Month: November 2016

Interview: Baritone ukelele songstress, Francesca Shanks

Earlier this month, Manhattan born baritone ukelele songstress, Francesca Shanks, released her sophomore LP titled, I Am  Walking Away. The record is peppered with songs that are short in length but do not fall short of anything but genius. Her lyrics are witty, smart and honest, the melodic undertones are simple but the instrumental layering is complex. At 21, she picked up the baritone ukelele and never looked back. Francesca answered some questions regarding her musical childhood, what the nuts and bolts of a song are that keep her listening and why she has a natural knack for playing with words.

MFL: Your voice and your ukelele! Both are so gorgeous and standalone. How did you find your voice and discover your love for ukelele?

Francesca Shanks (FS): THANK YOU!

I was definitely one of those obnoxious kids who made up songs and sang them all the time. I was in chorus all through public school, and I have always loved performing—I made a very decent 8-year-old Miss Anna in my grade school’s production of “The King and I.” I think I was about 9 when I started daydreaming about being in bands.  

I started playing baritone ukulele when I was 21. I was living in a house post-college with several roommates and someone had one that wasn’t getting daily use. I found a chord chart and went to town, and it just clicked. I started writing songs all the time.

 

MFL: When you listen to music, what aspects of the music keep you listening and drive the urge to listen to a song over and over again?

FS: It’s almost always lyrics—I really love a song that’s a quick dressing-down or punch in the gut, something that gives you pause at the end and makes you want to parse out everything that was just said. One of my favorite bands is Guided By Voices, who have about 1,000 songs that are 1-3 minutes in length. (Listen to “Wondering Boy Poet” and tell me that’s not a punch in the gut.) I also really like a simple, shimmery arrangement with keyboards, or a killer guitar solo. But both of those have to be in combination with knockout lyrics, really.  

 

 

MFL: You have a way with words in addition to a natural musical ability. What sort of writing material is most inspirational to you?

FS: I try to read EVERYTHING. Recently I asked for recommendations for non-white, non-male poets and got back a lot of beautiful stuff to comb through. I am re-reading Carlos Casteneda’s books about the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan right now—those books have directly influenced my life for a long time. In terms of my own writing, I’m often prompted by overheard snippets of conversation, or a newspaper headline, or especially some kind of natural omeny thing—veins on a leaf, or stuff happening in my garden, or seeing a hawk or salamander while I’m on a hike, etc.

 

MFL: Where were you born and raised and how do you feel it has influenced your music?

FS: I was born in Manhattan but my salad-days-growing-up-period took place in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I am deeply lucky to have grown up in an area with a thriving music scene (and just a train ride to NYC). I started going to shows a lot when I was 12 or 13. Being able to go to the city and see amazing bands I desperately loved, plus local DIY and small concert hall shows, was an incredible influence. I am lucky to have had pretty constant access to those spaces as a participant and as a performer.

 

MFL: What do you want your listeners to take away from your music?

FS: I think I just want them to hear it! It’s always nice if something you make resonates with someone. But I have no agency over how people interpret my music or my work in general, and I don’t like to put expectations on it.  

 

MFL: You mention that I Am Walking Away was “the best collaboration you’ve ever done in your entire life.” What was it about this collaboration with Lance Monotone that was so powerful?

FS: Before IAWA I was never very concerned with production. I was enamored with lo-fi recording (still am). Lance actually also recorded my first LP, but it was all one-take, one-mic quick and dirty. In the year we worked on IAWA, something opened inside me. We swapped ideas and directions; I did research and made a “bigger sound” playlist as a guide to what I wanted; he heard some things I’d have never heard and added them and astounded me. Now I really think about arrangement and layering, and when I listen to music I hear it in a more whole, full way than I did before. I am way more interested in how to create a mood or a feeling now, and way more reverent when I hear other people doing that.

 

MFL: There is a whole slew of instruments that drift in and out on each of your songs. Who is responsible for playing these other instruments?

FS: I play all the sleigh bells, and there’s a part in “Wild Ponies Make Annual Swim to City” where I brushed a snare drum to make it sound like there was a little dreamy swimming in the background. The other stuff is Lance and our friend Brian Rose. Brian plays all the banjo and the nice surfy guitar parts, except for the guitar on “Ancient Heart,” which is Lance.

 

 

MFL: What current and/or past musicians inspire you personally and are they different than musicians that may influence your music?

FS: I am inspired by people like Buffy Sainte-Marie—she is so badass and beautiful, and is still playing shows in her 80s. I am romanced by that kind of thing—letting your gift and your artistic practice sort of keep you alive and fuel you and nurture you. 

As for those who inspire my music: I can never listen to enough Okkervil River or Parquet Courts. Those guys are breaking the fourth wall. Every time I listen to them my heart is just jumping out of its skin.

