Emily Barnes is a singer-songwriter originally from Camden, Maine who is now based out of lil town in Warren County in New Jersey. Her unique vocal qualities grabbed me immediately, but according to Barnes, it took some time for her to find confidence in the voice she was born with. Despite the release of her sophomore record, Let in the Light, being just around the corner (March 10th!), she found the time to answer some questions and offer us a peek into her musical life.
MFL: Your voice is gorgeous on its own. Is your voice something you’ve always had confidence in or did it take time to nurture this?
Emily Barnes (EB): Thank you! I had always wanted to sing, and have always loved it but confidence in the voice I was given is another story. When I was starting out, I used to get frustrated often that my voice was deeper than I wanted it to be. When I was younger I was always involved in chorus programs and musicals, and I never had “the right voice” and that definitely was a confidence deflator. It wasn’t until I began writing my own songs, and embracing its unique quality that I started loving it for all of its imperfections and owning its flaws.
MFL: You mention that your upcoming release, Let in the Light, involved a lot of “elbow grease” in addition a little help from some friends. Touch on some of the hardest times in creating the record and some of the most rewarding.
EB: By far the most challenging part for me was song selection. I had a different list of tracks going into the project than I came out with and I wanted to make sure it was just right and fit the sentiment. Some other challenges I faced and often face with music include money and time. I didn’t have the funds for a full studio production, and the time was quickly slipping away when takes took longer than expected, or I couldn’t get musicians in for the perfect session time. The most rewarding aspects to creating this album are learning new instruments to achieve the sounds I heard in my head, and watching these talented friends of mine I’ve met along the way really feel the songs and help create these parts that gave them a life of their own. I also really enjoyed the late nights at my friend Mike Herz’s cabin where we made all of these songs using Logic. We had no idea what we were doing half of the time to be honest, we just tried a bunch of things until we heard the sweet spot and that was a really exhilarating challenge.
MFL: I love the sounds that happen at the end of “Into the Dawn” that bleed into the start of “Uncertainty.” What inspired the use of these sounds and where did they come from?
EB: Those sounds were actually just recorded using my phone on a voice memo! I have always loved the real indie feel when listening to some of my favorite songwriters such as John Elliott or Josh Ritter, and I wanted songs that fit the quirkiness of the person I am, and helped paint the picture for where these songs came from. I knew some people wouldn’t understand it, or maybe wouldn’t even like hearing loons singing, or dishes clanking, but when I hear these songs that’s the memory that is created and I really wanted to make that come to life.
MFL: Give me your geographical story. Meaning, where did you grow up, where have you lived and where are you settled now?
EB: My geographical story isn’t that interesting to be honest. I grew up in Camden, Maine for the first portion of my life which was spectacular and my family moved to New Jersey when I was in elementary school, and we never left. I am living in a tiny town in Warren County right now that is home to more farm animals then people!
MFL: What is the story/concept behind Let in the Light and how does the title track tie into this?
EB: I wrote the title track after reading this daily calendar my mom has with these cheesy little quotes on it, and on this particular day, the quote had reference to everything needing cracks to let the light in and I loved that concept! So I took it and wrote the song, one of my quickest ones to date. I knew immediately after writing it that I wanted it to be a theme for the album. There is beauty in the little glimmer of light in a period of darkness, you know hope. So I wanted to really play that up with these songs.
MFL: Discuss what happened between the release of your first record, Beautiful Goodbyes, and Let in the Light. How is your newest release different than Beautiful Goodbyes?
EB: When I made “Beautiful Goodbyes” I didn’t have any idea what I was doing to be honest. I didn’t know what it meant to have an album out, or what I was going to do with it once I had the physical copy in my hand. I knew I wanted to tour, and I wanted to share the songs so I did a lot of research and a lot of traveling in the period between the two. I also recorded and released an album with my duo project “Closer to Home” with singer/songwriter Mike Herz and together we kind of were able to learn the ropes and how to actually do an album release, and how to say no when it isn’t what you want. This release I am more excited about to be honest. I am doing a pre-release this time which I didn’t do the first time around, as well as CD release shows which I also didn’t know to plan. All in all I am just really overjoyed with the turnout of the songs, and I hope listeners are as well!
MFL: Why do you choose making music as your art form? Do you enjoy other types of art besides music?
