Like Never & Like Always: A Conversation With True Life Trio's Briget Boyle, Chats With Sean Watkins and Eddy Faulkner, Plus Marquis Hill, Bob Hillman, Oh, Jeremiah, Ben Arthur, and Jeff LeBlanc Exclusives

06/10/2016 08:54 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2016

EASTERN EUROPEAN MUSIC LIVES IN TRUE LIFE TRIO

True Life Trio
photo credit: Anastasia Kuba
True Life Trio

True Life Trio will release their first full-length recording, Like Never & Like Always, June 10 on the new artisanal Waxsimile record label. The three former Kitka (Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble) members—Leslie Bonnett, Briget Boyle & Juliana Graffagna—celebrate the music and poetry of Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, and Ukraine, territory initially explored on their 2012 EP, Home. Constructed as a song cycle, the album's 19 tracks mix Balkan folk songs and poetry with original compositions, and are further enriched by multi-instrumentalist Gari Hegedus’s expert musicianship and co-producer Eric Oberthaler's sweeping cinematic soundscapes.

Like Never & Like Always was originally conceived as a theatrical presentation, commissioned by the East Bay Fund for Artists. Recorded at Opus Studios in Berkeley, CA, and engineered by David Luke, the album version of the project has been described as an uninterrupted sonic experience that takes the audience on a dreamlike journey through a life chronicled in reverse - beginning with death, touching on migration, war, marriage, and childhood, and ending with birth. While the bulk of songs and poems are Eastern European, renewal, the loss of homeland, and memory's tendency to warp the past are universal themes that touch everyone and are poignantly relevant in today's world.

For more information: http://www.truelifetrio.com

True Life Trio / <i>Like Never &amp; Like Always</i>
True Life Trio & Garu Hegedus' Like Never & Like Always album cover
True Life Trio / Like Never & Like Always

A Conversation with True Life Trio's Briget Boyle

Mike Ragogna: You have a new album with True Life Trio called Like Never & Like Always. Gari Hegedus joins you on it, too. Help me understand the genesis of your group. You were all originally part of Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble, right?

Briget Boyle: Yeah, we were. Julie [Juliana Graffagna] was in Kitka for about twenty years. She was one of the artistic directors. I was in there for, I think, nine years, and Leslie [Bonnett] was in there for about eleven. We met through that and left Kitka at different times, so the genesis of the trio actually overlaps with Leslie’s and my tenures at Kitka. We started singing as a trio within the last year or so of our time in Kitka. Julie was the one who initiated the trio. She emailed us and was like, "I really miss singing in harmony and I would love to sing with the two of you.” It started out very casual, just sort of for fun, and then we realized that we had a nice sound and wanted to take it a little more seriously, so we started performing and made our first EP a couple of years later. Then this project happened a couple of years after that.

MR: When you guys got together, was it an embracing of the Kitka sound and traditions? What do you feel the three of you took from that experience?

BB: All of us have an incredible love of music from Eastern Europe. Kitka was a forum in which to explore that and to grow those skills. In Kitka, we definitely learned a lot through working with master artists from the Balkan region and from the Caucasus [Georgia and Armenia]. The other main thing I took from Kitka was how to sing with other people and how to breathe together. When you're singing in an ensemble and it's a cappella, there's a certain amount of trust and working together to make the sound the best it can be, really thinking about the blend and about dynamics and where you breathe. Those skills have passed on into the trio for sure. In fact, singing in Kitka was such a pivotal experience for all of us that we dedicated Like Never & Like Always to them. Another interesting discovery early on in the trio’s rehearsal process, was when we sang in English together for the first time. That was like, "Oh, wow, that's awesome! We can do that, too!" We all have a variety of musical roots, we all have our hands in a lot of different pots in terms of what kinds of music we love, and we found that in the trio we're able to explore all kinds of genres, not just Eastern European or music from the Caucasus. It was cool.

MR: What is it about Eastern European folk music that ended up not translating to the West? Is it due to the "Orthodox" separation?

BB: That's a really good question. I think it harkens back to the Soviet Era but the folk music from Eastern Europe is very old. In fact, Eastern Europe is such a generalized way to define it. Every country from which we sing music has a different story of how their music got related to the world. For instance, in Bulgaria in the fifties, the Soviets worked really hard to create a national sound, a national music. The initial thing was that they gathered up folk musicians from all the villages in Bulgaria—instrumentalists, people who played gadulka, gaida, tambura et cetera—and they created the National Bulgarian Folk Orchestra. That had such great success relating the folk traditions of Bulgaria that they decided to also make a national folk choir, so they found all the best singers from the villages and moved them to Sofia, which is the capital of Bulgaria, and brought in some Western-style composers who took the folk melodies and arranged them into these pieces for twenty-seven voices. That sound really hit the West in an interesting way. The Bulgarian Women's Choir in the eighties was huge in the US. There was this whole folk revival back in the seventies and eighties where people were like, "What is this stuff? It's incredible music!" and that was around the time when Kitka started, 1979, I believe. I think that there was something in the way the Soviets were really trying to create a national identity that could be translated to the rest of the world, where suddenly there was access to these different kinds of music. In the United States, there was a folk revival in the seventies where there was a bunch of young people who had started out doing international folk dancing to recorded music. Some of those people traveled over to Eastern Europe and picked up some recordings and then brought it back to the United States where people were learning the folk dances. Then there was a music camp that started in the late seventies, and the people who started it were mainly folk dancers who decided, "Well, we should probably actually learn these instruments," so they started playing the folk instruments and then learning the songs. A number of scholars began gathering repertoire and it kind of came out of that as well. It's an interesting community, the Eastern European folk music community in the United States. It's really fascinating because there's so much knowledge and respect for the culture even though the people making the music here are not typically of Eastern European descent. There's something about the folk music that is really intriguing, there are all these stylistic nuances between the different regions. In Bulgaria, there are a number of different stylistic qualities for the music. You can spend your entire life studying Bulgarian music, it's that rich of a tradition.

