Category Archives: Indie

Let Belgium’s Starkeeper Wash Away Any Lingering Madonna Halftime Nightmares

If you’re reading this, you’re one of the survivors.

Of what, you may ask?

Ah, lucky wanker. You’ve blocked it out of your memory, haven’t you?

Before I proceed, please, sit down. Those horrific images that chase you at night when you close your eyes, the shrill screams of thousands of tormented souls begging to be put out of their misery, and perhaps worst of all…the smell. God, the smell.

You, my friend, watched Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime ‘spectacular’, and like many people you’ve blocked the whole debacle from your mind. Subconsciously though, you’re still seeing Madge shuffle awkwardly around the world’s most expensive portable nursing home, trying desperately to look like she can keep up with the hundreds of extras doing circles around her while she pretends to sing and clings to the last whisp of relevance she has in today’s world of music.

The good news for you and everyone else suffering from Madonna-itis is there’s a simple remedy in the form of Starkeeper, a Belgium group fronted by Ivy Smits and Pieter Van Dessel that’s found a musical sweet spot with their carefully crafted and addictively melodic pop offerings. If I was forced to sum Starkeeper up in a nutshell, I’d say they manage to mesh equal parts Peter Gabriel with Canada’s Jets Overhead. Like Mr. Gabriel, they seem very much in tune with the concept of creating interesting visuals to go along with their sonic creations, as demonstrated with the video for their first single, Elle.

The bad news? Currently Starkeeper only have a couple of tracks available to download at iTunes, but they tell me more are in the works and on their way for 2012. In the meantime, check out the video for Elle below, along with Jets Overhead and I Should Be Born (just in case you’re too lazy to click the link provided above).

Buy Elle and its flip side, Brace Yourself, over at iTunes.
Like Starkeeper on Facebook.
Follow @starkeepermusic on Twitter.

If Lana Del Rey Were Interesting, She’d Be Oh Land On a Bad Day

Pardon my French ladies and gentleman, but fuck Lana Del Rey.

I’ve been following the story of Del Rey with equal parts fascination and skepticism since she landed on my radar last year. At the time, she was still known by some folk as Lizzy Grant, with two albums of laid back folk pop to her name. The few tracks I’ve heard off these early recordings I didn’t find offensive it any way, nor did they leave me begging for more. They were just…average. However, after an image makeover and the retirement of the Lizzy Grant moniker in favour of the far more glamourous Lana Del Rey nom de plume, Lizzy, errr…Lana is the name on everyone’s lips these days. For many people it’s because of her less than stellar performance on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks back, which showcased Del Rey at her sleep inducing worst and had many a knicker twisted in rage.

My advice to those of you who are already tired of the (over) hype of Del Rey and are disappointed at what might have been is to have a looksy at Oh Land (aka Nanna Øland Fabricius), a Danish singer-songstress who I promise won’t leave you with that numb feeling you might be afflicted with after a Lana performance. Fabricius’ first U.S. release (Oh Land) back in March was followed by some high profile gigs on Letterman and Kimmel, so there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with her work. Also,  her video for Sun of a Gun has about a billion views on YouTube, so there’s that, too. And while her image might be that of a budding pop music queen (she recently toured with Katy Perry, but don’t hold that against her), she at least presents herself in an interesting way when it comes to live performances. It’s a little more substance over style. And that statement is directed right at Ms. Del Rey.

Here’s Rainbow, live.

New Music Fridays: The Rest

Seesaw, the soon to be released third album from The Rest (after Atlantis, Oh Our Saviour and Everyone All at Once), is a fitting title for a collection of songs that has seen its fair share of ups and downs in the process of its creation.

First, tragedy struck when The Rest’s longtime musical mentor, producer, friend (and former Junkhouse guitarist) Dan Achen suddenly died in March 2010 from a suspected heart attack while playing hockey (read more about this sad tale here). Then, after coming within grasp of the finish line of what would eventually become Seesaw, The Rest found themselves the victims of a major technical malfunction that saw months of work wiped clean off of the hard drive it had been recorded onto.

Throughout all of this, the seven piece from Hamilton, Ontario (yes, another Hamilton band…c’mon, Toronto. You’re getting your ass kicked here!) kept plugging ahead, and although a little behind schedule Seesaw is now slated for an early 2012 release. Even though Achen passed away before the start of production on Seesaw, his years of collaborating with The Rest still influenced the making of the album, and the band considers Dan still very much part of the songs featured on it.

