Monday, March 31, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles KVS Letterpress


Letterpress is a 500-year-old art and the printing method that birthed the book industry. Erica Rivera recently interviewed Krista Stout, one of the artisans who are bringing back this beautiful and handcrafted form of communication. Read all about it in the April 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Yellow Ostrich


Q&A: Yellow Ostrich

Yellow Ostrich began as Alex Schaaf’s passion project. While studying music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, the 21-year-old recorded lo-fi, 4-track songs from his bedroom and released them on Bandcamp. After opening for Bishop Allen, Schaaf befriended that band’s drummer, Michael Tapper. In 2010, Schaaf moved to Brooklyn and joined forces with Tapper; the duo released “The Mistress” in 2011. Jon Natchez (bass) came on board in time for 2012’s “Strange Land” but left the band shortly thereafter. Jared Van Fleet (keyboard/guitar) and Zach Rose (base) were then added to the lineup and the foursome recorded “Cosmos” (2014), an album where melodic, hymnal vocals coalesce with guitar-driven, indie rock instrumentation.

Schaaf spoke to Vita.mn from the band’s tour van.

Q: Yellow Ostrich started a solo project. Has adding bandmates changed how you write your songs?

A: In terms of arrangements, we have to think about how it’s going to work best with the people who are doing it. The songwriting itself still feels the same. It just comes out of nowhere. You can’t think too much about what the set-up is before trying to write something.

Q: Your music has such a solitary quality to it. Why do you think that is?

A: The basic structure of the songs still starts with me. I come up with the lyrics first and send a bare bones idea around and the guys fill it out and develop the songs further. It’s interesting to have a bigger band but not necessarily lose that feeling of something smaller and intimate.

Q: What prompted your move from Wisconsin to New York and how has the move affected Yellow Ostrich?

A: I moved to Brooklyn after I finished college four years ago. Change would have been inevitable. Living in Brooklyn, for sure, is different from if I had moved anywhere else. Brooklyn influences how the band works because there are so many bands, everyone’s doing stuff, and it’s easier to stay busy and motivated.

Q: When you were in school studying music, is Yellow Ostrich what you imagined you’d be doing?

A: I didn’t really have a plan. At college, I was doing piano, performance, theory, and similar classical stuff, but I never wanted to do that. I knew that I always wanted to have a rock ‘n’ roll band. In that sense, it’s kind of going how I pictured it. So far, so good.

Q: Your new album was heavily influenced by astronomy. What about that fascinates you?

A: I got into watching the Carl Sagan show “Cosmos.” The whole point of the show is trying to make science appealing to the greatest amount of people possible. I like that it’s about science and that it’s educational; it’s not too technical but not dumbing it down. Astronomy is appealing from a songwriting perspective because it’s so huge. It could mean anything. It’s so all-encompassing.

Q: How do you translate a concept like that into a sound, as far as instrumentation goes?

A: It wasn’t so direct. We weren’t trying to make it sound like space. It’s more about the themes in the lyrics. The sound just came from the four of us working together and trying to come up with something that all of us were happy with and narrowing down the ideas to make a cohesive sound.

Q: Do you still have a day job of digitizing home videos?

A: Yeah, I still have the day job. All of us are still figuring out how to do the band while also keeping our jobs at home and making enough to pay Brooklyn rent. Jared’s working from the van right now, online.

Q: Do you find having a job to be a balancing force or would you prefer to do music full-time?

A: I think all of us would prefer to do music full-time but it’s not feasible at the moment. It’s definitely a balance trying to figure out how to devote as much as possible to the band while not jeopardizing our jobs. If we didn’t have our jobs, the band wouldn’t be possible.

Q: Have you had any musical mentors along the way? Or have you been figuring it out on your own?

A: There’s a lot of other bands in Brooklyn that we’re friends with. We kind of watch each other and learn different things. It’s a process of trial and error. There are certain bands that we look at, like the National, where they’ve been at it for a while. It’s not like they put out their first song and they were instant worldwide sensations. We just do it, slog it out for a while, and build our audience.

