Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews Winston Yellen of Night Beds


Night Beds Q&A

Night Beds is a quiet up-and-comer, but one worth staying awake for. Twenty-three-year-old Winston Yellen is at the helm with an impeccable voice and raw song-writing style. Tinged with the tumbleweed roughness of Ray LaMontagne yet instrumentally evocative of an acoustic Ryan Adams, this Colorado Springs-bred crooner released three EPs prior to retreating to a cabin once owned by Johnny Cash. There, Yellen composed the songs that landed on the band’s first full-length, “Country Sleep.” Since the album’s release on Dead Oceans in February, Yellen has appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and NPR’s “Tiny Desk.”

We spoke to Yellen about the therapeutic effect of music, summoning Cash’s spirit, and who he’d have liked to share the stage with.

Q: Where did the name “Night Beds” come from?

A: Without being too heady, “Night Beds” is just a moniker I came up with. It was two words that evoked images for me of things that I like. They made sense together.

Q: And how did you decide on “Country Sleep” for the album title?

A:  “Country Sleep” is also two words that have a lot of importance to me. I saw the movie “The Science of Sleep” and I kind of liked the idea of that sedated, dreamlike state. It has that backwoods, underbelly vibe that resonates with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in dive bars and I lived in my car for a while, so I’m familiar with the desolation of the country.

Q: In an interview with the Fuel/Friends blog, you said “Every song I’ve tracked, I’ve wept.” Given what an emotionally wrought album this was, how do the songs translate to live performance?

A: That was taken slightly out of context. What I meant was that each song left an impression of an emotion on me, like if you were to press your hand on a mattress. It had that effect of pain on my heart, but I wasn’t mopping tears off the floor. Live, it’s unhinged as far as energy goes. I’m always toeing the line of intimacy with people. It depends on the room and if they’re willing to go there. A lot of variables come into play when it’s live. It’s freaky and fun.

Q: You’ve compared music to therapy in the past. What kind of issues did you work through in the writing of this album?

A: Everybody has issues, all the time. I guess for me it was that I hit the wall. Everything I went through is on the record. It has cathartic value. That’s why people do art—to be aware of, and deal with, their demons.

Q: Do you think your next album will be this personal? Or are you interested in writing songs from a fictional place as well?

A: The personal aspect is always going to be in there because it’s my art. Some of what I wrote on “Country Sleep” isn’t exactly true, but I wrote it. I like to keep the line blurry.

Q: On the track “Even If We Try,” there’s a line that goes, “Come on Johnny please, won't you speak to me?” Were you referring to Johnny Cash?

A: Yes, that was a nod to Cash.

Q: Did you bust out the Ouija board or hold a séance to try to communicate with his spirit while you were living in his cabin?

A: To some degree, music is a form of that type of communication. You can become transfixed. It’s meditative. Making music there did feel like a séance, but not in a chintzy Ouija board way.

Q: The video for “Even If We Try” is somewhat ambiguous—yet very uncomfortable to watch. What was the concept behind it?

A: I was trying to portray someone who is displaced and I used images that I would empathize with. I wanted to show a guy at a party who’s having a hard time. Then I wanted to show him at his home, to see how people change behind closed doors. It’s brutality seen in a beautiful way.

Q: If you could share the stage with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Living? That’s tough. You got me on that one. I’m going to go with Jo Stafford.

Originally published on Vita.mn in May 2013.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Erica Rivera Published In USA Today

I scream, you scream, we all scream for...Erica Rivera's Best Ice Cream Parlors in the World piece, which just got picked up by USA Today.


Rivera's piece on the Top 25 Ice Cream Parlors Worldwide was originally written for The Daily Meal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews Father John Misty


“I’m just sitting here in my underwear,” Father John Misty said as soon as he answered my call.

It was no surprise that the 32-year-old singer-songwriter conducted this interview nearly nude—raunch is what Misty’s all about. But it wasn’t always that way. Born Joshua Tillman to devout Christian parents, Misty initially had aspirations of becoming a man of the cloth.

“When I was very young I didn’t have any discernable skills. In school, I was always putting on a show, I was very talkative, and I knew how to bullshit. I thought those qualities would make me a good pastor,” he explained.

That “dream” fell by the wayside when Misty learned to play drums and guitar by the age of 12. Over the next two decades, his career path would lead him to record seven albums as brooding J. Tillman, a process he described as “a dark and cathartic exercise.” He also drummed for indie band Fleet Floxes for four years, a role he tends to downplay.

In May 2012, J. Tillman officially transformed into Father John Misty and released a debut album, Fear Fun, under that moniker. A smorgasbord of psychedelic sounds from fuzzed out indie rock to Laurel Canyon country, the collection Pitchfork described as “kaleidoscopic” also included an aural example of art imitating life on the John Lennon-esque track “Writing A Novel.” Misty did indeed write a novel—his first and possibly only tome—which is included with the album on two broadsheets.