And speaking of songs, The Rest are making a couple of tracks from Seesaw available for download for free right now, but act fast-they’re coming down at the end of this month. If you’ve always wanted the perfect amalgamation of Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with Broken Social Scene, then Always On My Mind and  The Last Day are going to help fill that void, at least until The Rest drop Seesaw next year.

If you’re in Toronto tonight, you can see The Rest at Wrongbar with We are Augustines. See details of the show here. After that, The Rest will be doing shows with Memoryhouse throughout October in Quebec and Ontario.

Finally, here’s the video for The Lady Vanishes, off of Everyone All At Once.

Visit The Rest’s website here.
Buy music from The Rest here.
Download free tracks from The Rest here.
Follow The Rest on Twitter @therestband.
Like The Rest on Facebook.
-Jay Moon

The Whiskey Saints Dive Head First Into the Self Shot Video World with ‘Green Light’

It was only last week that I featured a post on Hamilton’s Drew Smith and the video for his stellar track, Love Teeth. It pleases me to no end to see momentum gathering behind the song, including Gilles LeBlanc’s (aka the ROCKthusiast) write-up on the tune today over at ‘professional music geek’ Alan Cross’ site. For those of you who might be out of the loop as far as the Canadian music scene goes, allow me to be the first to tell you this is a big deal. Gilles is a dyed in the wool music lover and great writer, and Alan has been the go-to guy across all media platforms for getting phenomenal music into the ears of the masses for as long as I can remember. If you haven’t already, check out both Gilles and Alan, and be prepared to make a shopping list of albums you’re going to want to pick up afterwards.

And now for the meat and potatoes of today’s post, which shines the spotlight on a band that has already graced these virtual pages once before. At the time, I did a feature on The Whiskey Saints and the video for their song With the Lights On. This time around the Saints are back with another tasty tune, Green Light, off their newest album 24 Hours. The big difference now is The Whiskey Saints took the reins on the video to go along with Green Light, the story of which was inspired by, according to the band, “…codeine cough syrup and bizarre art films.” The group handled all of the production duties of the shoot, with guitarist David Bloomfield manning the megaphone in the director’s chair. Although the group has a few videos to their credit already (with real directors and crews pressing the buttons on all the gear), besides the promo spots they filmed for their Kickstarter campaign this is their first foray into the world of real live music video making. There was a bit of a learning curve for the band as far as the pros and cons of the do-it-yourself  video shoot goes, including discovering that unrefrigerated tuna fish sandwiches and 90 degree heat are never a good combination, and if you’re going to shoot in the desert, water is always a good thing to have around. Lots and lots of it. And as their previously mentioned influences might have already alluded to, it’s a very interesting tale being told in Green Light. Pig Man, Death, and a limo driver in desperate need of a good dental plan all make appearances. Check out the video below, and underneath that you’ll see where you can find The Whiskey Saints all around the net…if you dare.

Visit The Whiskey Saints website to see more of their videos and buy their music.
Follow them on Twitter @whiskeysaints.
Like them on Facebook.
-Jay Moon

Greg Ball Releases Excessive Until August With a Little Help From His Friends

By Jay Moon

Greg Ball’s solo debut, Excessive Until August, is an album that has been a long time in the making.  However, it’s the blood, sweat and tears of the journey that saw Ball hopping from town to town across Canada for ten years before finding his adopted home of Kingston, Ontario that makes the collection of eleven songs well worth the wait.  Ball, who more often than not can be found wearing a shit eating grin reminiscent of a kid whose hand is constantly being swatted away from the cookie jar, puts his experiences to good use on Excessive, and his voice, with its shades of REM’s Michael Stipe minus the Shiny Happy People-ness, is a defining characteristic across the album.  

Part of Ball’s musical past has already been documented on these pages before, as a member of the Kingston-based band The Harpies. And although Excessive Until August may have only his name on the cover, it still has the feel of an album that has benefited from a collaborative process similar to what made the Harpies disc such a find.  In this particular case, it’s producer/multi-instrumentalist Zane Whitfield, who Ball readily acknowledges was a valuable partner in crime behind the creation of many of the tracks on Excessive.