Originally published on Vita.mn in March 2014.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Erica Rivera Featured in Home Section of Star Tribune


Erica Rivera wrote a front page feature the Sunday Home section of the Star Tribune. In the article, Rivera details the pros, cons, and personal experiences of those living under an association. Read the piece in print or online here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Icona Pop


Q&A: Icona Pop

Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt are Icona Pop, the electro pop duo from Stockholm whose single “I Love It” has become anthemic. Their euphoric and infectious music lends itself to partying, which is, coincidentally, how these BFFs met in 2009. After moving to London, Jawo and Hjelt dropped their self-titled full-length debut in 2012, followed by their second studio album “This is Icona Pop” in 2013. Icona Pop tunes soon appeared on TV shows like “Girls” and “Glee,” and the duo made the rounds on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Good Morning America.” The sexy Swedes are currently opening for Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz tour and will partner up with Katy Perry later in the spring.

Q: Your bio says you met on a Saturday and booked your first show the following Monday. How did Icona Pop happen so fast?

Aino: It is quite weird. I was dumped and our mutual friend forced me to go to a party at Caroline’s place. We kind of fell in love with each other. The energies between us were amazing. We were talking about music—and it happens a lot when you’re out that you talk with people and want to make music with them and then it never actually happens—but we knew immediately that we would go through with it.

Q: You told Interview that Icona Pop is synonymous with “fuck it mode.” What does that mean to you?

Caroline: “Fuck it mode” is a state of mind that we end up in when we’re together. We just do our thing and we do it one-thousand percent and we don’t care what other people think. We don’t even think about the consequences of what we do, so we have to deal with them the next day. So that’s the “fuck it mode.” You’re very present and you’re very now.

Aino: That’s when Icona Pop is the best.

Q: Partying is a theme in your music. What makes for a great party?

Caroline: A great party is me and Aino in a room with music. We call that an awesome party.

Aino: [Laughs.]

Caroline: For us, it’s about bringing all of our friends. That’s more important than where we are. And music that makes you move your hips and you can’t stop. And some beers. Yeah, that’s all we need for a party.

Q: What has been a highlight of your tour with Miley Cyrus?

Aino: The whole tour has been crazy. The first show is always epic because it’s such an experience. In Vegas, it was a very special night. We had a lot of friends come over and we had this massive after-party. It was magic.

Q: How do you recover from partying in time to go onstage again? Do you have any tricks?

Caroline: It’s kind of a rule that you shouldn’t try to be king during the night if you can’t be king during the day. If you’ve been having a really good night out, and you’re hungover as hell, it doesn’t matter. You get energy from a good night out. But if you’re staying home and you know all of your friends have a lot of fun, you wake up the next day feeling not so satisfied. Sometimes it’s better to go out there, get energy from having fun, and, yeah, you might be a little tired but you can still laugh about the things you did.

Aino: It’s not about drinking beer. We’ve been out several times without drinking. It’s just a thing where you’re meeting people and listening to music and having a great night.

Q: Your biggest hit thus far was “I Love It.” What do you love, other than music?

Aino: That is a hard question. We love gorgeous men. They always give me a lot of energy. We love nature and animals.

Caroline: Yeah. We love food. We love eating.

Q: What kinds of food have you had on tour? Anything exotic?

Aino: We got Mexican food.

Caroline: That’s our favorite.

Aino: Mexican is our favorite right now. But it’s always different. We get hang-ups. We eat it until we can’t eat it anymore.

Q: You’re both into fashion. What are your top picks for Spring?

Caroline: I don’t think we’re the best ones following all the trends. We can’t keep up with everything. But we love clothes and we love buying shoes. I think when it gets a little bit warmer, it’s perfect for a leather jacket, a pair of great sunglasses, and maybe you should treat yourself with those springy high heels.

Aino: Leather jacket is one of the main things we always have. And a pair of nice sunglasses can make you look cool no matter what you’re wearing.

Q: You collaborate often with other artists and producers. Why is that important to your music?

Caroline: We love collaborating with people just because of the fact when you go into the studio with another person, it gives new energy to the songs you’re writing. It’s super fun, especially when you work with people like us that don’t have any rules and aren’t scared of trying new stuff.

Aino: We have a couple of collaborations coming out, but we can’t really tell you. We’re excited.

Q: If you weren’t musicians, what careers would you pursue?

Aino: I would be an astronaut.

Originally published on Vita.mn in March 2014.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Lake Street Dive


Q&A: Lake Street Dive

Though Lake Street Dive might appear to be an overnight success story—thanks to a YouTube video of their “I Want You Back” cover that went viral in 2013—the quartet is actually on the cusp of celebrating their ten year “bandiversary.”

