Thursday, July 31, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews St. Paul and the Broken Bones


Q&A: St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Paul Janeway has a voice that could rattle the rafters and it’s garnering him national attention as frontman for the old-school soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Janeway, an Alabama native, grew up listening almost exclusively to gospel and was on track to become a preacher. After reevaluating his career path, he enrolled in community college. Two semesters away from an accounting degree, Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips went into the studio to record the music they’d been writing together. Phillips brought Andrew Lee (drums) and Browan Lollar (guitar), and the group soon evolved to its current seven-piece, Birmingham-based lineup.

The band’s debut full-length “Half the City” was released in February to critical acclaim, landing St. Paul interviews on NPR, a feature in Esquire, and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

Janeway spoke to Vita.mn in anticipation of the band’s upcoming show at Amsterdam.

Q: Tell me how preaching prepared you to perform onstage.

A: One of the main things is it helped to read crowds and feel the momentum in a room.

Q: Do you feel like you were called to music by a higher power?

A: I don’t know [but] I definitely feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Q: What kinds of experiences inspired the songs on “Half the City”?

A: Lyrically, it’s not an incredibly happy-go-lucky album. There’s a lot of heartbreak. It’s about the city that we’re from—Birmingham—and what happened in that city.

Q: Were any of the songs based on personal experiences?

A: They have personal touches on them, but I try to generalize to make it more universal.

Q: What do you think it is about Alabama that’s produced so many great musicians?

A: We ain’t got nothin’ else to do! That’s what it is. I think there’s a great legacy here, like there is in Minnesota with Bob Dylan and Prince. Alabama’s seen a lot of heartache and sadness in its history and that inspires music.

Q: You’re touring with a big band. Have there been any hijinks?

A: Touring with seven guys is pretty crazy. One time, one of our bandmates lost all of his underwear at the Laundromat. It was really funny getting that group text: “Hey, has anyone seen any underwear that doesn’t belong to them?”

Q: On the subject of clothing, the band has sharp fashion sense. How did that develop?

A: At the time that I started this [band], I was still working as a part-time bank teller. I liked that concept of dressing up and making it an event. It always was for me, like going to work or church or a wedding, you wear something nice. There’s not a dress code; we don’t over-mandate anything. We leave it to each individual, but they’re not going to show up in a T-shirt and jeans.

Q: You mentioned working as a bank teller. Didn’t you also work as a mechanic?

A: I didn’t even get to be a mechanic! I was a runner for a mechanic. I also cut grass at the shop and I’d get lunch for everyone. Gopher jobs.

Q: Did those jobs teach you any skills that you use now in the band?

A: They taught me what hard work looks like. My family has always been that way, with a strong work ethic, you know, put your nose down and plow on through. I worked at a tanning bed one time because I didn’t have a car and it was the closest thing within walking distance. I don’t think that one taught me much. There’s times when you start getting annoyed on the road—“My damn iPhone died” or something stupid—and I always go back to, “This sure beats the hell out of working in 100 degree weather and making a little bit of money.”

Q: You’re a comic book fan. What are your favorite characters or series?

A: I’m kind of classic when it comes to that. I’m a huge Batman fan. I’m also a Simpsons fan and they recently released Simpsons comics. I brought a ton of them on a plane and the guys were kind of giving me a hard time about it, like, “Aw, that’s kids’ stuff.” And they are. I read them and started laughing. By the end of the flight, all the guys in the band were reading those comics and laughing, like, “You’re gonna have to get more of those!”

Q: Your nickname St. Paul came about because you don’t drink or smoke. Is it hard to be a standup guy in the music business?

A:  [Laughs.] Oh, that’s a trick question! I’ve developed who I am and I’m happy with where I am. That was a difficult place for me to come to, because being a Southerner and not agreeing with everything that’s typical of Southern politics, it was tough. I’ve been dealing with that my whole life. At this point, my voice is my livelihood and the last thing I’m going to do is fill it full of cigarettes and alcohol. The guys love that I don’t drink because I get to drive ‘em. I think I’m a fairly fun guy without it. I would be a little too crazy [if I got into that].