“Part of what writing a novel solidified for me is that I only want to write songs and it informed the way I have to write them. [In the novel] I gave myself permission to be funny, to be long-winded, to be absurd, to be verbose. I had never allowed myself to use those parts of me in song writing before.”

When asked how he reconciles the saintly and the sinful sides of himself (a contradiction clearly played out on his NSFW Tumblr, where pictures of priests and bestiality co-exist) Misty’s answer got lost behind a maze of verbiage.

“It’s about iconography and symbol-making…a Jungian thing. I’m bringing attention to the arbitrary nature of symbols. People don’t do that enough. I assign my own meaning to words to cultivate optimism. It’s also a way for me to be mischievous.”

Far-out philosophies aside, the self-proclaimed “old pervert Father John Misty” guise is said to be the most authentic one this musician has ever worn. Critics might wonder, however, if the provocative persona reeks of a clichéd storyline: boy rebels against religious upbringing by becoming a lewd celebrity.

When asked what his parents think of his career, the charisma in Misty’s voice flatlined.

“In total honesty, I don’t know,” he said. “We don’t discuss my career.”

While Misty was tight-lipped on family affairs, he was more than happy to discuss his use of mushrooms.

“I have been portrayed as a partier, but that’s not the whole story. It’s not like I take a bunch of mushrooms and write. My personal experience is that in that state, I have a very distinct realization of myself. It’s a state where my fear and distortions fall for a moment. To experience that sense of wonder is healthy, whether you are a songwriter or not.”

The softer side of Misty seemed to emerge when the topic turned to “Nancy From Now On,” a titillating song that opens with the lines “Pour me another drink / And punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy.” The music video depicts a night of pseudo pornographic sex and booze-fueled flirtation—until the final scene, when Misty returns home to cuddle in bed with his real-life fiancée Emma Elizabeth Garr, a filmmaker and photographer.

“Part of the video was an excuse to throw on S&M gear and play around,” Misty said. “It’s also an exploration of being newly in love with someone and the vulnerability you feel when that happens. When you’re alone, you’re not at the mercy of wanting to love and be loved, or wanting approval, or maintaining your dignity.”

Ironically, Misty seems to maintain more dignity under his current, if controversial, alter ego than he ever did as the demure and depressed J. Tillman.


“After I wrote this really weird thing,” Misty said, referring to his novel, “I couldn’t go back. It was a moment of personal revelation.”

 

Originally published in Vita.mn in May of 2013.

Erica Rivera Interviews Lissie


Q&A: Lissie

Lissie (the stage name of Elisabeth Maurus) is the one-name wonder who wooed indie music listeners when her EP Why You Runnin’ dropped in 2009 on Fat Possum Records. While the songs that originally caught the world’s attention were folk-centric and wrought with precocious writing, Lissie later went the way of radio-ready, heavily produced tunes on her first full-length, Catching A Tiger. While country music lovers may have been disappointed, mainstream media didn’t mind—the album garnered Lissie Paste Magazine’s No. 1 Best New Solo Artist of 2010 title.

The alluring rebel who once was kicked out of high school is now raring to release fresh material this summer. We asked Lissie about her much-anticipated new album, her hobbies offstage, and the main male in her life.

Q: Your new single, “Shameless,” speaks to the pitfalls of celebrity. How has being in the public eye over the past several years changed you?

A: I have seen and heard of people doing anything to "make it" and it just seemed like such a shame to me. I work hard on my craft and feel that I have this talent which at times is no match for the ruthless and clever who make a name for themselves. I sound really bitter! But I'm not. I know that I am on my own unique path. I hope I can achieve that balance to be a happy, simple person with varied interests who also sells lots of records and has well attended concerts.

Q: What kind of sound can listeners anticipate on your new album? Will it be more pop-rock oriented or will there be some folk/country influences, too?

A: The new album, which I am so totally stoked to share, is pretty consistently rock and dare I say, pop! The folk/country element to my musical style isn't in this new body of work as much.  It comes out in a vocal inflection here and there but I was shooting for a more cohesive album than "Catching a Tiger" was.  I feel like I can always pick up an acoustic guitar and sing a folk song but that's not my focus right now.  

Q: Fans love the raspy nature of your voice. Are you worried that you will lose that if/when you quit smoking?

A: I have been smoking since I was 17 and smoke about 10 cigs a day.  I know it's not something that I can do for much longer. I am probably a bit in denial and defensive about how bad it is! I exercise and steam my vocal chords, humidify, and drink lots of throat coat tea. I had a raspy voice as a kid so I'm not sure if it'd change the tone or not.   

Q: How do you stay balanced and happy during what must be rigorous touring schedules?