Hailing from disparate hometowns (Lead vocalist Rachael Price from the Nashville area, trumpet and guitar player Mike Olson from Minneapolis, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney from Iowa, and drummer Mike Calabrese from Philadelphia), the foursome converged as students at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Lake Street Dive released their self-titled debut in 2011 and an EP, “Fun Machine,” in 2012, both showcasing a strange brew of alt-country and jazz music. Their latest album, “Bad Self Portraits,” ventures into pop rock territory, a transformation that clearly appeals to the masses as well as the critics, garnering gushing reviews from Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Hollywood Reporter.

Olson spoke to Vita.mn from the band’s tour van.

Q: All the band members are from different states. How does that inform the band, professionally or personally?

A: I don’t know that it’s informed our songwriting. We were studying jazz, which is a universal language, but we all grew up listening to ‘60s music, Motown, and British invasion stuff. It does influence our personalities. Mike [Calabrese] has that East Coast edge. Rachael has that Southern hospitality. Bridget is your classic Midwesterner. Somehow we make it work.

Q: Did you have a particular Lake Street Dive in mind when you named the band?

A: It was supposed to evoke an archetypal Minneapolis dive bar, though I will say of the bars I’m familiar with in town—which are not many, because I moved away before college and I wasn’t in too many bars at the age of 17—the Bryant Lake Bowl is a favorite of mine.

Q: Lake Street Dive seems to have genre-hopped. Why is that?

A: We’ve always wanted to be a rock band. Or a pop band. But we still turn around and see a record review calling us a folk grass jam band. We’ve evolved not out of a desire to fit a certain genre, but because we’ve discovered what we enjoy playing coupled with a realization that our early jazz-influenced music wasn’t good.

Q: You recently appeared on The Colbert Report. Walk us through that experience.

A: I was so nervous it was sort of a blur. We rolled up in front of the studio that morning and Stephen Colbert leaned out of the window and waved his arms at us. We were dumbfounded. He came backstage and talked to us and took selfies with his phone. The crew on that show was so amazingly kind. Some lady from the wardrobe department cleaned my Chuck Taylors for me so they didn’t look crappy. The studio audience was really nice. I think we’re going to be spoiled forever if we were to do TV ever again. It’s probably never going to be as welcoming and warm as Colbert was.

Q: The title of your latest album is a reference to social media and cell phones. What about that theme intrigued you?

A: I think Bridget—the songwriter of that song—was perversely fascinated by the ridiculous trend of selfies. Bridget is often looking towards things off the beaten path as inspiration for her songs. She definitely likes looking at selfies and taking them—she’s actually taking one right now! [Laughs.]

Q: You recorded “Bad Self Portraits” in a farmhouse. Why was that the ideal venue?

A: It was really rad. There were only a couple of rooms that were overhauled to be acoustically treated. The rest of the house, where we did most of our recording, like the attic or the bathroom, was rustic. There was no cell phone reception and no internet. It allowed us to be hyper-focused on doing two things: sleeping and recording. That environment gave us a different kind of work ethic and focus than we’d had. When we were done and left the studio, everyone turned on their phones. While we’d been isolated, our YouTube video went viral. We got out of this hyper-focused atmosphere and realized the world was going on without us, in this amazing way that we wouldn’t have been able to manufacture if we’d been at our computers.

Q: Has the attention changed the experience of making music or performing for you?

A: Not yet, I don’t think, because we made the last record in such an un-self-conscious way. We were making a record not because the fans or our record label demanded it or whatever bullshit comes out of bands being more exposed. We were just making it because we had the tunes and it was the right time. The increased exposure has made performing more fun in a lot of ways because we’re playing for larger, more enthusiastic crowds. This record has reached so many more people than anything we have done in the past. Trying to follow that up with a new record that we’re proud of…I don’t know how that’s going to go.

Q: Rumor has it you used to wear matching sweater vests onstage. Why did that fall by the wayside?

A: That changed because sweater vests are frumpy. We didn’t know much about how to be a band back then. Our rehearsals were an excuse to get together and eat chips. Our first records were done without direction or a theme. Our shows were booked based on where we didn’t have to pay for a hotel. We thought we should have a band uniform, which were sweater vests, which does not instill in the audience the vision of a savvy pop band that’s writing sexy jams. We looked like librarians and math teachers. Over time, we’ve thought a lot more critically about the kind of band we want to be. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to be a little more hip. I mean, who doesn’t?

Originally published on Vita.mn in March 2014.