MR: The complete work, "Like Never & Like Always," was commissioned by the East Bay Fund for Artists. How did that come about? Did they discover you? Did you pitch them?

BB: We submitted a grant proposal for the piece. We had actually created something that was similar to what the piece ended up being on a smaller scale the year before and we really loved the project. Then when we found out that the East Bay Fund for Artists was something we could apply for, we figured it would be a really great fit. They loved the idea, clearly, because they gave us the money! [laughs] The grant was mainly for a live performance of the piece, a seamless live performance. The album was in the proposal, but was primarily funded through an Indiegogo campaign. It was part of the overall project.

MR: What was it like recording this together? It must have been easier, since you've been singing together for years.

BB: Yeah, it was great! It was an easy recording experience. Dave Luke, who is the engineer at Opus Studios in Berkeley, did an incredible job. He got incredible sounds. It was really fun. We tried not to get too picky about stuff and really just went for the overall vibe of the piece. We were really just trying to capture the energy, and because of that I feel like we got some performances that really spoke to the energy of the piece. It was a really fun process, and not painful at all.

MR: You also worked with Eric Oberthaler, right?

BB: Right. Eric Oberthaler and I have known each other for many years. We met in Brass Menažeri Balkan brass band and we've worked together on a number of different things. When we were looking at doing the recording we were trying to think of how to set this apart from just a normal album. Through that discussion, we realized that Eric Oberthaler was sort of a perfect answer to that question, because he is very experienced in Eastern European music and electronic music and he really thinks about sounds in a way that enhances the experience.

MR: Were there any suggestions from him production-wise? How does coming up with arrangements work in the group?

BB: It kind of spread out among all of us. We did a lot of collaborative work on arrangements and overall concept. In terms of compositions, Julie composed the most pieces. It was important that all of us have our creative voices heard, so Leslie and I both have pieces that we arranged as well. There was one melody in particular, the Albanian lullaby [“Nani”] that shows up throughout the album. We decided that it would be good for each of us to arrange that piece in some way so that you get a different interpretation of the same piece based on who was arranging it. The piece that Leslie arranged is called "At Night" and it uses the theme of the lullaby. The one that I did is called "Mother, Moon" and that was placed in the childhood area of the album. Julie arranged "Nani," which is the second-to-last track. The other composition element we used was poetry from books, poetry that was written by Eastern European poets. We weaved that into the compositions. We wanted to find material that spoke to the experience of memory and a lifetime so we were looking for material that was thematic.

MR: Though there might be focus tracks on the new CD such as "Little Green Scarves" and "It Will Never Again Be Like It Was," it does come off as a grander, "functional" presentation. Was that the intention?

BB: Yeah, it was. Because the live performance was a seamless sonic journey, where the audience didn't clap—it was just one through-line—we really wanted to do that with the album. It's rare nowadays to find an album where the purpose of it is to actually sit and listen to the whole thing, not, "Here's a single and here's a single and here's a single." We wanted to create a journey. That's why for our release show we're having a listening party, which is a pretty nontraditional release show. We're inviting our audience to sit and listen, put their phones down, put their computers away, and experience the music.

True Life Trio &amp; Gari Hegedus
photo credit: Anastasia Kuba
True Life Trio & Gari Hegedus

MR: Yeah, good luck with that! [laughs] What did Gari Hegedus contribute? What was his part of the equation?

BB: He contributed compositions and beautiful playing. There are three original instrumental tracks on the album, the first one, “Iris”; "Aprilios"; and "Iris II." He accompanied us on certain songs; he was written into the music. He's one of the most incredible, intuitive musicians and brings something really deep in the way he plays. It's very expressive. He supported us in a way that I don't think anybody else could have. He was a really great collaborator.

MR: And of course, he was part of the live performance as well, right?

BB: He was.

MR: So that's how Like Never & Like Always translates from a top-to-bottom full piece, basically being one work that went from stage to recording.

BB: Yeah, exactly.

MR: Now, you're all Americans. How did you identify with a music that wasn't traditionally introduced to the United States? What suddenly shifted your focus to music from Eastern Europe of all places?

