Music video

Interview: For Esmé

Toronto singer/songwriter, Mar Meredith (AKA For Esmé), and I have been emailing back and forth for the last couple of years. The music she shares with me always highlights a sense of female empowerment and self-awareness that was relevant when our musical relationship began and is even more relevant now. Mar’s music is steeped in meaning, her lyrics deep in thought. She recently released the music video for her latest single, “Modern Love.” Together with director Nick Tiringer, they captured the essence of “Modern Love” in a visual form. The video and single were greatly inspired by Joan Didion’s 1961 essay, “On Self Respect.” Mar discussed this and much more with me in detail. Enjoy the video and read all about it below:

 

 

MFL: When did music become an integral part of your life and when was For Esme born?

Music has been pretty central for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a farm outside a small town, so music always made me feel connected to a broader world and big ideas that I craved having more access to.

For Esmé came into being in 2013 and has had a rotating cast depending on what I’m making and working on. It was inspired by J.D. Salinger’s ‘For Esme with Love and Squalor’. I’ve recently learned some troubling stuff about Salinger, which has called the band name into question in a new light. The character Esmé is this very precocious thirteen-year-old girl though, who is sharp as a tack and wants to be a jazz singer. She’s very outspoken — arguably rude — while trying to sound sophisticated. Regardless of my thoughts on Salinger I still feel very beholden to the character Esmé and like to imagine now writing these songs of empowerment for her, or a modern version of her.

 

MFL: You mention the essay, “On Self Respcet”, by Joan Didion as a “bible/map” for you. How did Joan Didion’s essay find you or rather, how did you find it?

I seem to remember first reading it soon after moving into the first apartment I ever had to myself. I remember scrawling “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs” on a post-it note and sticking it right on the front face of my desktop. It stayed there for years until I switched over to a laptop full time. It felt really important to remember that. I think social connectedness/social media makes it especially hard for us to center ourselves in our own character, to be true to ourselves and not fret over everyone else’s opinions of us. But like Joan Didion says “the dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough”. It’s easy to fool other people, but the person you have to face at the end of the day is yourself — and whether or not YOU like what you see is what determines your own sense of fulfillment.

 

MFL: It seems like you have spent a lot of time thinking about self-care and self-respect. When did you know that you wanted to write a song about it?

My interest in song writing has almost always been about self-discovery. About knowing myself, speaking through my truest voice. I find that society makes doing that hard — truth telling is not ultimately encouraged or appreciated in our glossy Instagram world. I read a fascinating and rather heartbreaking report in the Atlantic called “The Confidence Gap” that described in a lot of detail the way women in our culture are brought up to be less sure of themselves, to be less outspoken. I also read a lot about female anger and the ways that it is treated very differently from male anger. I think the emotional display by Brett Kavanaugh the week before last is an interesting (and frustrating) example. If a woman had behaved that way she would have been ripped to shreds for being overly emotional, defensive, shrill. It’s such a double standard. Anyway, I read a lot of psychology studies about these things when writing the record and it really enforced the importance of self-care and self-respect. Of believing in yourself, listening to yourself, speaking your truth. A lot of the songs on the record wrestle with frustration, so Modern Love is a nice break from that: it’s a big affirmation.

 

MFL: Do you feel a certain level of release/relief when you write, record and share a song about something that has occupied this much space in your mind? Explain.

Absolutely. To be honest, turning a deeply internalized feeling, or a realization about myself into a song that feels so right and true is the greatest high I probably ever experience in life. It’s euphoric, it’s a huge sense of emotional release and relief, like a puzzle solved at last. That high is a rare occurrence, and one that I find I’m always chasing. It can be such a long stretch between those emotional/musical victories. Releasing the song can also bring relief, in the sense of getting some validation, but I find public validation doesn’t have the same longevity or substance as the personal creative victory does.

 

MFL: How did you and Nick Tiringer, the director of the music video for “Modern Love”, come to work together?