EB: I chose music because it came really naturally for me. I loved writing, and I loved singing so why not do both? I love the way it taps into another side of a person, and connects everybody in some way. That might be my favorite part about it. I do enjoy all types of art. I love painting watercolors, and all of the album art this time features my own art! Which was really weird for me at first because I don’t think anyone is completely comfortable with looking at their own work, but I am glad I took that chance rather than going with straight photographs of my face like last time. I think that is even stranger to look at then your own paintings because most of the time they don’t even look like you!
MFL: Outside of music, what does your life consist of?
EB: Outside of music, my life is pretty normal I’d say. I have the most beautiful 3 year old niece Evelyn who consumes most of my time when I am not traveling, she’s my best little friend. I love doing anything outdoors, and I really enjoy cooking.
MFL: March 10th just happens to be my mom’s birthday! I’ve never asked a musician why they choose a particular release date. So, why March 10th?
EB: Happy birthday! I love birthdays! Well that’s a tough question…I wanted to give myself enough time to finish the album, and get physical copies (the first time it was really rushed) and March 10th just looked like a good time for an album release. So I guess there really was no poetic reason for choosing it other than it seemed like a lovely day! Haha.
MFL: Finally, do you have any shows planned following release?
EB: I have some album release shows starting on March 10th and through until April in the North East and then in June I am hitting the road to go cross country for two months to release these songs in new areas! I am really excited to drive to the West Coast as opposed to flying. I can’t wait!
Hayes Peebles has almost reached a quarter of a century in age but his voice sings tunes that are mature beyond his years. Peebles’ voice was made for music and his mind for writing songs as he’s been at it since he was in high school. Originally from Greenwich Village, Peebles pursued a philosophy degree in Boston while at the same time, writing music that would set the groundwork for his first EP.
Check out his delightfully upbeat but perfectly melancholic country single, “Home”, while you read more about him. I hope you enjoy his charming, heartfelt and genuine answers to my questions as much as I do!
MFL: Your EP release is just around the corner! What is left to be done before release and do you have any events lined up to celebrate the release?
I’ve been so used to cooking up demos in my bedroom and circulating them the very same day, so going through a proper recording and release process has definitely tested my patience, but has been well worth it.
Fortunately, I think the only thing that needs to be done over the course of the next week or two is make sure that Tim, Nate, Abe and I don’t all wear the exact same shirt to the release show we’re playing, which will be at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on February 23rd.
MFL: Was there a core inspiration for the Ghosts EP or is it a collection of tracks that are not necessarily connected to one another?
On my end, the most difficult part of making this EP was probably the song selection. That’s in part because the folks who played on and helped imagine this record with me are super talented and make life easy, but also because I’ve been writing songs for a long time now and my “songbook” contains things I love from totally different phases that sound and think totally differently. In the end, I went for a little bit of everything, two oldies and two newer tunes that’ll hopefully display a few different sides so you all can get to know me. I would love to make some sort of continuous-playing concept album that comes in an immersive double LP set, but I’m going to have to wait until people trust me enough and until somebody’s willing to pay for the studio time to do it.
MFL: Musically, who do you draw inspiration from?
I am shamefully weak in the face of a good melody and will go in for pretty much any well-thought out song. That takes me to some very different places as far as genre, content and sound are concerned. The other day Yves Montand shuffled into Action Bronson and it made sense to me. But I know that it’s no fun to play the “I like everything” card so I’ll admit that I’m going to see Julia Jacklin and Andy Shauf share a bill this spring and am probably going to be the most embarrassing fanboy in the crowd, those two have gotten a lot of spin time in the Peebles household lately.
MFL: What is the source of your lyrical material? Do you prefer to draw from personal experiences or create fictional material? Feel free to comment on your two released singles, “Ghosts” and “Home.”
The majority of my lyrics come from my own experiences. I write mainly about the things that make an impression on me and these things usually end up being personal and cliche but hopefully relatable, too. “Ghosts” is that kind of song.
The past year or so I’ve gotten out of my own head more and have tried to work more on storytelling and characters- which probably has to do with my increased intake of Country and Americana and because it’s honestly more fun. “Home” is that kind of song. Not accidentally, there’s a bit of both of those approaches on the EP.
MFL: How and when did music make its way into your life?
I always loved singing along to my parents’ music in the car and as early as I could I started taking piano lessons. At that age most kids didn’t really want to practice piano or show up to lessons and resented it but I pretty much loved it since day one and never found any good reason to stop.