BB: We all come at it from different places. For me, I didn't find out about Balkan music until college. I took a Middle Eastern and Balkan music ensemble class at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico and I just fell in love with it. I had never heard the music, I didn't know where it came from, I was just like, "This sounds awesome, this is something I'm interested in,” and then it just turned out that I could sing it. Since I started doing this music, I found out some sort of spiritual connection to it...potentially ancestral connection to it? I haven't proven it yet, but Irish people went through Bulgaria. I don't know, I just have a connection to it that I sometimes can't explain other than it really speaks to me and it feels good in my voice. Julie was a Slavic language major. She was in the Bay Area and had just gotten out of school and was interested in language and was looking for some place to sing, saw an ad for Kitka and was like, "Alright, I'll try that on." She auditioned and twenty-five years later, here we are.

Leslie played folk fiddle and did folk dancing. Her parents are folk dancers, so she came at it from the folk perspective, which was really a very strong, rich community in the Bay Area. There are a lot of families that find themselves within this community. Leslie went on to study classical singing more in the Western style but always loved Eastern European singing so she came back to it when she joined Kitka. She was in another group called Savina, which was another Balkan women's vocal ensemble. So that's how the three of us came to it. I don't actually know Gari's origin story, but he has been playing music from Turkey and Greece and he plays all sorts of stringed instruments. He travels over there to Greece and Turkey a lot. There's a wonderful musician, Ross Daly, who has an academy in Crete so Gari travels there often and plays music with Ross. He's also in a band called Stellamara. They do electronic-infused Balkan music and folk traditions from all over. I think the core of what we do is folk music. All of us are interested in the expression of the people, and it just so happens that the most intriguing harmonies that we hear, the songs that speak to us the most, happen to be from this sort of South Balkan area.

MR: From True Life Trio's intent and perspective, what are the themes that run through the project and how do they link together?

BB: The original concept of the piece was memory and how memory is expressed through song and poetry, and for the live performance we did some movement, including some folk dancing from Eastern Europe. The themes that ended up coming out of that exploration were from the beginning to the end. The whole thing is a life lived backwards. It starts with death and then there's an awakening of the memory. One of the things that really intrigued us was a film called Alive Inside that is about Alzheimer's patients who were awakened when they listened to music. The memories of their childhood and their younger years were brought back in full force because of music. So we got really into that idea. There's an awakening and a reminiscing at the beginning of the album, and then we go into loss of homeland. In Eastern Europe there are a lot of stories and music about having to leave your home because of war. Of course, that presented itself in a huge way. So there are a couple of songs that addressed that and then there are a couple of songs that address actual wartime. "What Janina's Eyes Have Seen," for instance, is from the perspective of a soldier. Then there was marriage and love and childhood and then birth. That's the whole thing—a life lived in reverse.

MR: You've since become the Creative Director at Waxsimile Records. What's your mission there?

BB: Our mission is supporting artists in their visions and helping facilitate really high-quality music and high-quality products that will then be brought to film and television. That's where our energy is focused: getting people licensed. The record industry nowadays is less than ideal. What's crazy is that there's so much good music out there. We've gotten into this whole model where consumers expect to be able to listen to music for free. What happens at the end of the day is that artists aren't making any money recording music. You have to tour, you have to have the merchandise, you have to be on every social media platform, you have to spend so much more time as an independent artist doing the business aspects than you do actually making the music. We offer support to artists. When we choose artists, it's because we love what they're doing. We don't ask them to change their artistic vision at all. We give them a platform in which they can express themselves and make the albums and the records that really speak to them.

MR: And, of course, Like Never & Like Always is going to be coming out on Waxsimile.

BB: It is, yeah, which is very exciting for True Life Trio. At this point, our main audience has been in the Bay Area. The idea of potentially having a farther reach is absolutely wonderful and we're very excited.

MR: What is your ideal future?

BB: That's a really good question. I think to just keep going. To sing and to be heard. That's what every musician wants. We all have day jobs; that's kind of the musician experience, especially in the Bay Area. You have to support yourself. Sometimes music isn't as lucrative as one would hope in order for musicians to really just be able to make music. But we have some ideas about things we're interested in. We've talked about collaborating with more musicians. The collaborations tend to be really juicy for us, because it's really inspiring. We recently did a show with a fiddle player named Irene Sazer. When we played together, there was just so much good energy. I think that's what we want. We want to just have fun and continue to enjoy singing with each other because there's something really special in the trio. We're able to sing honestly with each other and support each other. There's a lot of love there; we're really good friends. I want to continue that. I also would love to tour. I think it would be great to start touring and teaching in universities, or anywhere, really, teaching workshops, giving people a view into the style we're doing.

MR: What advice would you give to new artists?

BB: Keep going! Just do it! The music business is very challenging as an artist. There are going to be times where you've worked really hard to do a show and nobody comes, and there are going to be times where you haven't done anything and everybody shows up. There are going to be times when you're uninspired to make your music or you feel defeated, but what I try to remember on a daily basis is that music is the answer. When I'm feeling frustrated by things or overwhelmed by my life, if I sit down and play my guitar for a second or if I sing with my friends, it all gets better. I think a lot of people, when they're starting out in the business, are really trying to figure out how this business works and how to fit themselves into the mold, and I'm all about breaking the mold. The best artists of our time—Prince, for instance. There was no box that he lived within. I feel like that's something that's really important to look at. We all have expressive, creative voices, and if we hinder them by making them try to fit into something, the Princes and the David Bowies would have never been. With this album that we just made, that was a big thing for us. Our box is kind of big as well. We're an American vocal trio singing music from all over the world. There's a lot of possibility within there. But even so, we had to make a very distinct choice to get out of our box. What we got, the end result, is something that I'm really proud of and I feel really excited about. If I have any advice for artists, it's stay excited. Do things that challenge and excite you.