 Nick reached out to me about making a video and had a few ideas. As soon as I read the one about women singing the song to themselves in the mirror it was just “BINGO.” In writing the song I’d thought a lot about it being like a post-it note you’d stick to your mirror, to remind you to love yourself, to practice self-respect. Kind of like the Joan Didion post-it I had for myself. It just fit the intention of the song perfectly.

 

MFL: What was it about the collection of women you chose for your music video that spoke to the idea behind the song?

Nick and I, and our producer Amanda Foates all reached out to different women in our circles to be in the video, and we were thrilled with the response. It was important to me that the video show that women of all ages, backgrounds and aesthetics need daily affirmations from themselves. It was so special for me to watch all these different folks interpret my words in their own way in that little bathroom. It made my heart swell.

 

MFL: Why is the track called “Modern Love?” Is there something new about this kind of self-respect or perhaps it’s something that has gotten lost and needs to be regained in society?

I got engaged not too long before writing this song, and I was surprised and frustrated with how I felt people were treating the event as ‘the biggest accomplishment of my life’. I didn’t feel like my now husband was treated that same way at all. It felt like women’s lives are so often defined by their relationships to men. The hardest part was realizing that in my past I had sometimes defined myself by my ability to attract and maintain relationships with men I was infatuated with and I hated that. So I wanted to send a message to myself and to contemporary women at large that we are enough, we are complete on our own, that rather than obsessing about finding love from someone else, we have to focus on loving ourselves.

 

MFL: How has your music changed or developed over time since the beginnings of For Esme?

If you hear anything from my first (self-titled) record in 2013 you’ll hear a pretty drastic change from that to the next two. At the time I was writing all my songs at the piano and they were accompanied by electric guitar. I hadn’t started writing and producing my work electronically yet then — I don’t think I had even considered that I was capable! Starting to demo songs in logic and create the soundscapes myself with arpeggiators, plugins, delays, it all opened up a whole new world. Suddenly I had the tools to make a kind of music I had always enjoyed consuming. Now my knowledge about electronic production has grown immensely, and I feel the need to actually hone it in again. To make my next collection with a more narrowed scope and focus and really develop a specific new sound palette.

 

MFL: What is in store for the remainder of 2018 and next year?

Coming up right away we have shows in Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Peterborough and Kingston that we’re really looking forward to. Once that wraps up I am really looking forward to spending November furthering the new songs I’ve been working on. I also have a great video collaboration with Laura Lynn Petrick to release in the near future! In January we are excited to be heading out to the east coast for the first time to play In The Dead Of Winter Festival in Halifax. We are working now on routing more tour dates around that. It is my hope to travel to the West Coast early next year, too. We have a lot of listeners out there and have yet to go.

 

Big thanks to Mar Meredith for continuing our musical friendship and taking the time to share her thoughts with MFL and all its readers. You can follow her on Facebook, her official website, and Spotify. Her latest record, Righteous Woman, is out now.

Featured Image PC: Vanessa Heins

New music video from Norwegian-Brooklyn duo, The Familiar

Musical collaborations like that of The Familiar’s are becoming more and more common with what technology, email and smart phones allow us to do. Ruth Mirsky is based out of Brooklyn and Mads Martinsen is in Tromsø, Norway, deep into the Arctic Circle. Ruth and Mads met at a Christmas party some time ago where Ruth shared her music with Mads and the rest is history. Neither felt daunted by the whopping 4000 miles between them and what came of their collaboration was something beautiful. Just shy of two years ago, I interviewed them about their collaboration (you can read it here) and a couple weeks ago they released their newest music video for the track, “Stuck Together.”

“Stuck Together” is a cinematic beauty in both a sonic and visual sense. It glides through that electro-pop sound that The Familiar has claimed as their own, the video following the love between a young boy and girl from start to finish. The video jumps around in the timeline of the couple’s lives together, just like our minds fly through memories and try to predict the future. The track together with the video creates something that is both sweet and tender but also painful, in a way. Check it out:

 

 

Follow The Familiar on Facebook and Bandcamp.

