Dear Apollo ready for launch with debut release

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(Before you read this review, I would highly suggest reading (or rather listening) to my prior piece before this one on the Ithaca, NY-based band Dear Apollo via my radio segment The Arts Beat. If you haven’t already of course. I feel like it really adds another great layer to this story.)

But anyway, onto the EP. Having recently met both Ben Robinson and AJ Dicembre (the core members of Dear Apollo) for the purpose of conducting the aforementioned Arts Beat interview, I feel like I possess an added level of context for this album review that I don’t normally get to receive. And that really gives it an interesting spin.

For one thing, hearing firsthand how the pair recorded this debut album in separate locations and in many stages via the computer program Dropbox doesn’t ruin or take away from the evident chemistry contained on the EP. In fact, it makes it more impressive listening to Dicembre and Robinson reach through the traditionally disassociated membrane of technology with something that makes every effort to connect with its audience.

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Exploring the thought of that borderline between futuristic feats and the fragile nature of humanity makes opening track “Parachute” a perfect way to set the scene of the EP. Pulsing with synthesizers like the gentle wave of a heartbeat, the song makes the Dear Apollo name feel literal as the emotional turmoil of the lyrics seems to play out over the shiny blue Earth spinning far down below.

Similar terms apply for following song “Won’t Stay, Won’t Go”, which has a David Byrne and Brian Eno sense of chorus in the higher tempo sections before settling into more gradual areas of moody guitar strums and blooping background textures. The wide-ranging influences of Robinson and Dicembre get a chance to play on third track “Your Way”, as vibes initially resembling The National get a folk-bearing twist of The Avett Brothers with the presence of banjo that seems to float up out of the mists. Its arguably the moment the record pauses most to get reflectively introspective, calling to mind Elliott Smith titles like Figure 8 where Smith’s confessional murmurs were met with more fully-fleshed arrangements.

Closing with the infectious bop of pop-rocker “Indestructible” gives the EP’s finish just the hook it needs to bring the listener back to the start, which comes quickly with an overall runtime of just over 10 minutes. Not exactly a lengthy amount of time for either an audition or making a first impression, but Dear Apollo proves themselves worthy of the challenge on this versatile, impactful debut.

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For more on the band, check them out at dearapollo.com. 

 

 

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Making Introductions: Dear Apollo

I had a lot of fun with this one.

Dear Apollo is an Ithaca, NY-based band led by good friends Anthony Dicembre and Ben Robinson. As part of my radio segment The Arts Beat, I had the recent opportunity to interview both Dicembre and Robinson in studio and talk more about their self-titled EP (which you can hear above; a full version will come out here eventually). We talk about a lot of great material including how the pair made their album entirely over Dropbox, which is one of the coolest musical creation stories I’ve heard in a while.

I’ll say this much, when it comes to interviews I’ve had with musicians in local music both here and around the Northeast I have had a lot of wonderful experiences. Not only from the standpoint of having met/worked with a lot of genuinely friendly people, but also because there are just such great stories to tell.

And Robinson and Dicembre have a good one. Go give it a listen, and if you want to know more check out the band at http://www.dearapollo.com.

And to think, its almost Christmas…

a0024741739_16So we’re getting ever closer to wrapping up 2017, but first we welcome in the night where the guy with the red suit and all the reindeer has the world’s children in baited breath waiting for the 25th to come.

Of course, once you get to be an adult you realize there’s a lot more to it than that, but I think the best thing we can hope for is that when the meals are made and the people are together that it was worth the trip. And if I can pass along any advice when it comes to wandering through that minefield of decisions, its this: always make the days this time of year as worthwhile as you can. We only get so many, and with it being a very uncertain time in the world these days I think its all the more critical to appreciate everything that’s important to you.

Because you deserve it. Yes, you reading this. Just be sure to pay it forward where you can too, cause that… that feels pretty nice.

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But anyway, because this is a music site lets get back on topic and wrap up a few quick notes as we start to think about a new year.

  • Coming up next week, I’m very much looking forward to posting a music-themed collaboration from my day job on the radio that ties perfectly into something I like doing to close up a year in music. There’ll be five installments starting the day after Christmas, and I’ll explain more when it launches!
  • I’ve got a couple of really special reviews coming up soon as we transition to 2018. Both are still just a work in progress right now but there’s gonna be a lot of great elements as well as another audio interview in the mix. Everything is certainly subject to change, but I hope to get those out as I envision in my mind.
  • And as ever, I’m hoping to post here as much as I can and get out content every chance possible as we get into 2018, but I still don’t see a point coming where I can be consistent right now. Just a lot of busy going on everywhere, but regardless its going to be a lot of fun to chime in as much as I can!