MR: Do you apply those philosophies to yourselves?

BB: Yeah, we do. I think we are always looking for the next exciting artistic journey. Sometimes we do get bogged down and there are a lot of little things that we have to do to be able to share our music with people. But overall, our mission as a trio is to really enjoy what we're doing, because it's kind of like, "What's the point, if you're not going to enjoy it? If it's not going to shift the energy in the world, at least a little bit?” I definitely think we live along those lines, or at least attempt to.

MR: And there's your solo CD, The Parts Interior. When should we be expecting The Parts Interior Part II?

BB: [laughs] That's a good question! I'm hoping to work on that within the next year. I have all the material written and I've been working with cello player Lewis Patzner, percussionist/vocalist Tim Silva, and trumpet player Harlow Carpenter. Hopefully, within the next year, we'll have it. I'm getting married in October (to the trumpet player), so that's a little bit of work, to plan a wedding. After that's done, I'm planning to go right into the studio.

MR: What do you think about the future? Can you see yourselves going beyond the fields that you're covering right now?

BB: I can see it. I don't know how exactly that's going to happen, but I could see us traveling together. We've been really talking about how to get over to Eastern Europe and work with some people over there and sing and collaborate. We're trying to think big right now. Part of the issue is, like I said, we all have jobs, so we'll just have to find a way to work around our day-to-day lives.

MR: If there was one thing that you wanted people to take from Like Never & Like Always, what is it?

BB: The first thing that came to mind as you started asking that question was "Slow down and listen."

MR: Well, that could be because I talk pretty fast.

BB: [laughs] Could be. No, I just really feel like at the end of the day, no matter what we're trying to express or what the story is or what the themes are, the overarching thing is encouraging people to just stop for a minute and listen to something, and let it move you—or not. Whatever your experience is, be present with that. I feel like we spend so much time in this modern day running around and not experiencing life in a way that is present. This gives people an opportunity to do that.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

MARQUIS HILL'S THE WAY WE PLAY EPK EXCLUSIVE

Marquis Hill
photo credit: Deneka Peniston
Marquis Hill

According to Marquis Hill's label Concord...

"Marquis Hill has orchestrated the tunes on his Concord debut with unique care. Few albums so reconcile bopping virtuosity and grooving hip hop as The Way We Play. Hill’s homages to these classic tunes, several that first brought him into this music at Fred Anderson’s Sunday Night Velvet sessions, also honors their composers and performers. The set looks back to look forward forward, emphasizing the search for one’s own voice within the great aural continuum. Hill and the Blacktet highlight the enduring freshness of these forms, from Chicagoan Herbie Hancock’s 'Maiden Voyage' to Carmell Jones’ 'Beep Durple.' The quintet, too, is smartly adapted on several cuts; vocalist Christie Dashiell drummer-percussionist Juan Pastor, poet Harold Green III, and the great trombonist Vincent Gardner make meaningful appearances. And Mr. Green rhymes one of the band’s focal commitments: 'The way we play is the way we love.'"

BOB HILLMAN'S "LOST SOUL" EXCLUSIVE

Bob Hillman &amp; Friends
photo credit: Danny Rothenberg
Bob Hillman & Friends

San Francisco-based singer/songwriter and guitarist shares his video for the title track of his new Peter Case-produced album, “Lost Soul.” Hillman’s literate, tuneful songwriting is on full display and with the help of Case and special guest Joseph Arthur, he has tapped into a fresh, contemporary sonic landscape. The album was released on March 25

According to Hillman...

“The song 'Lost Soul' is about people who seem to have their lives together--jobs, homes, families, etc., but are not as squared away as they appear. This particular song concerns final gasp of a relationship that dragged on way past its natural conclusion; the 'protagonist' has no idea what to do next. My brother-in-law and I created this video on a shoestring budget and shot it in my neighborhood in San Francisco."

Sean Watkins / <i>What To Fear</i>
Sean Watkins' What To Fear album cover
Sean Watkins / What To Fear

A Conversation with Sean Watkins

Mike Ragogna: Sean, you’ve been working on collective projects over the last few years and now you have a new solo album, What to Fear. However, I still love your Nickel Creek recordings. Is that so wrong? 

Sean Watkins: Not one bit! Thanks so much! I'm very proud of what we've done in NC, especially our last two records.

MR: So what is it exactly that we should fear? Climate change? Donald Trump? Don’t hold back, we can take it.

SW: Well, yes all of the above and so much more...like whether or not the socks you're wearing are going to give you ankle cancer or if the cereal you're eating for breakfast is taking away your sense of smell or whether or not you're going to hell because you don't go to church on the reg. You know, things like that, things we are fed every day from the the media, church and the other "all knowing" powers that be. But in all seriousness, I think what we really need to be concerned about is how such a large demographic in this country is making itself known to be so incredibly susceptible to demagoguery. 