Soulful electronic from C.O.W. 牛 ft. Alxndr London: “Glitch”

C.O.W. 牛 always brings something a bit unexpected to the table, whether it’s sonic or visual. The German-Chinese electronic duo has an incredible way of merging beats with bizarrely rich visuals of gaudy indulgences. Characters in their videos are often decked out with over-the-top jewelry, moving in slow motion to whatever juicy track C.O.W. 牛 created. The most recent release, “Glitch”, was a major collaboration with both acclaimed electronic musician, Alxndr London, and dancer, Amie Georgsson Jammeh. Alxndr London just released his latest EP, 2023, and it’s already receiving a lot of attention. Clash says 2023 “merges murky electronics with future soul to create something incredible, and truly other-worldly.”

In my opinion (may be biased as I am a dancer myself), Swedish/German dancer, Amie, makes the video. Her movements are not inspired by the music, they make the music. Each jolt, pop and glitch comes from her body. Her freedom of movement mixes flawlessly with the wild beats; smooth and melancholic, sharp and natural. Amie had this to say about what dance means to her:

“Dance is something so essential to all living creatures, and I never really thought about why I do it. It just happens. Because why not. Why not express yourself through dance and movements. It’s just another language really. Another voice. And it opens up so many possibilities. Possibilities to express, explore and discover new things. It’s a great way to test the limits in all aspects of life.”

 

You can follow C.O.W. 牛 on Facebook, their official website and all those other ways we do social media.

New music video from The Woods: “Armchair Expert”

“Armchair Expert” comes to us from Scottish-born Johnny McFadzean who makes music under the name, The Woods. Johnny spent his childhood as a classically trained member of a world class choir and is now making hypnotically stunning electronic music. “Armchair Expert” is an excellent example of this. The accompanying music video tips you sideways. You’re not quite sure whether the armchair is laying on the floor or propped up against a wall with a carpet behind it. Neither really makes sense until objects start to appear, unfolding, crawling and making bizarre shapes. The track builds in complexity throughout with McFadzean’s mesmerizing voice hovering above.

This is what McFadzean had to say about the track:

“The song is a wee response to all the ‘armchair experts’ who tell you what you can and can’t do, that it’s a terrible idea to step out and take a chance for fear of failing. I don’t mind falling out of trees because it turns out I love climbing them.” 

Now check it out for yourself:

 

Follow The Woods on Facebook and Spotify.

New single and music video from Montreal brothers, Maybelleen: “Hey Ruby”

MFL and Maybelleen have had a longstanding musical relationship. The brother duo (Pierre-Louise Camiré and Charles-Emile Camiré) was one of MFL’s first interviews back in 2015. Since then, they’ve consistently been producing the classic Maybelleen poprock. The brothers have nailed a genre that both represents something fresh and current but also has a classic retro rock sound to it. Upon interviewing them a few years ago, I was instantly  caught by how motivated the young brothers were. Now they’re at it again with the release of their newest single, “Hey Ruby”, which is off of their upcoming EP, Neon Lights & Magic Moments, due out May 18th.

This is what Maybelleen had to say about their new single/music video that they produced themselves:

 “It introduces you to short clips of life events, ranging from astronauts trainings to romance scenes from the 20th century. We obviously got inspired by our UK tour and all the people we’ve met through our journey. We wanted show different state of minds/emotions that we all experience when laughing, saying goodbye, being focused or having one’s head in the cloud. We played this gig in Glasgow, one of our best night, the crowd was really into it and we decided to go at the after party… There was this girl that no one really knew, standing alone, she looked mysterious. We decided to chill with her and we soon got to know each other’s names. Hers was Ruby. Everyone was just jamming with guitars and this song popped out. We pretty much jammed until the light of day.”