MFL: What did you gain from your college experience in Boston besides a degree in Philosophy?
Most importantly, I gained a really excellent and inspiring set of friends (cue that Vitamin C song) who have given me the confidence to do what I’m doing now. Many of them are now in New York entertaining my bullshit on a weekly basis and it’s great, having smart people to spend time with cannot be taken for granted.
Stepping out of the Hallmark aisle for a moment, I also got to spend some time away from New York City, which is almost always good for one’s perspective. There’s a great DIY scene in Boston and its suburbs and my time there led me to appreciate just how incredible those bands (hearing Pile for the first time was a revelation) and those spaces and the people supporting them are. For all its diversity, the sceney-ness of New York can feel really constrictive and priorities get way out of line. Spending time in Boston I learned that it’s possible and important to function differently, and tried to bring that back with me.
MLF: Do you have any plans to tour in the near future and what would be some top destinations?
I would love nothing more than to go on a mini-tour of sorts. But before I jump into all that, I have to first make sure that Tim, Nate, Abe and I are not all wearing the same exact shirt at the Ghosts EP release show at Rockwood Music Hall on February 23rd.
MFL: If you were to make a mix CD for me, what would five of the tracks on it be?
MFL: What does making music do for you, personally and are you artistic in other ways?
I tried painting once or twice but all that did was waste canvas and reinforce the fact that music was always the thing for me. My sister stole all of the visual art talent from the gene pool.
I could go on about how songwriting is some mix of therapy and catharsis, an opportunity to define myself in my own eyes and the eyes of others and how it’s the easiest way to frame the world and communicate with the people in it. That stuff is all true to a certain extent, but the simplest truth is that it’s the thing I love the most, am most comfortable doing and the thing I want to spend my life working on.
MFL: After the release of the Ghosts EP, what is next for you?
The hope is to do it all: put out some sort of a full-length record, travel around playing it for people I’ve never met, find some time to sleep and write in between and then do it all over again.
Follow Hayes Peebles on Facebook and keep your eyes and ears peeled for his upcoming EP, Ghosts, due out February 10th! Thanks to Hayes Peebles for answering my questions and Theresa Montgomery of 24West for making the interview possible!
One of the reasons I love MFL is the extreme breadth of music that reaches me from all corners of the world. I do not know any of these folks and chances are, one of the only connections we may have, is our passion for music. However, that changed recently. I recieved an email from a fellow representing an artist named Chase McBride. I checked out the tunes and was sold so I requested an interview. After a quick Google search, I discovered Chase McBride grew up in Billings, Montana and I grew up a few hours away in Missoula, Montana. To date, I have never had the music of someone from my very own home state fall into my lap! Of course the Facebook search had to occur as well: nine mutual friends all of whom are friends of mine from ballet, high school and college. Music brings people together in the most wonderful way.
Anyway, I asked Chase about his new EP, how his Montana upbringing shaped his music and much more. Check out Chase’s answers to my questions below and enjoy his new EP, Cold Water, while you read.
MFL: What were you anticipating the most with the release of your new record, Cold Water?
Chase McBride (CM): That’s a great question, and one that has a somewhat messy answer. This project has taken over my life for the past year, and involved a dozen or so collaborators. It was hard sitting on an album that I felt so good about, and not be able to share it publicly. That being said, there was a lot of building excitement within the team that helped keep me focused on putting the pieces together for a successful release. So, the short answer is, I was most anticipating finally being able to share this collection of songs that the team and I worked so hard to create.
MFL: I read that you recorded the record in a small beach cabin. How did this backdrop influence the sound and mood of Cold Water?
CM: The album was recorded live, with the full band, at a small beach house in Bodega Bay, CA. There is a video for the single “On The Other Side” that showcases the recording process and the coastal setting. I think that backdrop was important for a few reasons. First, I’ve always sought out remote places to record because that change in perspective helps to clear out the mental channels needed to focus emotional energy into something as complex as a musical performance. Second, in the age of the internet, getting a group of people to avoid the distractions that come with cell phones, television, and internet is really hard. The cabin we recorded at didn’t have good internet, so it forced us all to put our phones away and maintain presence with each other and with ourselves. I think that communal focus comes across in the recordings.
MFL: Tell me about your connection with the French Cassettes and how Mackenzie Bunch and Scott Huerta came to produce the record?
