New Jersey. The only change is that I get to share my passion with the world. I love meeting with fans of the show and hearing how we inspired them to make a special cake or dessert.

Who is at the top of your “I want to bake a cake for you” list?
BV: I've met so many great people, but my favorite cakes are always for the kids. My four kids mean the world to me and I love making other kids smile. That's why I love doing the live show; having the opportunity to create a fun, educational family night.

Is culinary school worth the dough for aspiring bakers?
BV: I think that there is a lot to learn in this industry, whether you go to school or become an apprentice. I learned everything from my dad and I always encourage hands-on learning because it is the best way to learn technique.

Who do you turn to for pastry-related advice?
BV: Sal [a long-time employee of Carlo’s Bakery who passed away] was a great mentor and taught me a lot about the art of baking. One of the first jobs I had in the bakery was working with the pastries and learning to “pull” lobster tails. I mostly focus on cakes now, but I have a talented team of guys that have been working here for a long time. My brother-in-law Joey is in charge of the “oven room.”

Name the five best tools for home bakers.
BV: A good mixer, rolling pin, utensils (measuring cups, spatulas, etc), high-quality ingredients and a good attitude! No matter what the recipe, any baker can do wonders in the kitchen with some good ingredients and an upbeat attitude!

Minnesotans can get a taste of Buddy's jaw-dropping baking skills when he comes to the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 15.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Little Scream

Little Scream’s music is as quirky and contradictory as her moniker. A violinist and pianist since childhood, she began writing songs at age 15. It was years later, in Montreal, that she took the stage, shed the name Laurel Sprengelmeyer and became Little Scream. Her genre-blending, spacey sound and multi-layered, elegant instrumentation caught the attention of the indie music scene and she soon opened for acts like Atlas Sound, Stars and Handsome Furs.

Little Scream’s new album, “The Golden Record,” was titled after the 1977 Voyager space shuttle and features her own oil painting as the cover. Co-produced with Richard Reed Parry and incorporating the talents of members of Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre and the National, “The Golden Record” is a delightfully complex collection of songs, leaving Little Scream poised to be the buzz band heard around the world.

I talked to Little Scream while she enjoyed a Rice Krispies treat in a British Columbia airport.

The last time you were in Minnesota, you opened for Sharon Van Etten. You brought a local saw player whom you’d just met onstage. Tell the story of how that happened.

Little Scream: We were playing a show, I think it was in Utah or one of those strange in-between places, and a guy came up to us afterwards and said he was a saw player from Minneapolis on a work trip. Saw is an instrument I really wanted to put on an album but I just never got to have it, so I invited him to play when we came to Minneapolis. We met up a couple hours before the show and he had heard the album so he knew what sound we were going for. He’s actually playing with us at the Triple Rock show and going with us to Chicago and Milwaukee, too.

That must take a certain amount of trust to bring someone you don’t know to perform with you. Do you invite musicians to back you like that often?

LS: From time to time, but no, not a whole, whole lot. In Montreal, there are certain musicians I can do that with, like "Let’s have a cellist for this show." It’s a fun, fun thing to do, but I’ve pulled in the reins on that somewhat because I want to have a solid show. It’s a balance. I still want that awesome spontaneous element in the show, too, because it makes it more exciting for the audience.

You were born in Iowa but Little Scream was conceived in Montreal. How did your path lead you there and why did you decide to stay?

LS: I hadn’t been there before I decided to move there. I was dating somebody at the time, a French speaker whose brother lived there, so I went with him. Then I got into a cool program at Concordia and found work right out of school, so I always had Visas. It took a couple of years to admit that I’d moved there because I felt very transient, but it’s a great, vibrant place and it is my home now, though I’ve hardly lived there this past year.

Do you have Canadian citizenship?

LS: I have permanent residency and the citizenship is being processed. I’m going to keep my U.S. citizenship, too, but I’ve been living in Montreal for ten years now and it feels like home to me.