 

 

Stay tuned for more from Maybelleen and keep your ears peeled for Neon Lights & Magic Moments (May 18th).

 

New video from Kane Strang: “Silence Overgrown”

“Silence Overgrown” is an example of just what Kane Strang does best. If you’re expecting something outrageous, infectious hooks or poppy melodies, you’re listening in the wrong place. If you’re hoping for some good old, even-keeled, simply solid drowsy pop, Kane Strang is the band for you. His clever cut and dry lyrics go hand in hand with the simple melodies.  The video for “Silence Overgrown” is a collection of shots from Kane Strang’s previous tour. Kane commented on this experience:

“Landing in New York ahead of our first overseas shows and walking around that night was hands down the most surreal moment of my life. I never even thought I’d visit America, let alone be there for my music and I’m so glad we managed to capture fragments of that and the rest of this crazy year on camera. This goes out to everyone who has come see us play or let us crash at their houses or bought the album. Thank you!!!”

 

 

String Cheese, Kane Strang’s previous release, was one of my favorite records of 2016. It was stark and kind of bizarre listening for me at first but once I settled into the austerity of it, I loved it. Kane Strang’s new record, Two Hearts And No Brain, is out now on Dead Oceans.

Photo Credit: Loulou Callister-Baker

Alex Cameron + Angel Olsen + Girls’, Jemima Kirke

When I saw these three names appear together in one email, I immediately stopped what I was doing. Who wouldn’t want a music video directed by and starring the lovely Jemima Kirke, set to the tune of the one and only, Alex Cameron and featuring siren songstress, Angel Olsen? The video not only features Cameron’s exceptionally eccentric dance moves but Kirke’s interpretation as well. Cameron’s lyrics, gyrations, and overall musical intellect is bizarre, undoubtedly from another time and so inexplicably delicious.

 

 

Cameron’s upcoming record, Forced Witness, is out September 8th via Secretly Canadian.

Norwegian female trio, I See Rivers, releases latest single: “DA RAM”

Th gals, Eline Brun, Gøril Nilsen, and Lill Scheie, call their newfound genre, ‘float pop.’ You’ll understand it when you hear it. Genre appropriately named, their newes single, “DA RAM”, is loaded with fantastic harmonies and glittering instrumentals that most certainly give their music a ‘floating’ sound. The video is a piece of eye candy, similary equipped with glitter, bounce, and an overwhelming sense of peace at it’s end. Check it out:

 

 

I See Rivers is releasing their first EP, Standing Barefoot, next month (April), keep your ears peeled and in the mean time follow them on Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Album Review: “Rock and Roll Bye Bye” by SKATERS

As a listener, you don’t really know what to expect when the opening track begins. It’s soft, simple, echoes in the back of your mind. Then it explodes, and blasts full speed ahead. You know you’re in for a wild ride on SKATERS’ sophomore full length, Rock and Roll Bye Bye. The trio is based in NYC and recently parted ways with Warner Brothers record label to take full control of their musical product. The new LP which is due out March 24th is going to be released on the band’s own label, Yonks Records.

 The opening cut, “Just Like Your Mother”, bleeds into the hippy dippy psych-rock track, “Northern Soul.” The track rides like a smooth wave, swaying the listener back and forth, eyes closed. But, at the same time it maintains a raw quality, a bit of an edge, gritty guitar and sandy vocals, smoothed over by psychedelic strings and fading out hand claps at the end.

“Head on to Nowhere” has a bit more of a grunge feel and retro rock tune, “Song 19 (Revisited)” is short and sweet, highlighting the true diversity in sound on Rock and Roll Bye Bye. Slower tracks like “Restless Babe” and “I’m Not a Punk” offer clever lyricism to make up for the lack in speed. “I’m Not a Punk” is a sweet little ballad where the band pleads, “Come on man, I’m not a punk! I’m a punk rocker,” as these two characters really are different.