Originally published on Vita.mn in July 2014.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Erica Rivera On Nursery Design Trends


Erica Rivera interviewed several new moms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for "Making Room for Baby," a Star Tribune story on nursery trends. Read the piece on the front page of the July 27th edition of the Sunday Homes section.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Camera Obscura


Q&A: Camera Obscura

For 18 years, Camera Obscura has been known for their heartsick—yet somehow cheerful—love songs set to danceable vintage beats. Since their debut album, 2001’s “Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi,” the Scottish quintet have released four more full-lengths of their trademark indie pop and toured the globe several times over. Following the 2013 release of “Desire Lines,” which NPR called a “career best,” frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell welcomed her firstborn and the band took a break. They’re back on the road this month for a brief tour across the U.S. and guitarist Kenny McKeeve spoke to Vita.mn in anticipation of the band’s return to Minneapolis.

Q: What is the music scene like in your hometown of Glasgow?

A: Some cities are art cities. Some cities are theater cities. Glasgow is a very music-oriented city. There’s a lot of opportunities for bands to play live. There’s a lot of music festivals.

Q: How did you all originally come together to form Camera Obscura?

A: It started when most of us were kids, really, in the mid-1990s. Tracyanne and Gavin [Dunbar, bass], who are the sole surviving band members from 1996, met through a record store and formed a small band. I joined in 1999 and Carey [Lander, keyboard] joined in 2001 or 2002. The band stayed the core five members since that time. It was a coincidence, a happy accident.

Q: To what do you attribute the band’s longevity?

A: We’ve never reached any giddy heights. We never got signed to any massive media labels. We didn’t explode, so we’ve been given a lot of space to grow slowly and steadily. We managed to build up a fan base by touring a lot. We’ve been friends for a long time, so any disagreement we have between us, we respect each other enough and give each other enough space to tolerate that. We have our own lives and normality, so I think that contributes to the band staying together.

Q: What roles do you each play in the band? Is someone the den mother or the task master?

A: Tracyanne brings the skeletons to the band, the central parts of the songs, and we flesh them out. We’ve had a lot of time off because three of us now have kids. In that respect, Carey has kind of appointed herself taskmaster because nobody else has the time or the energy. When we’re together, everyone puts in a lot of effort because the records often have more instrumentation on them than we can present live.

Q: You recorded “Desire Lines” in Portland. How did that affect the finished product?

A: The band likes to record away from home because then it feels like a proper piece of work when you’re dedicated to doing that work only. We wanted to step away from the ‘60s sounds that was awash with reverb and strings and things. We still have a little bit of that, but we wanted to make things simpler and more laid back. M. Ward recommended a producer in Portland, Tucker Martine. Oregon is such a beautiful state and we recorded in the winter, so all those elements combined to make the album a bit more sparse and colder sounding.

Q: You mentioned the ‘60s sound of the band. What kind of music did you all grow up listening to and how did that influence Camera Obscura?

A: We all like girl group stuff of the ‘60s as well as ‘50s country singers. We also like really bad heavy metal and bad punk music as well. Some of the members of the band like electronic things. The common ground is girl groups, soul, and country. Tracyanne is also a fan of Carole King—simple, heartfelt songwriting. That’s what we work with.

Q: What do you anticipate for the future of Camera Obscura? Will this be a lifelong alliance?

A: No one can predict the future. None of us have had any real set plans. One of the things that endears us to people is that we just keep going through everything. The band has had a lot of ups and downs. I’m sure we’ll have our fair share of that in the future. We’re enjoying touring and see what happens after that. Having kids changes everything. It may be that we have to scale things down a bit or change the amount of touring that we do. There’s always a way, there’s always a solution.