These people needs to realize that just because they heard a bit of "news" or "information" that made them afraid or concerned, that doesn't make it true. Just because something you hear awakens your sense of fear and survival doesn't make it true. I'm very concerned about this large group of people who don't seem to be able to give themselves permission to stop and think critically about the information they're taking in/being fed before reacting. Somehow, in their minds, questioning and thinking for themselves would betray their sense of patriotism and morality. 

MR: Your Watkins Family Hour project reunites you with Sara who also plays fiddle on What To Fear’s “Local Honey.” And I’m pretty sure I already brought up Nickel Creek. Looks like this sibling-on-each-other’s-projects thing is working, huh.

SW: Sara and I are the only siblings in our immediate family and we've both always had and still have an equal amount of musical drive and ambition. We've been playing together on and off stage since we started as kids. Watkins Family Hour--our monthly musical variety show residency at Largo in West Hollywood--started thirteen years ago as a way for Sara and I to meet and play with new musicians and let off a little steam while not on the road with Nickel Creek. It was and still is a very important and exciting part of our musical lives. At the same time, it's paramount that she and I have our own separate musical identities and projects that ours individually. We still inevitably manage to get a little involved in those too though, which is fine! 

MR: How did the material come together for What To Fear? What inspired it? What was the recording process like?

SW: In the spring of 2015, right on the heels of Nickel Creek's "A Dotted Line" album/tour and then my first solo record in nine years "All I Do Is Lie," I was feeling really invigorated and inspired musically. It was out of that new musical excitement, that all of the songs on What To Fear came about. By Midsummer 2015, I had most of the songs for What To Fear completed but I couldn't decide on a sonic direction. I was torn between two ways. One was a purely string band oriented treatment and one involved a proper rhythm section. So I decided to pick four songs that I felt represented the record as a whole and record them two different ways. The four songs I picked were "What To Fear," "Last Time For Everything," "Too Little Too Late," and "Tribulations." First, I recorded those four songs with the epic rhythm section of Mike Elizondo and Matt Chamberlain on bass and drums respectively. About a week after that, I recorded the same four songs with the amazing Northern California based string band The Bee Eaters. At that point, I had two very different versions of these four songs, which were both great in their own ways but I quickly realized that I wanted to hear what they would sound like combined. So I overdubbed The Bee Eaters onto the Mike and Matt versions and that combination felt very new, exciting and just over all right to me. That general sonic vibe informed how I went about finishing the rest of the album. Being a catalyst for musical elements and people, that in all likelihood wouldn't otherwise come together and make music, is very exciting for me. That feeling of discovery and excitement was at the core of my process making What To Fear

MR: Most singers hate their voices. I’m lying, most REALLY LIKE their voices. How about you?

SW: I suppose I feel okay about my voice in general. I mean, you get what you get, and I guess I could have gotten worse. Singing is such a vulnerable thing. But it's vulnerability is what gives it such emotional potential. When I first started singing I was absolutely terrified to do it onstage but over the years I've learned to just relax have fun. Especially once I got into my thirties. You get to a point where you're like, "well, this is what I sound like. ok cool". At that point, you can lean into it without so much self judgment and just be who you are without trying to sound like someone else. 

MR: Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers guest. How badly did they want to be on the project and when you relented, what did they contribute?

SW: Hah! Ya, both Benmont and Sebastian were calling me everyday saying, "Come on, we know you have some parts for us on your new album somewhere." Nah, in truth, I'm really unbelievably fortunate to be part of such a vibrant and prolific music scene here in Los Angeles. Benmont and Sebastian are two of my favorite musicians as well as all around people and I'm proud and grateful to have them on this album.

MR: What do you think your biggest creative achievement was on the new album?

SW: As I mentioned a few questions back, i'm very pleased with how the Mike Elizondo/Matt Chamberlain rhythm section and The Bee Eaters combination turned out. I also really love how the hammer dulcimer fits into the song What To Fear. Hammered dulcimer is usually only relegated to old-time and folk music but Simon Chrisman who plays hammer dulcimer in The Beaters is an amazing musician who and has the ability to take the hammer dulcimer way outside of it's traditional musical comfort zone.

MR: Which song is the most revealing about you?

SW: "Last Time For Everything," definitely. 

MR: What do you think about the state of music these days?

SW: That's a tough one to answer. I can't remember a time, ever since was a kid, when people were entirely happy with the state of music. There has always been something to complain about. I don't want to be an old man and complain about the new things that I don't have control over but I will say what a lot of other people have already said, which is that good music will be okay; the music industry, I'm not so sure.

MR: What are you listening to lately? Are you ever tempted to create a straight up pop album?

SW: Let's see, in the last week, I've listened to Fleetwood Mac's Tango In The Night, Radiohead's new album, Randy Newman's Trouble In Paradise, Beyonce's Lemonade, and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. Side note, I'm in love with the Pistol Shrimps Radio podcast. Check it out ASAP. Funniest podcast I've heard in quite a while. As far as making a strait up pop record... I'd love to let loose and make a record that is just pure ear crack at some point. I don't think I'm the right artist/voice for it, but I'd love to be involved in the production/instrumental side. 