Having lived in both the U.S. and Canada, are there certain things you think one country does better than the other?

LS: That is a tough question. It’s a good question. I would have to think about that for a while. [Pauses] What the U.S. could learn from the people of Canada is how to have political discussions without going to extremes. It’s unfortunate, but people in the U.S. don’t communicate like adults when they’re talking about politics. People in Canada can disagree with one another and still make things happen in the government. Don’t get me wrong; the U.S. is an amazing place and they have a sense of confidence that is lacking in Canada. Everyone here is always saying “I’m sorry, I ‘m sorry, I’m sorry.” It’s like the Midwest in that way. Maybe that’s why I feel at home here. That’s a really great question, though. I’m sure I’ll come up with ten great responses as soon as we get off the phone. [Laughs]

You did a really cool video with La Blogothèque. How did that come about? Did they just call you and say, “Meet us at this park?” And what is the deal with the runner at the end of the video? Was he a band member?

LS: More and more people are taping live, acoustic videos these days, but La Blogothèque is the original. We got contacted by them on the last couple of days of our tour, but because it’s outdoors and acoustic, we couldn’t accommodate the entire band. So we went to this park and our keyboard player Kaveh (Nabatian) happened to jog by. We couldn’t bring keys, so there was nothing for him to play, but since we ran into him, I told him to work out in the video. I made him do jumping jacks.

What’s great is that at the end of the video, the runner’s footsteps act as percussion. Did you plan that?

LS: It just sort of happened. If there’s anything I could have had more of in that video, it would have been more of Kaveh working out. I wanted it to be the “Workout to Little Scream” video. [Laughs.]

Do you have plans to make a more stylized video, something like a Florence & the Machine, over-the-top production with costumes?

LS: We had a lot of video plans but we’ve been traveling so much, some things we haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s funny because videos are both easy and hard. It’s easy to have ideas for concepts but it’s tricky to make them come out in the way you want them to.

You’ve said that “The Golden Record” wasn’t a concept album and that the songs are each their own universe. After completing the album and listening to it all the way through, however, did you see any themes or a narrative arc or do the songs still seem like separate entities?

They are still separate universes but the order they were put in was conscious. There is a definite narrative arc with the elements of triumph, hope and despair, at least for me. It’s like a soundtrack to a film that only I know the story to.

You’re also a painter. Is that related to your music or are they separate endeavors? Has a painting ever inspired a song or vice versa?

LS: They’re separate but they come out of the same vein. I didn’t realize until recording this album how related they are, but I showed some people the paintings and listening to them describe the paintings made me see the parallels in my songs. I also paint because I’m shy and painting is the opposite of performing in that regard. I paint alone, in a studio, where no one’s watching me, but with music, I can’t hide.

Do you get stage fright?

LS: Yeah, I do. It’s tricky because while I’m playing, I’m fine. It’s in between the songs when I have to talk that I feel weird, shy and awkward. I’ve been thinking I need a stand-up comic or an actor to fill in for me between songs so I don't have to feel that way.

You also seem to have a fascination with planets and all things celestial.

LS: I do. I love astronomy and space and stars. It’s constantly mind-blowing. I’m like a teenager on weed when I think about space. I’m in awe of how big the universe is.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011

Photo above by Rachel Granovsky

Erica Rivera Interviews Chastity Brown

Chastity Brown

Southern transplant Chastity Brown has captivated audiences all over the country with her soulful folk compositions. Her tight instrumentation and bittersweet lyrics evoke the struggles of the working class and only occasionally traverse the more popular relationship territory of her peers. Following two solo releases, including "Sankofa" (2009), Brown brought in band mates Michael X, (percussion), Adam Wozniak (upright bass) and Nikki Schultz (backing vocals) for "High Noon Teeth" (2010), a powerful collection of toe-tapping tunes that blended rhythm & blues with Americana style rock.

I met up with Chastity Brown at Common Roots Café in Uptown, where Peter Sieve of Rogue Valley happened to take Brown's order for espresso and a glass of wine.