Of course, being signed to Ching Music, a label started and run by  Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois certainly doesn’t hurt, either.  The Hip, one of the biggest Canadian acts of the past twenty years, (for those international readers who aren’t familiar with Canadian music history) are yet another band born out of the Kingston music scene.  Langlois and Ching had already released a handful of albums from Kingston area singer/songwriters before Ball came into the fold, including Headstones frontman Hugh Dillon’s The High Cost of Low Living, Jim Tidman’s Stealing Ghosts, plus My Friend Andy’s Songs From the Middle.  Late last year Langlois found time to assemble his own album of solo tunes, Fix This Head. It is with Langlois, My Friend Andy’s Jeff Montgomery and Tidman that Ball worked and re-worked some of the songs on Excessive as part of The Campfire Liars Club, a collective of musicians assembled by Tidman to do casual live shows, minus set lists but heavy on storytelling.

Langlois, who rather than your stereotypical label head acts more like a musical mentor to the artists on Ching Music, wanted Ball on his label because first and foremost he was a fan.

“He’s got a really cool voice, I think.  And killer tunes.”

He was also impressed with the restraint shown by Ball and Excessive producer Whitfield, in a time where ‘more is more’ sometimes takes centre stage in the studio.

“It’s cool.  It’s really unique.  The sounds on it-it’s just different from a lot of records.  A lot of people making records these days, you can’t help it with ProTools and computer recording just to lay shit on there all the time and you can’t stop.  I think 90% of the records out there are just too over-recorded.  On this one, you can hear the space.”

Ball’s and Whitfield’s recording process also had a little help from one staple found in most studios: alcohol.  As Ball explains:

“As I strum away on acoustic, then Zane (Whitfield) would be, ‘I can put a drum beat to that…okay might as well put bass to it.’ Well, I might as well have another beer.  And then at the end of the night, half a bottle of scotch is gone, and I’m like, ‘Can you burn me a copy so that my girlfriend doesn’t care that I’m wasted? Just so she knows that we did something?'”

Excessive Until August

As mentioned earlier, it’s the journey leading up the making of Excessive Until August and the little bits and pieces of stories Ball includes from those experiences that help give the album its character.  And while it’s a little more laid back than what you might come to expect from artists from the Kingston area (Excessive owes more to Sarah Harmer than to The Trews or The Hip, for example), that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some bite to the album, including the liner notes where Ball sends a little ‘fuck you’ shout out to some past musical rivals.

“I moved to Vancouver and I played with a couple of brothers who will remain nameless…It wasn’t really a good experience.  I didn’t have a great time with it.  There was a lot of, ‘My brother is Paul Simon and you are Art Garfunkel.’  I was the Garfunkel.  And I was like, ‘Really?  That’s fucking bullshit.’  Years and years and years later, and now I’m under a fantastic record label, he is not, and that is a little bit, ‘Go fuck yourself’.  I hate to be that guy, but it still rings in my ears.  I’m just being honest.”

Ball may still be a little peeved at the nameless brotherly duo, but the rest of us probably owe them a debt of gratitude.  In part because of them, Ball finds himself where he is today-a singer/songwriter with a strong debut album under his belt, and the promise of a long musical career ahead of him.  So on behalf of those of us who have discovered Excessive Until August, may I just say this to the brothers:

Thanks, assholes.

You can buy Excessive Until August on CD at Maple Music or download it on iTunes.  Visit him at gregball.ca.  Find Greg on Facebook here.
You can see Greg live Friday, August 5 at the Wolfe Island Music Fest, or Friday, August 19 with The Campfire Liars Club in Wesport, Ontario.

Stratford & Kingston Gave Birth to The Harpies, iTunes Helps Resurrect Them

HarpiesCover
For an independent artist or band trying to make it to ‘the bigs’ in today’s music business, the road to success can be a rocky one. The days of having to book yourself into a studio for a week to record material may be gone thanks to all the gizmos and gadgetry available for artists to capture decent sounding tracks on their laptops, but getting the finished results heard can be an exhausting process. The problem with the easy accessibility of all this recording gear is also what makes it great- anyone can make a record in their own basement, which is cool. What is not cool is that everyone who makes a record tries to get it heard, whether it’s good, bad, or just plain ugly. Because of this over the last few years the independent music scene has become flooded with truly horrible music. There may be good intentions at work, but the end result has become a disaster of Red Cross-worthy proportions.

So, what does this mean? Well, bands that are deserving of a larger audience that are out there slaving away trying to get their music heard often run out of steam before they get their chance. You can only tread water for so long before your arms just don’t want to work anymore, and then down you go. What are these groups up against? If you can stomach checking out Myspace for ten minutes, have a look at the hundreds of thousands of bands, singers, and warblers who post their material in the hopes of luring in hits to their profile page. Most of it is not very good.