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

SW: I always encourage young/new artists to get out and play in front of a microphone and audience of any size whenever possible. There's no learning like the learning that takes place onstage playing your songs live for real people with real ears. Practicing what you do at home is absolutely necessary and the more you do it, the better you'll get but much of the real valuable progress happens onstage. I would also say to songwriters that if you're experiencing writers block, don't be afraid to just write a bad song. Just get something out, onto a page, and then work from there. Don't sit around hung up on finding the absolute perfect word or rhyme for the end of the third line. Think more in broad-stroke terms. Get your song skeleton in place and then fine tune the lyrics. It's easy to get caught up in the details before you even have an idea what the song's main point and structure is. So if nothing else, write a bad song, put it aside and then write another--hopefully better--one, and repeat that process till you're happy with something. 

MR: What else have you been working on and is there anyone who’s project you secretly wish you could be a part of?

SW: Right now, I'm working on four projects. Two of which are musical collaborations and the other two, I'm more or less just producing. I shouldn't say what or who they involve yet cause they are all in various states of getting off the ground but will say that I'm really excited about all of them and will let ya'll know about them ASAP. I also recently finished scoring an independent film called Cortez. It's being shopped around now. I'm very excited about it.

MR: How jealous is Sara of your new album?

SW: Hah. I'm jealous of HER new album. Have you heard it? It's BAD ASS! 

 

OH, JEREMIAH'S "SINKING SHIP" EXCLUSIVE 

Oh, Jeremiah
photo credit: Autonomic Media
Oh, Jeremiah

According to Oh, Jeremiah...

"Sinking ship is an anti-love song. It's the type of song you cling to when love isn't always convenient."

SHAMELESS SHOUTOUT OF THE WEEK: ERIK SATIE & FRIENDS / ORIGINAL ALBUMS COLLECTION 

Erik Satie And Friends / Original Albums Collection
Erik Satie And Friends box set cover
Erik Satie And Friends / Original Albums Collection

You've heard French composer Erik Satie's music in films like Louis Malle's My Dinner With André, Lasse Hallström's Chocolat, Hal Ashby's Being There, and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Variations on his Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes also have served as music beds for everything from television commercials to piano student etudes. But to the masses, the name "Erik Satie" is way under the radar in the US though his music has been utilized to the point of being as American as an old Chevy ad.

If you too are suffering from but would like to correct your lack of Satie consciousness, a nice place to start is with the new Erik Satie and Friends 13-disc box set that explores this French, musical revolutionary's works just in time for his 150th birthday. This meditative journey includes artists such as Francis Poulenc, Philippe Entremont, Daniel Varsano and Regine Crespin, as well as classic Satie piano pieces, ballets, orchestral music, songs, et cetera, throwing open the bay windows to early 20th Century Paris. The remastering is terrific, even on the vintage 1945-1949 recordings, and the faithfully reproduced mini-album jackets show the love that went into the set, adding not only nostalgia but also authenticity.

 

BEN ARTHUR'S "WALTER REED" EXCLUSIVE

Ben Arthur
photo credit: Christopher Auger-Dominguez
Ben Arthur

According to Ben Arthur...

"I don’t remember when Michael Penn’s 'Walter Reed' became my favorite song. It may have been on a trip to Los Angeles, all those hours on the 405. It’s hard to qualify what I love so much about the song, but there’s definitely something emotionally 'sticky' about it. Which is surprising in a way, as it’s not an easy song to gain access to, at least lyrically. What we know is mostly inferred: that the narrator is a veteran, and that his return to civilian life is not going as planned.

"Whatever the case, 'Walter Reed' was one of the first songs that came to mind as I started writing my new album, Call and Response.  Artistic points of reference are particularly important for this album because Call and Response is a collection of 'answer songs,' each one written in response to another artists’ work. There are songs written in response to short stories, including ones by Alice Munro, Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders, and Joyce Carol Oates, and there are songs written in response to other songwriters, including Bruce Springsteen, Sean Rowe, The Rolling Stones, and others.

"Writing a response to a favorite song is often harder than responding to a song that I am not as close to. As in life, proximity often blurs perception – getting a handle on a song that I love is like trying to describe a Seurat painting from an inch away. I finally found a point of entry to 'Walter Reed' by writing from the viewpoint of the wife of a veteran suffering from PTSD. You can listen to the premiere of the song here."

Ben Arthur will release his seventh album, Call and Response, on June 27th with a special “answer song” show at Joe’s Pub featuring Joyce Carol Oates and Ted Leo.

JEFF LEBLANC'S "LOST TONIGHT" EXCLUSIVE

Jeff LeBlanc
photo credit: Jacques LeBlanc
Jeff LeBlanc

According to Jeff LeBlanc...

"My song 'Lost Tonight' is about the excitement of meeting someone new, letting your guard down and sharing experiences with them. The video captures a behind the scenes look at life on tour as I travel the country sharing my story."

Eddy Faulkner / <i>Unbreakable</i>
Eddy Faulkner's Unbreakable album cover
Eddy Faulkner / Unbreakable

A Conversation with Eddy Faulkner

Mike Ragogna: With the last name of “Faulkner,” do you feel the burden of being a literate genius of the 21st century?

Eddy Faulkner: I am a literate genius, you didn't know this? But no, I do not feel a burden, I do get compared though to this "Faulkner" writing genius a lot. Whenever I have brought up my last name, teachers throughout my school years would always mention that and they would ask are you related? So it helped with getting teachers to like me which was great.