Let's start from the beginning of your story. How did you get into music and what brought you to Minnesota?

Chastity Brown: I started playing saxophone at an early age. I lived in a super country, country town outside of Memphis. I always hated it but I play the music I play because I lived there. I didn't play out until I was 20, in Knoxville. Six years ago, a friend of mine was moving up here and I tagged along. I looked at City Pages to get an idea of what the scene was like and started gathering people.

How would you describe your sound? A lot of reviewers seem to throw the word "jazz" around when they talk about your music and that's the last genre I'd put you in.

CB: I don't mind it because the labels "jazz" or even "classical" imply a certain amount of respect for the musicians that play that kind of music. The musicians I play with are jazz musicians and we can lean that way, but we don't. So it's super flattering to call my music "jazz" but it's not completely accurate.

Not that you have to categorize you music at all...

CB: No, but this comes up a lot. I've been polling people who've seen my shows. Some hear banjo and say I'm straight-up Americana. If you ask the blues lovers, they say, "She bleeds the Blues." Some would compare it to the kind of rock that my peers are putting out, like The National, but my music isn't as layered in metaphor as indie rock is. I don't know exactly how to peg it. What the fuck am I? Appalachian Neo Soul? Americana Soul? I definitely don't want to be dumped into the "chick with a guitar" category. The label I'm working with doesn't know how to categorize me, either. I started working with them on a dance remix for "Strong Enough" to be released in Europe. We were jamming one day in the studio on a Blues tune and the tape happened to be rolling. When the label heard it, they said, "We want you to do what you do." So we did that instead. I just finished recording the new album and it's a huge step up, creatively and artistically, from what we did on "High Noon Teeth." It's more produced, detailed, nuanced.

What inspired the shift?

CB: Going on the road. It made me aware that I'm not the only one who really loves what we're doing.

Did you doubt that?

CB: I didn't doubt it, but we're grassroots, we're connected to the local community and it was just a really cool feeling to see it abroad. Working with a producer was also a huge influence. At first, it freaked me out, because I felt like, "This dude is fucking with my shit." I'm used to playing seven, eight, nine minute songs. I could sing the same line for a minute-and-a-half, but he showed me that it wasn't really necessary. It's like a writer working with an editor; you have to edit your writing and I had never edited my songs. We spent two weeks working on two or three songs, making sure every second was as strong as it could be.

Did you do storytelling songs on the new record and if so, are the stories autobiographical or fictional?

CB: Fictional. I'm singing from my personal perspective but these songs are not as obviously about me as they were before. "Sankofa" was an album of deeply personal songs I'd never sing again. [Laughs] It was shit I needed to write about, but "High Noon Teeth" was not as personal and with the new album, I'm moving even farther away from that. The new album is more...imaginative. An interesting thing happened on this record where two or three songs came out in one fell swoop, while we were recording. It's kind of freaky, which is what you hope for.

Jeremy Messersmith (whom Brown is opening for at the Cedar Cultural Center on Nov. 23) recently wrote a song inspired by the Occupy Minnesota protest. Has an event like that ever prompted you to write a song?

CB: I think it's appalling how misguided the regular Joe Blow is who thinks these rich mother fuckers have their best interests in mind...but I don't write that blatantly about events. A chunk of my songs are about bleeding hearts, about how we will speak up for ourselves, about the belief that we will make it through this somehow. I've been reading about the Occupy Wall Street movement and I'm sure the more I read, the more enraged I'll become and will probably be moved to respond to it.

Let's talk about your local collaborations. You've performed with the improv collective Coloring Time. What was that experience like?

CB: Joe Horton, who is at the helm of that project, is one of my closest guy friends so he can talk me into anything. I have so much respect for everyone in Coloring Time; there are so many bad-asses involved. It's a kids' play pen. If I don't feel like singing, I don't sing. It's a nice little treat. It's so hard to get people to come out to a show here, but with Coloring Time, there's no work involved in promotion, no head space. I can just kick it.

