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


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?


KT:
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?


KT:
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?

KT:
[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?


KT:
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?

KT:
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?

KT:
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?


KT:
"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?

KT:
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?

KT:
"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.

Beirut


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).

Tabouleh


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