CM: I met Scott back in 2009. We had a mutual friend, who had played me Scott’s music, and encouraged me to attend a show for his band, French Cassettes. I ended up watching a show of theirs, and I fell in love with the energy of the band. I kept a creative and personal friendship with Scott after that, and was introduced to Mackenzie, who is the band’s guitarist and does all the recording. They’ve developed a serious business in San Francisco producing albums for the local bands, and their reputation is stellar. When I was tossing around early ideas for this album, I knew that I wanted those two to be involved with the recording. Thankfully, schedules aligned and I was lucky enough to bring them on board. The quality of the recordings is a testament to their abilities.
MFL: This is often a tough question or a question without an answer…BUT, if you were to name your genre, using as many or as few words as you need to do so appropriately, what would you call it?
CM: I think the most appropriate genre would be ‘IndieFolk’ or ‘Folk’. I’ve been called many things, but I think the music I make and the way I make it lands somewhere within the traditions of folk music.
MFL: What were some of your biggest musical influences growing up and if so, how have they changed over time?
CM: I grew up in a very musical family. My grandpa was a well-known Dixieland Jazz trombonist and a charismatic band leader. Everyone in my extended family played an instrument and took piano lessons from a young age. As far as my influences go, my parents were always playing James Taylor, George Winston, and Joni Mitchell records around the house, so those moods and melodies certainly made an impression on me. As I’ve gotten older, I still have a lot of respect for those 60’s titans, specifically Dylan, but my tastes have expanded over the years. I listen to music from just about every genre. I have respect for any artist that I hear finding their own sound and working hard to offer up something original in the oversaturated musical world we live in. I’m currently playing a lot of Joep Beving, Kevin Morby, and Jessica Pratt.
MFL: I did some Googling and according to your Wikipedia page, you are from Billings, MT. Is this accurate? I’m from Missoula! If this is true, tell me what happened between Billings, MT and San Francisco!
CM: This is accurate! It’s a small world eh? I grew up in Billings, and left for California after finishing high school in 2007.
A whole lot happened. Initially, I moved to San Luis Obispo, California, where I studied graphic design at Cal Poly, and started my musical career. After that I toured the west coast and did studio guitar work for a few years before a short stint in Missoula, and a move to the east coast to study painting in graduate school outside Washington DC. In 2015, I packed up my car and moved my life across the country to San Francisco, where I’ve been ever since. I spend a lot of time traveling, but San Francisco is my home base. I love that city and the people that live there. Missoula is an oasis as well, I have very fond memories from that short period.
MFL: Additionally, how did a MT upbringing influence the music you make?
CM: I think the solitude that Montana offers has affected my music a lot. I enjoy being alone as much as I enjoy spending time with others. When I’m in a songwriting phase I’ll spend most of my waking hours alone and I use my experiences growing up as the muse for a lot of my work. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke talks a lot about the wellspring of inspiration that draws from your youth. I’m a firm believer in that idea.
MFL: How did the album release party shake out at Amnesia last week?
CM: It was incredible. The crowd was happy and attentive. We ended up selling the venue out, which felt good after all the promotional efforts my team contributed. I’m a completely independent artist, so big wins like that mean a lot.
MFL: Along that note, how was your SoFar Sounds show? I’ve heard fantastic things about that organization and have considered trying to start one up here in MT.
CM: That gig was terrific. The SoFar people are so nice and accommodating. I’m excited to see the video from that night. There were some notable Los Angeles musicians that came out to see us perform, which caused the band to dig in a little harder and really perform the songs well. I’m hoping to do another one in London when I’m there at the end of February.
MFL: Finally, how long before you start writing material for a new record?
CM: Great question! I’m always collecting little ideas here and there, so technically, I’ve already started working on the new material. I fly to London at the end of February for a few weeks with my girlfriend, who is a painter. We rented out a beautiful loft/studio space, and we’re planning on working on our respective projects alongside each other during that time. I’m shipping out my studio gear and I plan on giving myself some focused time in a new environment to start fleshing out what the new album will be. If you want to stay updated on my day-to-day life, follow my Instagram @chase.mcbride. That’s where I post the most! Thanks.
Thanks to Chase McBride for answering my questions and to Jake Goble from Merch Camp for connecting our Montana souls. You can find Cold Water and Chase’s other music on iTunes.
Melissa Bel is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter originally from Toronto who know finds herself on the other side of the ocean, still making music. I asked Melissa about how and when music started for her, what she misses most about Toronto and much more.