My personal favorite on the album is “Respect the Hustle.” The track has a lighthearted darkness (yes this is possible) to it, and pushes the bands focus to a more electronic feel. They sing:

 

New York, New York, New York, New York

Is the city of dreams.

Some come from far and wide to see what that means.

It’ll take your heart out just to see how you bleed.

New York, New York, New York,

It’s a heartbreak machine.

 

Deep, gravely vocals, sliding electronic beeps and boops, and interesting chord progressions make the track a unique listen.

The record rounds out with the penultimate title track, perhaps paying homage to the infamous chamber choir vocals of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones and finishes with the single, “In Your Head.” The accompanying music video follows a young teenage girl who wanders through a rainy town, dancing, kicking and stomping in frustration but at moments expressing pure bliss and resolution. The video captures the complicated innerworkings of the human mind:

 

 

 

The LP leaves you feeling satisfied and refreshed, not bored or exhausted from listening to the same genre for 12 tracks. The full spectrum of rock-related genres is visited and at the start of each track, you don’t really know what you’re in for. Give SKATERS’ upcoming LP a chance because, they’re not punks! They’re punk rockers! Rock and Roll Bye Bye is due out March 24th on Yonks Records and you can pre-order on iTunes now.

Interview: Trapdoor Social

Trapdoor Social found its way into my inbox via their powerful music video for the track, “Never Stop Listening”, featuring incredible footage from Standing Rock. Before I go on, check it out:

 

 

I was stunned when I read their bio. This has to be one of the most community-oriented, generous group of fellows who also make music, that I’ve heard of! They’re always seeking out opportunities to give back to their community, to music and other groups that need support. I asked the band about their music, generous endeavors and their stunning footage from Standing Rock. The band is Merritt Graves, Skylar Funk, Louie Gonzalez, Patrick Griffen and Ben Ebert. Skylar Funk represents the band and their answers below:

 

MFL: The philanthropic nature of your band is incredible. How do you find time to support so many environmental, and other, causes while also maintaining a healthy touring and songwriting schedule?

Skylar Funk of Trapdoor Social (SF): Thank you. We try to leverage our existing endeavors – for example, pre-selling the Science Of Love EP to fundraise for Homeboy Industries, or using festival revenue from Sunstock to help Kids Cancer Connection. There can be a lot of energy generated in the entertainment world… if we can use some of that to affect change, we can do it sustainably and still take care of ourselves.

 

MFL: Tell me the story of how you ended up at Standing Rock. Who from TDS was there to represent the band?

SF: The struggle at Standing Rock got our attention in the fall and especially after the election, feeling the need for direct action, we decided to go for the first week of December, when the Army Corps first threatened to remove protesters. Patrick, Louie and I went, along with a handful of other friends. We took the TDS tour rig with the solar trailer to charge devices for people and otherwise support the camp with our electricity.

 

MFL: What were the steps you took after visiting Standing Rock to create the stunning video for “Never Stop Listening” and why was this song fitting for the footage?

SF: Mexican filmmaker Alexandra Velasco was one of our crew, and upon arrival she applied for a press pass to shoot this project. She explored the camp, striking up conversations, helping with chores, and asking permission to take video portraits. I think you can feel the warmth of her connections in those portraits, and her scenery work is beautiful as well.

The song is about fighting for what you believe in, even when it hurts. It’s inspired by the burnout sensation you get when there’s so much bad news… As an environmentalist, personally, I’ve found it crushing at times to take in what’s happening to the world around me (especially since last November…) but I believe that we must stay engaged, informed, on the front lines.

I don’t think I need to explain much more… it felt like an obvious fit when we were planning the trip north and didn’t have a video yet for NSL.

 

MFL: What did you learn from your time at Standing Rock as musicians and as humans?

SF: It was incredible to learn more about native american culture and follow their leadership. There were plenty of other people there to help – folks who had dropped what they were doing to come from all over the world to help as well… Fantastic, generous, super interesting people everywhere.