I am also very inspired by the rest of the S&T (Sounds & Tones Records) roster. It’s wonderful to have a close community of musicians to conspire with and compete with. Everyone works their ass off for their art, and for each others’ art. It’s a sublime thing to be part of.

 

MFL: What was your album-release party like earlier this month? Name some highlights.

FS: Oh, my god, it was amazing. Many people came, which meant a lot. My friends Tyler Gomo and Frank McGinnis opened, which was wonderful. S&T held it in a gallery in North Adams, and it was just a white room when we had it for the show, so I set up a one-day “installation” with lights, a huge, long banner, a quilt I made, a little seating area and plastic jewels in the gallery windows.

The release show was also the first show I played with my new band mate! His name is Joe Aidonidis and he is the BEST. He plays a keyboard and a floor tom and sleigh bells, and it’s hugely different and better than me just playing solo ukulele, especially after this record. It is an excellent, rewarding partnership, and quite a sight to see live!

 

MFL: Finally, what is on the horizon for you in the coming year? 

FS: Lots of writing, lots of shows. I am in a really good writing place at the moment, and Joe and I will probably have enough for an EP in 2017. Lots of travel. We are open to all well-reputed house show spaces, Elks lodges, VFWs, park benches, elevators, record stores, and structurally sound bridges, balconies, and barges in the contiguous United States and also Canada. I have a very practical vehicle.

 

Thank you, Francesca for taking time away from music to answer some questions and thank you to Chris Hantman of Sounds & Tones Records for linking Francesca and I. You can find I Am Walking Away for purchase on Bandcamp and can follow Francesca to all of her balcony, living room and barge concert venues via Facebook.

 

EP Review: “EP One” by Swedish duo, Newtimers

Newtimers is the work of Swedish duo Andreas Britton Cavaco (vocals) and Tim Lundblad (drums, production). The two have honed in on a kind a musical genre they can call their own. They merge elements of R & B, 80s synth pop and I have to say it, Michael Jackson. There is a subtly seductive sound to their debut EP, EP One, which was released June of 2016 on Cosmos Music.

The EP was written at a time of heartbreak for both Andreas and Tim but the guys didn’t want heartbreak to the theme. Despite the melancholic material, the EP is laced with an uplifting sense of power and the human broken heart’s ability to move forward. The opening cut, “The Best of Me” instantly sucked me in. It’s sexy and catchy without the over-production that comes with some mainstream music from the same vein. Andreas’ smooth vocals hover above melodies that hark back to 80’s and 90’s pop R & B. “The Best of Me” is about as amplified as the EP gets. Check out the music video:

 

 

Following is, “Flower on the Moon”, another velvety gem, perfectly produced. The moment the track begins, you can sense the lights going down. It’s the epitome of that subtle seductive sound I mentioned. The closing track is the single, “Perfect Ten”, which received a great deal of attention upon release for obvious reasons. The EP also features two remixes of “Best of Me”, one by the acclaimed Monsierur Adi and another by Sailor & I.

Since the release of their debut EP, they’ve released the new spunky single, “She’s a Gun.” Check it out:

 