MFL: I dance/teach dance where I live in Montana. I have to know who that phenomenal dancer is in your music video for “Stay Gone.”
Melissa Bel (MB): The dancer is Michaela Reichenbach from Toronto. Isn’t she amazing?!?!
MFL: Now we can talk about your music! You are clearly a performer. There is something so honest and passionate about your voice, and you sing with your whole heart. Where did this truly natural love for music come from?
MB: Music has resonated with me since I was a toddler, and my Mom says I started singing before I could talk, so I kind of think it has been there from the start. I was definitely a performer from an early age…I remember being in daycare and trying to make everyone listen to me sing. I was lucky that my parents really nurtured my passion for music as well. They actually encouraged me not to go to university so I could pursue singing and songwriting.
MFL: Three albums in six years; that’s quite remarkable! How have you been able to sustain that rate of writing, recording and releasing?
MB: Just pure stubbornness I think. And wanting it so badly. There was a 3 and a half year gap between releasing Don’t Forget to Breathe and In the Light because in that time I left the record label I was with and was super confused about the type of music I wanted to make. I was actually so disheartened about my career that I remember thinking I’d never make another album again. Then fate did its thing and I met Justin Gray, who produced In the Light, and over the course of about a year and 2 trips to LA, we wrote and recorded this new album. I was also very fortunate to have funding from a Canadian organization, FACTOR, which helped make the record possible.
MFL: It sounds like your life took an incredible turn after you met the love of your life and moved across the ocean! What are some of the biggest changes you’ve had to get use to as a person and as a musician with the move?
MB: It certainly was an incredible and unexpected turn! The biggest change personally has to be living so far away from my family and friends. I also went from living a very fast-paced, jam-packed-schedule lifestyle to knowing very few people and having no real obligations. It was this strange and wonderful feeling, and it took a few months to stop feeling like I was on vacation! I basically had a clean slate which was exciting, but scary because I went from having steady gigs and lots of contacts in Toronto to starting over as someone totally unknown. It felt a bit like I was 18 again and just starting out; going out to any open mic I could find, shamelessly emailing venues to try and get gigs, busking…but this time I had the advantage of already having been in the business for the last 8 years so I was able to make some traction fairly quickly.
MFL: What do you miss most about living in Toronto?
MB: I miss being a streetcar ride away from my best friend. And the city itself. Toronto has everything you could want basically within walking distance, so sometimes I miss the convenience of it and that big city feel. But I do love the more relaxed pace in Devon, just took some getting used to!
MFL: I love that video of you playing live at Momentum Studios. Who else was in that video playing and singing along with you and how did that video come about?
MB: I’d wanted to do an official music video for “Big Boys Don’t Cry” when it came out as a single in the fall, but I didn’t have the financial resources to pull it together. One afternoon during a paddle boarding/brainstorming session with my friend and bandmate Paddy Blight, we had the idea to do this live a cappella version of the song. Can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to meet these amazing musicians who literally came together in a few hours one day to learn, arrange and record this video! We recorded with Josiah Manning at Momentum Studios in Plymouth and had Jeff Walker on bass, Paddy, Elani Evangelou, Alex Hart, and Charlotte Robinson on backing vocals, and the video was filmed and edited by Jake Galvin.
MFL: Do you play live often and what are your favorite kinds of venues?
MB: I’ve been playing about 6-8 live shows a month (fewer right now since it’s January). My favourite kinds of venues are those where people are really there to listen to music and I get to play mostly my own songs. I play my fair share of pubs and restaurants which are all good experience and pay the bills, but having a captive audience is the dream. I’m opening for a fellow Canadian, Joey Landreth of the Bros. Landreth (who is UNREAL) at The Terrace in Exeter on February 5th, so really looking forward to that one!
MFL: What do you think some of the biggest differences are between your very first record and your newest record, In the Light?
MB: I think the songwriting has significantly improved and matured (or let’s hope it has considering I wrote most of my first album, Brave, when I was 16 and 17). The sound is also very different. Brave had more of a rock/blues/jazz tone throughout, whereas In the Light is pop/soul and a lot more contemporary. Brave was also recorded with a full band live off the floor, and although In the Light still has live guitar, bass and piano, a lot of the production was programmed.
MFL: What is your favorite song on your new record to sing live and why?