Harpies1 One of the bands that became a victim of this trend was a group that had connections to both Stratford and Kingston (both towns in Ontario, Canada for international readers out there) called The Harpies. They were a four piece that featured a fantastic two lead singer/guitarist combo, along with fretless bass and drums.  And while three of the group were from the Stratford region (bassist Paul Muller, singer/guitarist Greg Ball, and singer/guitarist Alan Ferguson) it wasn’t until they all found themselves in Kingston where they met drummer Jim Sander that the band was complete.

The Harpies played some big shows around the Kingston area, gained a lot of fans, and recorded a pretty tasty album in 2004, simply titled 1. However, their fate was the same as so many other artists who slaved for a chance to get their music on a bigger stage, and after a couple years of non-stop work, they called it a day.

Being a fan of the group from the beginning I was disappointed that they had decided to split up, but I understood the reasons why.  Needless to say, when I found out last month that they planned on releasing 1 on iTunes (it had previously only been available on CD), I was thrilled.  I had always felt they had compiled nine great tracks, and to just have them become a distant memory seemed wrong. The songs, written by Ferguson and Ball, showcased some serious compositional skills. When combined with the backing drive of Muller and Sander (with additional percussion from Stratford’s Mike Baker) they kicked some serious ass. And that’s an official term used by music industry bigwig-types.

Harpies2 So, what of The Harpies now? Some of you will recognize Stratfordite Alan Ferguson’s name from his contributions to this blog, including his piece entitled Remembering John Lennon which holds the current MVTW/That’s Awesome Funky record for most page views. He continues to write and record his own material. Drummer Jim Sander lives in Toronto, and works behind the scenes for MuchMusic. Greg Ball and Paul Muller both still live in Kingston. Ball will be releasing a new solo album in April called Excessive Until August on Paul Langlois’ label, Ching Music. Muller has been busy doing session work and playing with Rueben DeGroot and Emily Fennell.

As mentioned, The Harpies are now yours for the taking. You can get their entire album for less than ten bucks, and I recommend you do exactly that. Head over to iTunes to download individual tracks or the whole thang.

In the meantime, here are a couple of my personal favourites from 1 for you to have a listen to. They’re complete tracks, but you can still get samples of all nine songs over at iTunes.

Waking Dream

Pretty Little Monster

Degrees

The Whiskey Saints Shake It Up with Rock & Twang

WhiskeySaintsmain For a band that calls Los Angeles home, The Whiskey Saints have a distinctly un-LA-ish sound, instead showcasing songs that tend to fall more into the category of ‘heartland Americana alt-rock’ and avoiding the glossier pop sheen that is sometimes associated with Los Angeles artists.  Not to say their tunes don’t glisten-they do-but the shine comes from musicians who can play, writing songs that are anchored by an emotional connection (not to mention the reflection off the rhythm section’s Rob Hughes and Jeff Bell’s shaved noggins).                                          Photo: Pete Ambrose

Formed in 2005 by vocalist/guitarist David Sparrow and fellow axeman David Bloomfield, the original members of The Whiskey Saints bonded over a mutual admiration of Wilco.  With the addition of Bell and Hughes all the pieces were in place for the Saints to start working on songs for their debut release, West, which hit the shelves in 2008.  During this time the band was the subject of the Daniel Mercaldi documentary Under Los Angeles, which blended footage shot by fans, the band, and Mercaldi into a film that showcased the ups and downs of a new band finding its legs.  Originally included as a DVD with the CD copies of West, you can watch it online here.

The Saints are currently in post-production for their new album, 24 Hours, which, according to guitarist Bloomfield, “…has us taking more of a hands on approach to the production process, utilizing more layered, intricate arrangements and a bigger rock ‘n roll sound.”  Co-produced by the band with West producer Jim Dineen and scheduled for a February 2011 release, Bloomfield also thinks, “…it’s a more mature record from a songwriting standpoint, tapping into a range of influences, musical and otherwise.”  The band is also utilizing kickstarter.com, a funding platform for creative projects, to help raise money for the release of 24 Hours.  In exchange for donations, the band is offering t-shirts, unreleased tracks, personal video performances, and private concerts.