A: It's hard ‘cause I get out for a show here and there and I'm so excited that I'll push my voice really hard and it tires quickly.  I have been on a kick the last month or so to be really fit and mindful of my voice and overall stamina.  I have prepared a "health kit" that's got a kettle and humidifier, lots of tea, specials herbs, and a little blender so I can make nutritious smoothies.

Q: What is your philosophy on food? Are you into the farm-to-table movement?

A: Growing up in Illinois I was a vegetarian and the options for "health" food were limited.  It has changed so much in the last five to ten years. I try to eat really well. In theory I would stay away from anything processed and avoid GMOs and foods grown with chemicals, but if I'm honest, I "eat my feelings" and have trouble not binging on crap from time to time.

Q: You have an adorable Lhasa Apso named Byron. How did he come into your life? What is his personality like?

A: Byron is my sun and moon and stars! I had no idea I wanted a dog but I had to save this dog from the creepy puppy store. I ended up getting kicked out of my apartment for it. Byron is so smart and sassy.  He is endlessly entertaining and really sweet.

Q: You posted a picture of yourself learning French on Instagram. How are you planning to use the language once you learn it?

A: If I'm in France for shows, it's such a tease to only kind of communicate.  My plan is to do my Rosetta Stone and then attend an immersion French language course.  It's ambitious but an hour a day is totally doable, so I can't wuss out. I think it's just good for the brain to keep learning as an adult. 

Originally published on Vita.mn in May 2013.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Erica Rivera Reviews Freedom To Marry Concert


Review: Freedom to Marry Concert

Following the signing of the Freedom to Marry bill on Tuesday, supporters of all ages made their way to Ecolab Plaza in downtown St. Paul for a celebratory concert, many stopping at the Wabasha Street Bridge to kiss and pose for pictures amongst rainbow flags.

Hookers $ Blow (who frontman Adam Levy politely referred to as “H and B”) set the mood for the festivities with a slew of baby-making cover songs and soul jams, leaving the crowd peppy and sweaty from dancing in the 90-degree weather.

“We are available for same sex weddings at a chapel near you!” vocalist George Scot McKelvey announced to the crowd before H $ B left the stage.

Zoo Animal followed, and Holly Newsom brought her wicked guitar skills and trademark intensity, ramping each tune up from subtle to sweltering in under three minutes.

“There’s no ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ We're all just people,” Newsom said before launching into a blistering rendition of “Folded Hands.”

Between acts, DJ Jake Rudh blasted a playlist tailored to sweethearts, including songs like Macklemore’s “Same Love” and “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups. There were also several speakers who shared what Minnesota’s decision to legalize same sex marriage meant to them on a personal level.

Base-thumping house beats announced the arrival of rapper P.O.S., for whom the crowd was pumped and busting out their best moves.

“It’s a good thing there’s a barricade to protect you all from me,” he teased.

Soon P.O.S.’s smile faded and the seriousness of his lyrics about disenchantment, anarchy and dissent hammered the crowd.

“I wish the best for 90 percent of people,” P.O.S. said, calling the remaining percentage of the population “mean” and reminding everyone that there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to equality. Before the rhetoric turned too heavy, however, his right-hand-man DJ Fundo cued up the infectious “Get Down” intro and hands swarmed the air.

The Jack Brass Band made an admirable effort to keep the crowd uplifted with its hip-swiveling sounds and mostly instrumental entertainment. The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus followed, barely squeezing 100 members onto the stage, their luminous sound wafting over the city.

Before the closing act, Mayor Chris Coleman took the mic to say, “I have never been more proud of Minnesota than I am today.”

By the end of the night, when The Suburbs’ Chan Poling belted out “Love is the Law” in his signature growl, it was evident that Minnesotans had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The audience for the Freedom to Marry concert was as diverse as the lineup and the vibe was one of convivial relief. Couples danced in the streets and groups of friends sang along with one another.

There was nary a naysayer in sight—just the sound of celebration.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Erica Rivera Reviews HOTTEA's "Inner Workings"


HOTTEA: Inner Workings

Eric Rieger, a graduate of MCAD whose installations have taken him across the globe, has finally returned to Minneapolis for “Inner Workings,” his first solo show. Rieger’s focus for this exhibition was inward, and the result is a stark collection of self-portraits that combine yarn, paint, and soft sculpture.

This personal examination is new territory for the twenty-something street artist. Years ago, after an ugly run-in with taser-toting police, Rieger abandoned graffiti. His late grandmother, a Spanish-speaker, taught him how to knit, and yarn served as a way to bridge a language barrier between the two. The non-destructive nature and impermanence of yarn bombing merged seamlessly with HOTTEA’s ideals, and he soon embarked on a spree around the Twin Cities, adorning grim urban fences and lampposts, often spelling out HOTTEA.