Now lastly, while I could close this post by recommending Christmas-themed music choices ranging from Bruce Springsteen doing “Merry Christmas Baby” to John Lennon singing “Merry Xmas (War Is Over)”, I’m going to go with something a bit more recent. New York City product Megan Talay won a lot of praise from me this year for the snarling Joan Jett girl-rock sound of her latest EP, and with that formula in mind she went in the studio and recorded an original Christmas song that fits the mold just as well.

Now this is a song with a few curse words, so I will preface it with the NSFW label. But otherwise, get ready to dig in here.

And happy holidays everyone!

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Pop rock roars with life on smashing “Talay”

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Break out your headphones or roll down your windows, because one of the most anthem-filled EPs of 2017 has arrived.

And its made its way to the world in the form of Megan Talay’s 2nd album, simply entitled Talay. If that (self-titled) album title is meant to indicate a greater ownership of the sound of these songs, it leaves one hell of an impression burning in its embers.

While Talay’s debut Piece By Piece was certainly a strong beginning start, it was more of a creamy Ani DeFranco center surrounded by an acoustic coating. Talay instead rips up that formula and replaces it with spastic electric guitars, brilliantly cutting, lip curled like a punk rock heroine lyrics, and a sense of constant crowd-surfing spirit thats more than worth a few stage dives.

Talay is essentially the all night party living next door to a rave. Even the initially-drifting “I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere” groundswells into a belting riff-roaring growl of taunting defiance against a douchebag ex-boyfriend (maybe the same charming percussionist from prior romper “Drummer of the Band”). The album fluently demonstrates Talay’s proficiency for early to well into the-2000’s pop rock, embodying the guitars of Prince’s final all female band 3rdeyegirl and the vocal twistings of a revival straight out of Josie & The Pussycats or The Runaways.

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Talay manages to channel the heart and earworm choruses of those girl power outlets into one of the best rock EPs of the last several years. And not because it requires the technical proficiency of a Fleet Foxes album being reviewed by Pitchfork. Music is not a complex animal that requires a thesis statement.

Sometimes, the best music is all about feel. And Talay has it all the way to her “Parent’s House” and back again.

Grade: A

Songs To Download: “Parent’s House”, “I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere”, “City”

Listen Here: http://www.talay.bandcamp.com

Shaking The Dust Off My Interview Feathers With Pinkwing’s Joanna Levine

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Spring transitioning into summer is usually one of those times where people dread spiraling weather patterns, dodge rain like someone unknowingly moved them into the heart of downtown Seattle, and start to gradually plan out fireworks, yearly beach trips and a surprising amount of egg salad they plan to prepare.

However in the case of yours truly, while I do enjoy a few of those aforementioned items I tend to focus on the coming year of music. And while we’ve already had a few records more than worth mentioning, this point of time starts to be the transition where tours really start to heat up, releases drop like flies every few weeks, and musicians start making their respective moves (earlier than noon one would hope, though I can’t vouch for that since I’m usually asleep).

Regardless, it’s a fun time and it’s especially fun when you’re a music journalist that’s really started to make connections with the underground talent still paying it’s dues. As someone still gladly working hard to pay my own dues each and every single day, I identify with these wonderful folks much more closely than those artists who have major record deals or a top single on the iTunes charts.

No offense to them, but I understand the fight to succeed in your niche with much greater sharpness of clarity at this point in my life. And anytime I get to connect or talk to someone else fighting that same battle, I feel like it not only brings those of you reading this greater content, but also brings that community of us just a little bit closer together.

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So on that note, after a bit of an OTBEOTB hiatus I’m glad to return with an interview I conducted recently with the wonderful Joanna Levine, AKA the frontwoman of the Brooklyn bands Pinkwing and Joannas ‘n Bananas. Among other things we get to talk about those bands, her last Pinkwing EP Honey & Salt, a bit of musical background, and much much more. Enjoy!

1. So leading off, I like to start with the nuts and bolts and get straight into the basics. How did you end up getting into music as a career path, and what influenced you into making the jump from playing/learning in private to wanting to take that to stages to share with people? I know you describe the band’s influences as “times, places, people, stories, love, lust, confusion, heartbreak, and pancakes”, and since that piques my interest quite a bit more than the usual list of bands or artists musicians usually cite, I’m highly intrigued by that creative… vortex of thought there.