Q: Did you ever imagine you’d be living the life of a successful touring musician when you started out? Or did you have a back-up plan?

A: I always had the fantasy of being in a band and becoming a professional musician. We hoped we’d get the chance to do it. For all of us it was a dream come true. At the same time, especially in the early days of the band, we all had jobs and worked part-time. We had all studied at university. We all have a Plan B that generally involves day jobs or studying or doing something else. Nothing lasts forever and we’ve been really lucky that it’s lasted this far. 

Originally published on Vita.mn in July 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Sharon Van Etten


Q&A: Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten is the velvet hammer of indie folk music. Wrapped in melodic vulnerability, the 33-year-old’s songs explore the brutal truths of love, life-altering choices, and the search for home.

Born and raised in New Jersey by a computer programmer father and a history teacher mother, Van Etten moved to Tennessee for college, but dropped out after a year to work at a coffee and record shop. After leaving an abusive relationship, Van Etten returned to New Jersey and trained as a sommelier. By 2005, she’d saved enough money to relocate to Brooklyn and began performing the music she’d been working on for years.

Van Etten released the mournful and sparse “Because I Was in Love” in 2009 followed by “epic” one year later. Her third—and breakthrough—album, 2012’s “Tramp,” was produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner and featured several big name cameos.

Van Etten’s latest album “Are We There” is a heart-wrenching testament to loving hard, letting go, and moving on. Lyrics like “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you/Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/Stab my eyes so I can’t see” on “Your Love is Killing Me” are as painful as they are relatable.

Van Etten spoke to Vita.mn while wandering the streets of San Francisco.

Q: When you decided on the album title “Are We There” what destination did you have in mind? Was it geographical or something else?

A: It’s a lot of things. I’ve been asking myself that question. Other people have been asking themselves that question. I’m realizing that it’s everywhere as well as right here.

Q: Your songs contain so many private thoughts and emotions. Are there any parts of yourself that you leave out of the music? 

A: I still have a few secrets jokes in there, I guess. Everything I do is pretty personal. I’ve never been good at storytelling in songs. I don’t know how to separate myself from the song. It’s all pretty much all me.

Q: Many of your songs were born from an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted several years. How did writing about the relationship affect the relationship?

A: That’s a tough one. In hindsight, it made me realize that the person I was with may not have been as in touch emotionally as he could have been. On his side of things, I feel like it hurts him to hear these songs, but he should have known that that’s what I do. Wanting to pursue music definitely caused a riff.

Q: Do you feel like you have to choose between a career in music and a satisfying relationship?

A: I was in a situation where I had to. I think I could have both. I just have to be with somebody that’s more supportive.

Q: Some of your lyrics reference violence. Is that something you’ve experienced in your relationships?

A: I’ve been in a couple of toxic relationships and I’ve learned to parallel love with the ugly side of it. You can still love somebody and it can still hurt and they can still hurt you and it can be unhealthy, but if you’re blinded by love, it’s not going to change how you feel about somebody.

Q: There’s an air of mysticism in your music, especially in the tarot-themed video for “Taking Chances.” Where does that come from?

A: When I was putting the artwork together on this album, I saw this old photograph that my friend had sent me. She found it in a library book. It was a photograph of a woman looking in a mirror and she thought she kind of looked like me because she had a bowl cut like I used to have. I was going through a rough time and she wrote me a letter on the back of it. I hung it up on my wall for years and with the heat of the New York apartment, it slowly withered away. I asked a friend to scan it to preserve the photograph. As he scanned it, he realized he knew who the woman was. I thought it was an anonymous photo but it’s Agnes Varda [the only female director] from the French New Wave. I used that as the artwork on the inside of the album.

The other side of the story is I asked my friends Michael and Donald to work on a video for me. I sent them the song “Taking Chances” and they referenced an Agnes Varda film without knowing anything [about the photograph]. We used the tarot scene from the opening of her film “Cleo 5 to 7.”