Is it harder to promote shows here than it is in the South?

CB: I learned how to promote here. Down South they say, "I'll pay you $25" or "I'll give you a meal" to play and you say "Okay." Knoxville musicians take pride in not seeming ambitious. There's a stigma attached to taking yourself seriously. In Minneapolis, if you don't take yourself seriously, good fucking luck, bud! There are professionals here and you need certain skills to navigate the system. I'm lucky that I have a partner who is very methodical and I have friends like Joe (Horton) and Alexei (Casselle) who I can call on for advice. As country as I am and as laid back as I am, I'll never be a bulldog. I'm not slow, I just take my time and that's not how the business works.

Speaking of Alexei, when you had your release show for "High Noon Teeth," Roma di Luna (the former husband-wife duo of Alexei and Channy Casselle) opened for you. Are you as sad about their recent split as I am?

CB: There's the music side and there's the friend side... (Pauses.) Overall, yes it's sad, but viewing them as artists, they are both incredibly dynamic in their own right. When I met Alexei, I only knew him in the Roma di Luna context. Then I saw a Kill the Vultures performance and he was a completely different person. I yelled something at him during that show and he looked right at me in a way I'd never seen before and it was the scariest shit. What Channy's doing with her new project (Polica) is great, too. (Pauses.) It's sad and it's not at the same time. As a friend, that's as much as I can say.

Do you ever see yourself making a radical change in your music like that or are you comfortable with where you're at?

CB: I have been pulling on the coattails of different friends. I'd like to do something with an alter ego where neither of our names would be immediately associated with our other projects. Alexei and I are both interested in historical music, so I was talking to him about doing something super-gritty, uncovering some old tunes. Bobby (Mulrennan) and I also have 15 songs that we've written and nobody's heard. We love the songs but they don't work with what we're doing on the new album. (Pauses.) Maybe they're just things that keep us writing and we don't have to share them...or maybe someone will read this and want to collaborate! (Pauses.) These are really good questions, by the way.

Thanks. It's a challenge to avoid asking the same questions as everyone else.

CB: I appreciate you not asking about my hair. Interviewers always say something about my hair. The last thing I want to talk about is the way I look. I mean, I get it, I don't look Minnesotan; I don't sound Minnesotan. Then there's Jeremy Messersmith, who looks just like his music sounds. I look like a punk city girl and I'm way more country than I let on.

What sorts of mannerisms would tell us that you're country?

CB: I have a different internal rhythm. Down South, there's not as much urgency as there is in the Midwest and certainly not as much as on the East Coast. Even the business meetings are relaxed. Up North, we operate indoors. Down South, we spend ten months of the year sittin' on the porch, hangin' out, doing nothin'. Everything down South happens on the porches.

So what is your porch here?

CB: My backyard. I have a vegetable garden. I have perennials. I hang out in the woods and camp as much as possible.

But the snow!

CB: Yeah...I don't see myself settling down here by any means, but there is something about this town... (Pauses.) I think because it took so long to make friends and get into the local music scene, I spent a lot of time with myself and that's how I came to accept who I am, how I sound, how I sing. I had a big growth spurt in this town. I hope that when I leave, Minneapolis knows that I created in the way I have from being here. Minnesota has legitimate job opportunities for artists and a school system that lets you talk to students about protests songs. The public here acknowledges that you've developed a craft. That doesn't happen down South...well...maybe in Nashville...but that's a different world. I can understand how some artists don't want anything to do with it. When I release an album, I think, "This will bring us new work." I can't think beyond that. I don't think, "Maybe this will be the next big hit!"

Does anyone aspire to that anymore?

CB: In Nashville they do. You talk to people in the music biz and they want to be the next Shania Twain, Faith Hill or Garth Brooks. When people tell me that, I say, "Sorry. We can't hang out." (Laughs.) That's the hardcore folkie in me, because goals like that remove us from what music is: a platform for us to hang out. Music is what keeps us connected.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011