MB: When I’m lucky enough to play with a band, my favourite song to perform is probably ‘Real Tonight’ because it has such an awesome groove and melody, and the audience always seems to get into it even if they haven’t heard it before. But usually I’m playing solo, and my favourite is definitely ‘In the Light’ because I get to relive the feeling I had when I wrote it (excited, unbelievable, butterflies-in-your-stomach falling in love).
MFL: Finally, if I were to put your iPod on shuffle, what is the strangest thing I might hear?
MB: I have these tracks on there that I sing along to when I do my vocal warmups. And also lots of worktapes or voice notes of songs in the making.
LACEI is a musical duo based out of LA. Viktor Ahlgren and Jessica Lombardozzi came together after meeting in business class, both bringing unique musical aspects to their project. Their music merges musical concepts, genres and styles that give LACEI a truly novel sound. Viktor (Vik) and Jessica (Jess) took the time to answer some questions about the origin of LACEI, their debut EP, 11:11, and their concert venue wishlists. Check it out!
MFL: How did the two of you come together to make LACEI and what is the meaning of your musical project’s name?
Jess and ViK (J&V): First, it’s great to be connecting with Music For Lunch; always amazing to be involved with supporters of the arts and upcoming artists.
ViK: We met in a music business class at our university and started to collaborate. I believe the initial origin of the name Lacei may have been inspired from Jessica’s obsession with Flyleaf lol, but then it definitely just fit the persona of the music we were creating.
MFL: I love the unique sounds that you have merged in LACEI. There is something gentle and folk-like about the vocals but it is meshed flawlessly with the kind of electronic music that is flooding the music sphere right now, creating something so innovative. I feel like “Cold Moon” is the perfect example of this. What kind of music-listeners are you trying to reach with this new sound?
Jess: Thank you very much. It seems that you understand what it is we are doing. We do not like to create boundaries or categorize, therefore we want to reach anyone and everyone that can relate to our stuff.
MFL: What is the overarching story you are telling with 11:11 and what is the significance of the EP title? 11:11 was always the time that I would make a wish when I was growing up!
Jess: We kept on seeing the numbers 11:11 everywhere, and I mean everywhere lol. In fact, the night we were discussing EP titles Viktor randomly looked at his phone and there it was again. So, we figured that was a sign haha. The spiritual meaning of 11:11 is that it is a sign of doing something right and being on the right path.
MFL: In your opinions, who are the musicians that are making waves today and how do they differ in sound and content compared to the musicians you grew up with?
J&V: Bon Iver. His latest album is a master piece. Vernon was able to create something unique and innovative with all this new sound and texture while at the same time keeping the ‘folky feeling’ as Bon Iver is known for. The album is also very short, only 34 min, which also is not very common, and the songs titles are crazy.
Another artist that is making waves is DJ Dahi who we have been privileged to work with. Dahi is an amazing producer and his tracks are always very interesting. He can bring out something different and unique in the artists he is working with and his beats always stands out from the rest.
MFL: Are there other songs in your musical treasure chest besides the four that appear on the 11:11 EP? If so, why didn’t they make it onto the EP?
Viktor: Yes! We have a huge repertoire of songs. But we thought these four records were enough to get the listeners an idea of what LACEI is while not revealing too much, leaving them interested in hearing more.
MFL: What do each of you bring to LACEI that is unique?
VIktor: Jess is amazing with topline, I’m working the tracks… we meet in the middle on melodies. Also, I’m a male, she’s a female; that always brings unique perspectives.
MFL: Why is LA your musical hub and how, if at all, does the culture influence your music?
J&V: LA is where we met, live and go to school. We are hitting the road to explore the world. We love to travel!
MFL: If you could pick your top 5 cities/venues to play in the world, where/what would they be?
- Coachella – because it’s Coachella haha.
- Glastonbury (England) – Looks like a super dope festival.
- Way Out West (Sweden) – because Viktor is from Sweden and he has always wanted to play back home.
- Hollywood Bowl – because it is such a chill venue and we saw Bon Iver there and it was absolutely amazing.
- Red Rocks Amphitheater – it just looks crazy.
MFL: If I were to dig through the music you listen to personally, what do you think would be the most surprising find?
Jess: Binary beats. Does that count as music? lol
ViK: That I am a huge fan of folk music haha.
MFL: Where and when can your fans find you playing live in the next couple of months?
J&V: Currently in the studio working hard on the album and hitting the road in the new year.
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.
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.
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!