Interview: Cosmic American music-explorers, Aircrafting

Aircrafting began as the musical project of Jon Tehel and Daniel Jacobs and has since then expanded to a full on 5-piece who have recently released their debut full length titled, Dreamers. Aircrafting is the work of Jon Tehel, Daniel Jacobs, Nicole Lawrence, Pat Floyd and Lee Bones. Jon and Nicole answered some questions about their new record, how Aircrafting came to be and their cassette label, Sinking Spaceships Recordings.
MFL: Discuss the positive and negative sides of writing, recording AND releasing your own music on your own label.
Jon Tehel (J): As someone who prefers to take care of things in-house than outsource tasks, it makes the process a necessary one for me, partly because I’m a control freak and don’t enjoy the act of waiting on other people but also because it’s important to me to be as self-sufficient as possible. Though the amount of work involved can be trying at times, knowing that we’re in charge at every stage and don’t need to rely on anyone for anything is quite liberating.
Nicole Lawrence (N): For the me the positive was getting to control the recording environment. We made the record in our own studio space, which is modest compared to a commercial studio, but we got to take our time where we needed it. We run a small tape label so we released it that way ourselves, which is cool. But we don’t have the resources of a bigger label, so you could call that a negative. But we managed to make the record and get it out into the world on our own which feels really good.
MFL: What was the order of events for Aircrafting? What came first, the music or the label?
J: Well the first releases on the label (Sinking Spaceship Recordings) were tapes of DJ’s (organ/keyboardist) solo recordings under the moniker Timeless Music back in 2010. Those came roughly around the same time him and I first started recording as Aircrafting.
MFL: How does the music scene in Brooklyn, or NYC as a whole, influence the life of Aircrafting?
N: The community aspect is the most important part to me. Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know and play music with an awesome crew of Brooklyn musicians. There’s so many generous and talented people here. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the fact that I get to do this kind of stuff along side so many other great people is really what it’s all about. I love being challenged and pushed by other players. There’s a lot of support and inspiration here.
J: Everyone in the band plays in other bands around town so it is a community. Our label actually put out a compilation of NYC artists over the summer called Bright Spots you can check out. A bunch of friends pitched in unreleased songs to make it happen: IYEZ, Drew Taylor, Sunwatchers, Love As Laughter, and Pale Mara (one of Lee’s other bands) to name a few.
MFL: As listeners of your debut full length, Dreamers, should we be aware of any collaborations or is the record 100% Aircrafting?
J: The record as a whole feels like a collaboration. Prior to this record it was just DJ and I just recording songs I had laying around. For this record, now that Pat, Nicole, and Lee are in the band, everyone wrote and everyone contributed a great deal. Outside of the band we were lucky enough to have our friend and studiomate, Jon Erickson, help out on the engineering/mixing side which made my job recording the record much easier. We also had Dan Iead (of Cass McComb’s band) color a few tracks with his beautiful pedal steel playing.
MFL: How did the duo become a five-piece and what is the story behind the band name?
J: DJ and I were playing shows after we recorded the Taurean Drifts tape in 2014 and wanted to add more sonic elements to the mix. We asked our friend Nicole here to join, she kindly accepted and she brought along Pat who kindly accepted and then we stumbled upon Lee who kindly accepted. As for the name, as far as I can remember it came to me in a hallucination while lying on a couch in a garage in California listening to DJ tune a piano with a drum key, a pair of pliers, and a headlamp.
MFL: I have heard the words “cosmic American music” used many times in descriptions of Aircrafting’s sound and the record, Dreamers, more specifically. Can you break this down even further to describe your sonic exploration in Dreamers/for Aircrafting?
N: I’m very interested in American music, traditional American forms and the lineage of it–country music, blues music. Everything I think is blues music, ultimately. The Cosmic American thing is associated originally with Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. So it’s like operating within this traditional idiom of country music, with traditional country music themes of loss and loneliness, stuff like that–but then there’s an extra layer of weird thrown in. This druggy hazy sadness. Cosmic American is outside the norm of country music. So it’s interesting both for it’s adherence to form and for its lawlessness. So I wanted to make a record that existed in this lineage of American music and that spoke back to some of those artists who inspired me. It’s also why we had to get pedal steel on the record. And us, as a group, talking about Cosmic American was a way for us to find focus in what we were doing. Personally I find working within a set of parameters like that to be really valuable and inspiring, not at all limiting. It’s why I love blues music, because the form is simple, it doesn’t change much. So the opportunity for nuance and character within that form, is really limitless.
aircrafting_new
MFL: Talk more about recording Dreamers on a Tascam 388. Who got their hands on the piece of equipment and what does it have to offer that cannot be contributed by other recording equipment?
J: We got it from the classifieds as an “as is” listing where the guy said he hadn’t a clue if it actually worked. Once we heard that it powered on and had less than 20 hours on it we said fuck it and bought it. It was incredibly inexpensive being that it was sold “as is” and ended up being in immaculate shape, especially the tape heads. It’s a 1/4″ 8-track reel-to-reel with the mixing deck all on the same desk, which makes recording on it fairly simplistic to me as someone who grew up using 4-track cassette recorders.
N: These machines have sort of a cult thing right now, with good reason. Ty Segall has one… Tim Presley, and John Dwyer as well, as far as I know. Jon and I are both really interested in analog recording and the 388 is a cool affordable mid-fi option… Our 388 is really part of this record. If we had made it any other way it would sound completely different.
MFL: With Dreamers out in the music-sphere, are you all itching to write and record new music or are you still reveling in the glory of your release?
J: Can’t speak for the other guys but I could use a margarita with a couple extra floaters.
N: I’m not reveling. I’m trying to get back into the studio as soon as possible. The next record will start happening imminently.
MFL: Is there any one track on Dreamers you feel encapsulates the musical and ideological qualities of Aircrafting better than any other?
N: For me it’s “Dreamer’s Jam”, especially when we do it live because we can really open up the front section. On the recorded version we did some really cool stuff with my guitar going through a space echo and an echoplex, and right at the end of the opening solo there’s some cool sound-on-sound stuff you can hear faintly. I like the openness of it and the fact that we could never really recreate that. The sound-on-sound thing was what GBV would call a “happy accident.”  And then on other songs Dan’s pedal steel parts really elevate the whole thing for me. I think that was really integral to the record becoming cohesive.
J: I’d agree. That song stemmed from DJ getting to practice early for once and having the time to play around and write the skeleton and by the time we all got there and plugged in we had the song written.
MFL: Finally, what’s on the schedule the next few months performance-wise?