MR: You’re from Arlington, Virginia, right? What was the music scene like growing up and how did living in your part of the country affect your creativity?

EF: Yes I am! I actually grew up in Arlington and have lived here my whole life so far. Arlington is a great town and close to Washington, D.C., which has its own music scene which is very diverse and it influences everyone who grows up around here. When I started my music journey in 2010, during my last year of high school, many local artists/bands I paid attention to then--and still pay attention to now--have influenced me creatively in many different ways.

MR: Being so close to Washington, D.C, have you ever felt pressure to be involved in politics at all?

EF: Well thank you, I’m glad I can count on your vote Mike. Yes, well both of my parents are actually involved in politics, but I’ve never felt "pressured" to be involved by them or anyone around here at all. I make sure to vote though since the right to vote is one of the most powerful things us as American people have, but I think I’m sticking with music for now. Once I’m old enough to run for President, then hey, we’ll see what happens.

MR: Being 24 years old, does this represent a collection of songs you wrote over the years or did you compose these tracks specifically for this project?

EF: I started writing songs in 2010 when I started this journey in music. Since then, I’ve made sure to write at least once or twice a week to exercise that part of my brain, and to keep developing and evolving. It’s funny to look back at the first songs I wrote during my last year of high school and say wow, those lyrics are so cheesy! But I feel like that’s something that happens to all of us, we naturally over time develop, evolve, change and etc. So this collection of songs specifically for the EP was written over the past 1-2 years. I had two songs off the EP called “Fallen” and “All The Way” that I wrote back in 2014 during my last year of college. The other four songs off the EP were all written last year in 2015.

MR: Since the title of your EP is Unbreakable and you have been pretty aggressive getting your material out there, could this fortitude be the reason behind your unbreakableness?

EF: The title of the EP actually spawned from me just laying in bed one day thinking of a creative album title that hopefully no one has used and/or no one has used in a while. I thought though the word unbreakable really summed up everything I’ve been through in my life so far, and also just the word is very powerful. It can relate to anyone if you think about it, especially since we all have ups, downs, twists and turns in our lives. But in the end you have to remember that no matter what, you have to remain unbreakable. I’ve had many ups, downs, twists and turns so far with just this crazy journey I’ve been on in music. The amount of persistence, patience and even like you said aggressiveness it takes to just get yourself out there is crazy. But when people start to believe in you, then that’s when deep down inside you know that you don’t want to quit. That’s the moment when everything make sense. That’s why I think this word just really suits the EP and for where I am today in my life. People aren’t going to give up on me, so I don’t want to give up in return on them and my dream.

MR: Can you take us on a tour of the project, how it came together in the studio and the material? And by the way, why isn’t this an album, huh?

EF: Sure, well, I wrote up a bunch of songs since my debut release of “I Won’t Give Up” in 2014. I had a great reaction to that song, and got a lot of great traction off of it. So moving forward, I was thinking well I could put out another single, two singles, but then I thought why not just do an EP? So as soon as I wrote a song called “All For You” last year in November, I knew this was going to be the next single and lead single for the EP. My friend David Pavluk who went to my high school reached out to me literally two weeks after I wrote the song. I was having a hard time finding a producer who got my vision with my project and my music, so as soon as he sent me over a rough demo of it I was sold. I knew I had to work with David, and this project was going to be something that we were going to share together. So a month later, he came home for a week and a half and we did 6 songs in 4 days on his laptop in his bedroom. I decided 6 would be good since many people these days aren’t buying albums, let alone songs at all. I thought moving forward this would be a step in the right direction of doing a full album in the near future.

MR: Your dance track “All for You” reminds me of something, something I just can’t put my finger…oh wait, it's Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” Is that wrong?

EF: Not wrong at all! I’m glad I can remind you of Donna. Wait, but does this make me a woman? I know I have a baby face but, uh, well then.

MR: [laughs] Actually it sounds nothing like it, no lawsuits for you. So if “All For You” is a big pop single, how will you invest your royalties? You will be investing your royalties, right?

EF: Who cares about investing? Well yeah, actually I do! I’ve actually already been investing money I make with the two part-time jobs I have at the moment--teaching guitar and working at a restaurant--the different shows I’ve done, different royalties I’ve made and everything else into my personal/business accounts at the bank. In the future, I definitely want to invest in other businesses and/or brands like many other artists have done in the past. I have a high interest in fashion and fitness, so I could see myself if not investing at least partnering up with a fashion line down the road and/or even a fitness line.

MR: Another song I wanted to mention is “Fallen.” Is it possible the other Faulkner will be a little jealous after hearing your lyrics to this song? Do you think he might fall in love as a result?

EF: I hope he’s not jealous, he was a great writer! Well, he may fall in love, especially if I look like Donna Summers, but I DON’T, so I’m glad we cleared that up.

MR: Which song best represents Eddy Faulkner the author and which represents Eddy Faulkner the popular artist? And why? And why now?

EF: “All For You,” I think, best represents me as the popular artist since that’s what is going on right now in Pop music, but I think as the author “Fallen” now actually does. So hey, that would actually make the other author Faulkner happy. Reason I say that though is, “Fallen” takes you on a journey with its words that are emotional/vulnerable, and “All for You” takes you on a journey with the driving beat and chants of “Woah-oh-oh ey!” My goal with every song on the record though was to have each one take you on a journey, and hopefully in return connect with you.