Really the only kind of music in the camp was indigenous. There was a PA by the sacred fire where folks spoke and sang from the crack of dawn until late every night. We heard some beautiful vocals and flutes… definitely a kind of music I didn’t have much exposure to before.

 

MFL: How did TDS go from being a duo to a 5-piece and what has that transition been like?

SF: We have grown and changed shape since Merritt and I started the band in 2011. Mostly a process of changing members for better compatibility of vision and more belief in what we’re doing. I mean, what are the chances you have all the right guys from the very beginning? Growing can be painful but as a result everything gets better and better.

 

MFL: If possible, tell me how each of you found yourself living the life of a musician and reflect on one of your first memories of music.

SF: It was fun hearing from the guys on this.

Patrick talked about his first band in 8th grade being “horrible” and playing for an audience that was “either laughing or looking appalled at what they were enduring”… yet he had the time of his life, and knew in that moment he wanted to do it forever. He says music “is how I make sense of the world and how I deal with pain.”

Louie said “As a child, every time I found myself playing some sort of musical instrument, I found a certain peace within myself that I couldn’t find with any other thing. As I grew older and took playing music more seriously I knew it was something that I had to do for a living.”

For me, it was always a hobby – musical theater, jazz and marching band, a cappella and a funk jam band in college, songwriting here and there – until after college. I started working desk jobs with my degree, but I was watching some friends get into the LA music scene professionally and decided to go for it myself.

 

MFL: Are there any musicians out there today that inspire the sound and/or style of TDS?

SF: Death Cab For Cutie has long been an influence of Merritt and mine, and in fact their drummer Jason McGerr recorded drums on our first couple EPs… such an honor. Other influences include Muse, Radiohead, Tame Impala, alt-J, etc., etc.

 

MFL: Discuss a couple highlights of your current tour and name a couple destinations your looking forward to.

SF: We played the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, one of our long-time favorite venues anywhere, on the booker’s birthday. We had a great time with him and a beautiful crowd. We also had extremely warm welcomes to our first shows in Chattanooga and Knoxville… so Tennessee is definitely a new high-priority stop on future tours. We’re really looking forward to a solar festival in Gainesville, FL, and a run up through the Pacific Northwest (my homeland) later this spring.

 

MFL: SXSW! Have you ever been? If so, how was your experience? If not, what are you anticipating most about this venue?

SF: Yeah, Merritt and I played it a few years ago when there wasn’t really much of a core band beside the two of us. It was pretty crazy… a million shows going on at once. Looking forward to being there but not 100% what to expect – we’ll set up the solar stage if we get a chance. Either way it’s an awesome town and I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

 

MFL: Finally, once your tour is up in March, what’s next?

SF: Touring off and on all spring, probably through the summer too. See, we really want to get back to LA for a while to get started on another album, but that’s when the weather gets really good for solar shows… So I imagine we’ll be on the road a lot this year.

 

Thank you to Jessica Mora for connecting me with the band and for Skylar for answering my questions and gathering the band to answer some of my questions as well. You can catch the band touring this month:

March 7th, Charleston, SC, The Royal American
March 8th, Awendaw, SC, Barn Jam
March 11th, St. Augustine, FL, Genungs Fish Camp
March 14th, Austin, TX, SXSW
March 15th, Austin, TX, SXSW
March 16th, Austin, TX, SXSW
March 17th, Austin, TX, SXSW
March 18th, Austin, TX, SXSW
March 19th, Huston, TX, Super Happy Funland
March 20th, Dallas, TX, The Door
March 22nd, Wichita, KS, Mead’s Corner
March 23rd, Omaha, NE, Down Under Lounge
March 24th, Iowa City, IA, Yacht Club
March 25th, Chicago, IL, Moe’s Tavern
March 27th, Milwaukee, WI, Cactus Club

March 29th, Minneapolis, MN, Nomad World Pub