By now you should be chomping at the bit to hear what The Whiskey Saints are all about.  Below you’ll find the video for the second single from West, ‘With The Lights On’.  Be sure to tune in Wednesday night at 8PM PT when the band is featured on Stripped Down Live with Curt Smith, where they’ll be performing new songs from 24 as well as fan favourites from West.  Also find more on the band at their website, www.thewhiskeysaints.com, or follow them on twitter (@whiskeysaints) and facebook.

Nightmare & The Cat: A Music Lover’s Dream Come True?

Nightmare&TheCat Nightmare & The Cat are a result of some intercontinental cross-breeding, having been given birth to after brothers Samuel and Django Stewart hopped an ocean and landed in Los Angeles from England.  It was there Nightmare’s third member, Claire Acey, joined the fold and the band began to write and record songs that are quickly garnering attention from the sometimes jaded LA music scene.

Although they haven’t yet released an official album (the band has been around for less than a year) you can hear their existing collection of work on their myspace page, which is where I’ve had their playlist on ‘repeat’ the last couple of weeks.  Listening to them I hear snippets of a variety of different musical influences creeping into the mix, everything from Rufus Wainwright to Jeff Buckley and even smidges of Wintersleep.  The basic production of their myspace tracks reminded me of Trinity Sessions era Cowboy Junkies, and at times I hear tasty morsels of guitar riff twang that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Duane Eddy session.

I’ve included a live clip of Nightmare & The Cat performing their song ‘Chart Topper’ from earlier in the year.  I highly recommend you take the opportunity to watch them Wednesday night when they perform on Stripped Down Live with Curt Smith.  Hop online at 8PM PT to watch the show streamed live to your computer.  Also look for them on facebook, twitter, and of course their own site, nightmareandthecat.com.

Roosevelt Radio: The Best Band You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet)

The members of Roosevelt Radio, a next-big-thing band in its infancy, wear their influences shamelessly on their vintage suit jacket sleeves.  And while many bands today are taking pages out of the Arcade Fire playbook, Roosevelt Radio takes their well worn crayons to them and colours in the spaces between the lines.  The end results are carefully crafted hooks, peak and valley dynamics, and an overall pop sensibility that is easily accessible on the first listen but rewards further attention.  Not bad for a band that’s been together less than a year.

 

Fashion BW1cropped  Although the band is based out of San Francisco, the members of Roosevelt Radio are well seasoned musicians from across the States  (keyboardist Sarah Morgan, drummer Phil Coffin are the only native Californians), Wisconsin (guitarist Joel Line), Pennsylvania (singer/guitarist Ben Ross) and even Canada (bassist Adrian McCullough).  Those ingredients would make one hell of a stew, but it makes an even better sonic adventure.  With the guidance of uber-producer Chris Wonzer (Christina Aguilera, New Found Glory, Joe Cocker), the band has been writing, recording, and perfecting tracks for a debut album, due in October.

 

A striking difference between the Roosevelts and other new artists is their decision to take a low-tech approach to recording, choosing to take some extra time to actually play songs from start to finish and record onto old-school two inch tape.  Although a little more expensive, the end result are songs that have their roots in modern music but with a distinctly analog vibe.  And, according to bassist Adrian McCullough, “It was cool leaving the studio with two reels of tape.  It was the ultimate experience.” 

 

A democracy when it comes down to band direction, songwriting often begins with guitarist/lyricist Ben Ross, with the rest of Roosevelt Radio adding their own flare and arrangement ideas.  The song ideas may start with Ross, but often take many different twists and turns once the entire band becomes involved.  “We have a pretty heavy set of filters on our ears.” says McCullough, when asked how the group decides what works and what doesn’t.  “We all have an equal say, although Ben is our songwriting genius.”

 Order In The Chaos

Antique Heart

 For all their work in the studio, Roosevelt Radio is making sure the songs translate live.  Bassist McCullough is adamant, “We want to be able to perform our songs live and we don’t want to work with backing tracks…we don’t want to be a laptop band.”  Their shows have helped spread the gospel of the group, and they have quickly forged a reputation as a hot live act in the San Francisco music scene.  “You don’t develop your sonic thing until you start playing loud and live and getting the sounds working.” says McCullough. 



By embracing and respecting classic recording and performance ideals, Roosevelt Radio are ready to see where their musical future will take them.  Look for their album on iTunes and Amazon in October.  In the meantime, start stalking them on myspace, facebook, and twitter.  They even have a handy website for your viewing enjoyment here.