Rieger has since expanded his HOTTEA alter ego into a bona fide artist. The first set of self-portraits on display in the Burnet Gallery feature stripes of bright yarn transposed with iconic paintings of Raggedy Ann cradling an infant, then an adolescent. These pieces were respectively bookmarked by candelabras and pitchforks. The style of the infant print is particularly reminiscent of a prayer card, perhaps a nod to the La Virgen de Guadalupe and Rieger’s Hispanic ancestry.

The second set of self portraits speaks to the themes of dichotomy and duplicity. Black yarn strung on nails over white backing creates the shape of Rieger’s face, fingers pressed to cheeks. One of the faces is right side up; on the opposite side of the room, the face is upside down. On either side of these portraits are two life-sized soft sculpture men; both clothed in white hoodies, Levis 501 jeans, Van sneakers, and orange ski masks. One climbs the side of a portrait while the other seemingly slides down the opposite end. The proverbial push-pull figures are connected by thick, colorful threads.

Rieger has also adorned one wall with the HOTTEA moniker in baby blue paint, interspersed with what appear to be mini altars. A friendship bracelet, a tiny Mead notebook, a ticket stub, Dum Dum suckers, a Hot Wheels car, and a framed picture of his grandmother are just some of the items scattered across the crooked shelves.


“Inner Workings” is both an introspective and reflective show. While Rieger reveals himself to art lovers as never before, he also exercises extreme restraint. No detail is extraneous; no demons are on display. The altars are the only chaotic element of the installation, and even those are contained to tiny spaces in comparison with the looming self-portraits. HOTTEA’s work is exact, pristine, and one feels that we’ve barely scratched the surface of this emerging artist.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Erica Rivera Has The Scoop On Ice Cream Parlors


Erica Rivera sought out the 25 Best Ice Cream Parlors worldwide--including one Twin Cities spot--for The Daily Meal. Get the scoop here!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews Damien Jurado


Q&A: Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado is a Seattle singer-songwriter iconic to the Pacific Northwest. A master of his craft with a cult following, Jurado refuses to conform to any one genre. His often melancholy songs speak subtly to unrequited love and private despair. Jurado, whose music has received substantial critical acclaim, has twelve studio albums under his belt and shows no sign of slowing down. His last release, 2012’s Maraqopa, was released on Secretly Canadian and produced with Richard Swift.

We spoke to Jurado about his unconventional approach to music and his long-lasting career.

Q: You’ve been making music for so long. How do you keep it fresh and exciting, both for yourself and for your listeners?

A: I don’t know. I don’t really do it for the listeners. I do it for me. I’m always on that journey to take the music further. It happens naturally. It’s growth.

Q: Does it ever feel like a job?

A: It only feels like a job since I had kids. That’s the only reason. There are times I have to play when I’d rather not, but I have to make a living.

Q: Where do the stories and characters of your songs come from?

A: Mostly my imagination. They’re not based on anything real.

Q: Your catalog of music includes so many different instruments. Are there any you haven’t gotten to use yet that you would like to in the future?

A: Not that I can think of. I play guitar, and drums, and bass. If I want something else, I’ll have someone else play.

Q: Your current tour includes several living room shows. Talk about your decision to do those and whether or not you think there a movement in the music industry to get back to that kind of setting?

A: I’m not sure if there’s a movement. I don’t pay attention to the music industry. I have friends who have done living room shows, like David Bazan. Growing up in high school, when I started doing music, the Teen Dance Ordinance went into effect in Seattle. The local government was shutting down all-ages places. We had no where to play except people’s houses. I like living rooms for the intimacy and because my music is quiet. To be honest, it could be anywhere—art spaces or churches. I prefer churches because of the acoustics.

Q: In an interview with Splendid Magazine you once said, “Politics and me, we're like lovers. I'm obsessed with politics.” Talk about how that informs your music today, if at all.

A: I’m a person who constantly changes. That’s old energy. I haven’t touched politics in years. I’m sort of starting to abandon it. I did the “kill television” thing and now I only know what I know about the world through hearsay.

Q: We hear you are working on your next album. What can you tell us about it?

A: It’s done. And it’s a surprise. It’s the next chapter of, or a second step from, Maraqopa. That’s all I’ll say for now.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the grand scheme of the music community? With so much experience, do you feel you the need to usher in the next generation, to pass on the lineage?

A: I like helping artists. There’s quite a few I’ve helped in the past: Fleet Foxes, Head and the Heart, Father John Misty. All of them went on to be very successful in their own right. Knowing I had a huge part in that feels good. I’m the advice-giver. That’s a role I’m proud of. As for where I am on the spectrum…I’m smaller than a speck of dust. And I’m okay with that.

Originally published on Vita.mn in May 2013.