My life is a series of coincidences and random acts. That is an example of the Universe laughing or giving me a wink.

Q: Speaking of photographs, who is in the photograph on the cover of the album?

A: That’s one of my best friends, Rebecca. She was the one who helped me out of the toxic relationship in Tennessee years ago. The last time I went to visit to Tennessee to get the rest of my stuff, she drove me to the airport. We’d had this tradition after work: we’d drive around, get a couple Cokes, listen to music, and take turns screaming out the window. It was one of our last times in Tennessee before we went our separate ways.

After that moment, she moved to Indiana, had kids, and got married. I pursued music. [The photograph] parallels the themes of the record: career versus relationship, home life versus traveling, trying to figure out where your home is. It was a moment when it all started coming together.

Q: You’ve hinted in other interviews that you might become a therapist someday. How has music been therapeutic for you?

A: Whenever I’m going through a dark time, I get a bottle of wine and play on my guitar or piano until I come up with a melody that I can make up words to. Once I find a little piece of melody with the chord progression that I’m playing, I’ll hit record and sing stream-of-consciousness. I’m not thinking about what it’s for or who it’s for; I just need to feel better. I won’t listen to it for a few days until I can get some perspective about what I was going through. I’ll listen back to it and analyze it. If it’s a universal idea, that’s when I shape it into a song. If it’s too personal, then it’s still nice to learn from it, but it’s not something I need to share with people.

Q: What happens to those tracks that you don’t share?

A: There’s a “Sharon Archives of Crap.” I’m like a music hoarder. I have back-up drives. If I’m ever feeling uninspired, I go back to the songs I never did anything with and see if my mind has changed on them. A lot of songs on “Tramp” I had had for years and I didn’t think anything of them, but Aaron Dessner convinced me to work on them.

Q: But you self-produced your latest album. Why was it important for you to do that?

A: I have a little bit of Middle Child Syndrome. After having people hold my hand along the way to help me work on the songs, it gave me the confidence to do it on my own. I would never take back working with anyone that I’ve worked with in the past, but at the same time, I had to prove it to myself that I could do it without the help of, like, an older brother.

Q: You told Rolling Stone that you want to stay small. Where do you envision yourself five or ten years down the road?

A: When people start playing music, some people are like, “I want to be a star! I want to play the biggest places in the world!” but the kind of music that I play is really intimate and personal. Even though I’ve been growing organically, I’m growing in a way where I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. If it keeps growing, I feel like my feet will come off the ground.

I want to stay myself because that’s the core of what I do and why people connect to my music. I want to play places where it doesn’t feel like this distant thing between me and the audience. I want to keep it real.

I don’t want that star thing. I don’t want to be big. People I work with probably worry about me when I say that, but I don’t know if I want to do this forever. I want a home life. I want a family. I want to do other things. I’ve proven to myself that I can do this and I feel like I’ve helped people, but I don’t need to keep doing it. I’ll always write, though. I just don’t know if I want to do this as work forever. 

Originally published on Vita.mn in July 2014.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles The Emily Program


Erica Rivera spoke to the founder and several staff members of The Emily Program, a groundbreaking treatment center for eating disorders that began in Minnesota and is expanding nationally. Read about this life-changing approach to health care in the July 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Filson and Shinola


Erica Rivera profiled Detroit-based bicycle maker Shinola and Seattle-based outerwear company Filson, both opening new storefronts in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. Read about these fashion-forward companies in the July 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Julie Allinson of Eyebobs


Erica Rivera interviewed Julie Allinson, founder of Eyebobs, a company whose stylish reading glasses have been seen on the likes of Katie Couric and Andrew Zimmern. Read the company's growth story in the July 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Hans Early-Nelson for Minnesota Business Magazine


Erica Rivera interviewed Hans Early-Nelson, founder of Primitive Precision, for the cover story of the July 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.