N: We are booking more shows in Brooklyn/NYC over the next few months and maybe a few out of town gigs. We’ll definitely be out there playing.

 

Thank you to Jon Tehel and Nicole Lawrence for taking the time to share some of their musical perspectives with MFL and to Mike Bell for making the interview possible! You can find Dreamers on Bandcamp now.

Playlist: Sounds of Winter, Volume I

Happy winter, everyone! Here are some warm sounds for your cold ears:

YouTube Playlist: Sites and Sounds of Fall Volume II

It’s a big one! 29 tracks/videos waiting for your eyes and ears. Enjoy these tunes as the we shift from fall to winter:

Interview: Intercontinental duo, The Familiar”

The Familiar is a duo composed of Ruth Mirsky and Mads Martinsen. The two of the collaborate from across the world, on separate continents. Ruth writes, records and lives in Brooklyn while almost 4,000 miles away, Mads does the same thing. The two came together by chance and have created a stunning shade of dark electro-pop. I was given the opportunity to ask them some questions about how they met, how they manage writing music from so far away and much more. Read on!

 

 

MFL: What was that first conversation like when the two of you met in Tromsø and what events followed that lead to your collaboration?

Ruth: Our first conversation was immediately about music. We were all at a Christmas “nachspiel” or afterparty in Tromsø and I played a track for Mads and — it was the age of remixes, so he asked if he could do a remix, which was just magical. Once I returned to NYC, we started working on new original music together, sending tracks back and forth — that’s how The Familiar was born.

 MFL: What kind of musical projects have you had experience with in the past and how is The Familiar different?

Ruth: I’ve been in indie rock bands and electronic rock bands. The Familiar is the only band I have ever been in where we don’t ever work together in the same room and do absolutely everything ourselves start to finish, which is incredibly liberating.

Mads: Electronic stuff. I went through my French house phase, and made that kind of music for a while. It never went in the direction I really wanted to, so it was nice to go there with The Familiar.

MFL: How have your common Norwegian backgrounds shaped the sound and content of The Familiar?

Ruth: I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer to that. We are such different people who come from such starkly different places, but our artistic aesthetic is perfectly aligned. Personally, I feel very connected to my Norwegian roots and am endlessly inspired when I visit by the landscape and culture, and in particular northern Norway where Mads and my family live. It is a dreamland that I’m constantly trying to return to.

Mads: In some ways it probably has. Where we come from and where we’ve been as people always reflect artistic output to some degree.

MFL: What is the purpose of your music? Is it to send a message, for listeners’ personal enjoyment, the enjoyment of creation?

It is the enjoyment of creation and of sharing that journey with each other, never knowing exactly what the other one will send back or how that will inspire the next piece of the puzzle. When other people enjoy it, that’s pretty wonderful too. 

MFL: What is the reason behind collaborating with such great distance between? Is it necessity or otherwise?

It was just the necessity of our circumstances.

MFL: Do either of you have musical projects besides The Familiar?

Ruth: I lead another band based in Brooklyn called Syvia that plays dark indie electronic rock and work on other side projects with friends whenever I can. It keeps my ears fresh to have different projects going on.

Mads: I have a couple that are in progress, in a few different genres. I’m also working on the never-ending first solo project. Some day…

MFL: What does your life look like outside of music?

Ruth: I just became a mother, which is a whole new world full of joys and challenges, especially when it comes to creating music since I do most of it at home. I have had to become a lot more creative and patient with the music making process, but in turn, it has also made the writing process and the songs that emerge from it that much more precious.

Mads: Is there a life outside of music? Most days are spent locked away in the studio, so I can’t say I have much of a life outside music.

MFL: What kind of life or world events have inspired the writing/musical creative process for The Familiar?

We have a lot of respect for each other’s lives and obligations – and never pressure the other one to create, which is a real gift. In practical terms, it means that our writing process can sometimes be very fast and other times be very drawn out, but we let the music happen very organically, and are happy with the results so far.

MFL: How much of the musical process behind The Familiar happens in separate countries? Explain how you make The Familiar happen from different geographical locations.

Everything is done separately. We begin by recording in our respective rooms and sending pieces back and forth over the internet. We have never stepped into a professional studio together. It’s entirely DIY and that gives us a great deal of independence to do it in our own time and in our own way until it sounds just right to the both of us.
MFL: What does the next year hold for The Familiar?

Even though we just released our sophomore EP Seconds, we are already at work on our next one as we try to continue to explore new sonic territory. And live shows are always on our horizon!

 

Big thanks to Theresa Montgomery of 24West for arranging this interview. You can find The Familiar’s most recent EP on iTunes and Bandcamp now.