MR: Who are your favorite contemporary artists and who would you like to collaborate with immediately if not sooner?

EF: Oh man, this is a hard question for me since I love all kinds of music not just Pop music. But contemporary-wise I would say my top three are: Enrique Iglesias, Taylor Swift and John Mayer. I’d love to collaborate with all of them, but probably Taylor the most right now since she just got off her 1989 tour, and it’d be great to write a duet and/or even something for her next album. I’ve always wanted to write with a female singer and do a duet, so I think that’d be a fun experience, especially with someone of her caliber.

MR: Do you plan on touring live or just touring the internet to support Unbreakable

EF: Right now I’m working out a couple different live performances from month to month this summer locally. I thought it’d be good to get out and play the EP acoustically and/or with a live band, but also just hone my performance. I’m working on an overseas opportunity at the moment which could lead to me touring in China this Fall/Winter and into 2017, but I want to keep all of that on the down low right now. But touring is an animal, you want to be careful and do it at the right time, in the right way and when it just makes sense. I want to eventually one day have my own headlining world tour, so that’s something I’m working towards.

MR: Will there be a physical release or does that even matter these days?

EF: At shows, I have actually a physical version of the CD to sell, but besides that, I have it available digitally worldwide. It’s important to have CD’s at shows so you can make back that investment on buying the CD’s, but also have the audience leaving with something tangible. Many artists, even artists that are huge are thinking of smarter ways to get their music out there. Selling physical CD’s is a challenge, and it’s funny, because if you noticed vinyl sales have gone up the past couple years. So hey, I could see myself even doing a vinyl release in the future, that’d be really great.

MR: I asked you the “Faulkner” question already so I won’t ask it again. But if you had to ask yourself a question, what would it be? Yeah, and don’t forget the answer please. Thanks in advance. You’re beautiful. Don't go changin'.

EF: Wow Mike, a Donna Summers reference and NOW I’m beautiful as well? Interesting. Well, I think I’d ask myself what makes you different Eddy than other artists out there right now? I think what I would say to that is, my work ethic. I’ve always had a strong work ethic during my years in Baseball as a pitcher, years in Boy Scouts on my road to Eagle Scout, years through school and now with my jobs. Over the years my work ethnic has made me into the man I am today, and I think just that alone separates me from a lot of artists out there in this world, let alone people.

MR: This march toward superstardom began with your association with Star One Records. How did that come together and what have you found to be the biggest challenges that you’ve overcome since releasing recordings and videos? Sorry for the serious question.

EF: A serious question, uh oh! Well, Star One was great, my friend the CEO there--Laura Patterson--discovered me on Facebook of all places before my last year of college in August of 2013. I sent her my recording of a cover of “O, Holy Night”, and she fell in love with me and it. We released it that Christmas of 2013, and then from there we built on that with the release of my debut single “I Won’t Give Up” in 2014. “I Won’t Give Up” topped national radio airplay charts, got picked up by major television networks such as ABC, WUSA and TheCoolTV and the music video for it has over 20,000+ views to this day on VEVO/YouTube.

I’ve had to overcome many challenges so far, but I think the biggest challenge I’ve overcome so far is dealing with people who say and/or do hateful things to you based on what you love to do, which in this case is music. I’ve been dealing with adversity my whole life, but in 2010 when I started putting music up it was challenging. People would say and do things to try and put me down, especially in school. People that I thought were my friends would act like this, and it made me question my love for music. This continued into college when I went off to college later that year, and the funny thing was, when I started working with Star One in 2013 a lot of people changed. Everyone suddenly wanted to be my friend, and especially when it came to girls, wow, they changed. Many more wanted to talk to me, get pictures with me at parties, hang out with me and etc. But then of course, there were people that hated me even more after that. Success is a funny thing Mike, it’s what I would call a ‘double-edged’ sword. I learned from this challenge though that you just have to remember who you are inside, and allow that to never change.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

EF: I would say no matter where your career takes you, try your best to stay true to who you are inside. This path as an artist, especially these days, can really mess with your head, heart, soul and everything else in your life. If you start to have success, things change around you, but just remember who you truly are inside at the end of the day.

MR: What advice do you have for Faulkner the artist? How about the author?

EF: My advice for Faulkner the artist is to not give up, and to keep on going. For Faulkner the author, my advice is to write a book one day about all of these experiences.

MR: Where does all this Unbreakable-ity go from here?

EF: I think all of this Unbreakable-ity will remain unbreakable, and from here on I will continue to develop, evolve and change as a person. Just like we all do, but with music by my side I’m already writing new different sounding songs since my EP came out. I already have plans and goals for the short-term and long-term regarding my career, so I can’t wait to see what happens next. All I can say is stay tuned, and thank you for everyones support so far. Big shout out to God for blessing me with the ability to do any of these things, my one of a kind family, my amazing friends who’ve been there since day one, all of my fans from around the world and also you Mike. Thank you for the interview, this was a fun time!

MR: Aw. Likewise. You're Beautiful. Don't go chang...right, did that.  

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