(JL): I got started, I think, by writing poetry in high school. I also quit piano lessons and was originally forced to pick up guitar by my mom, who wanted me to continue with any instrument. I was 12- I ended up quitting then too- but picked it up again around age 14 when I realized I wanted to accompany myself singing. Started out just learning open chords. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17. and my second when I was 20 or so. My guitar playing and songwriting career has been a series of starts and stops. But I did start playing open mics when I was at school for theatre studies at York University in Toronto. I remember being so nervous and my hands shaking so bad I could barely get through all the way through a song. I think I always wanted to perform, despite growing up as a somewhat introverted/shy kid.

My first actual band was with my friend Alana Livesey when we were living in Beijing, China. We played a few gigs and recorded a few covers and the first original songs I ever wrote.

Then I moved to NY in the late summer of 2006 for design school and started dating a trumpet player (Justin Davis) who introduced me to more musicians and encouraged me to start pursuing music more seriously. New York is pretty amazing like that. It gave me permission to pursue ambitions that I never allowed myself to indulge before- because of upbringing or preconceived notions of what’s realistic. I met a lot of people who were playing out and quickly realized how badly I wanted to as well. I kept asking people to join my band and they usually said yes. By the time I finished school I had no intention of following the path I had moved to NY pursue and started trying to figure out how to play and write as much music as possible.

The influences I sited are part joke part truth. The past 10ish years in NYC have felt like several lifetimes- multiple relationships, apartments, career-paths, friend circles. It’s so transient. It makes me feel like a survivor just to have stayed for so long. Most of the friends I made in my first 5 years have left. I don’t eat as many pancakes as I used to, I’m both happy and sad to report *laughs*. 

2. And as a bit of an add on to that question, was it playing an instrument that led you into writing songs? Or were you writing first and playing an instrument just came after that?

(JL): I played guitar and wrote poetry separately (to deal with teen angst!). It felt funny- kind of just an experiment when I wrote my first few songs. I didn’t realize it would become a lifetime fascination. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just fucking around. honestly I’m still just fucking around. I have pretty limited music theory knowledge, I’m told it’s not necessarily an impediment- I’ve been told that too much theory in your head can really create a block too. At first I was frustrated by my limitations, but then I started embracing the simplicity- I love country and blues and roots music. That stuff isn’t complicated. So now I just try to shut up my inner critic and try to get back in touch with the ‘just messing around’ mentality.

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3. What led to the formation of Pinkwing itself? I know in your bio you state that you’re mostly a duo in more intimate venues and a quartet for the “rowdier stages”. How did that all come together, and is there a story behind the name Pinkwing itself? I’m always curious about unusual or interesting band names and how they came to be chosen.

(JL): I released my first Pinkwing EP before I met Rob (Pawlings). With some friends in Toronto backing me up. My former band, the Collectors felt like it was falling apart and I, for some reason, I felt the need to move home to Toronto for a bit- it didn’t stick- I moved back after 5 months. But I recorded the Restless EP there. I tried to bring on other band mates when I moved back but i was just floating, nothing stuck. Until I met Rob. We starting playing together shortly after we starting dating, joined by a few of his friends- Paul Madison and Kenny Shaw, great guitarist and drummer, respectively. Rob has a really wonderful and talented circle of musician friends I feel very lucky to have met. We got married 2 years ago so now he is my bass player and co-creator for life *laughs*.

Our friends Vinnie Presite and Andrew Rosario started joining us regularly last year and it’s a warm fuzzy harmonious line-up. I love those guys- Vinnie is an old friend of Rob’s from Utica and Andrew is an old friend of Vinnie’s from playing on cruise ships and is also from Toronto. I’m pretty stoked have those guys as they’re just great dudes and great musicians.

The name Pinkwing comes from a symbol I’ve loved for a long time- a flying pig that John Steinbeck used to stamp on his essays and letters with the latin phrase ‘ad astra per alia porci’ which means ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig’. He described himself as ‘a lumbering soul trying to fly’, I guess I identify with it. I liked it so much I got it tattooed on my back (just the pig).

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4. Now being that you’re in a band, what is that collaborative environment like amongst your bandmates? Are you more of the solo artist and the band just sorta follows along with the vision you’ve got for your music, or is that an equal opportunity environment? And how would you say that influences the multiple genres you touch on within EP’s like your newest “Honey & Salt”?

(JL): Well… I’m definitely the songwriter- all the songs I play with the guys are songs I wrote before I met them. Most of them were recorded before we started playing with Vinnie and Andrew- so I guess they play go for the vibe that is on the recordings to a degree but they are all experts at their instruments- so they definitely add their own tone to the songs- then songs that haven’t been recorded they definitely arrange their own parts. We just started working on a new song that I hadn’t played with a band before- so it’s the first time that we’re working out the arrangement as a totally collaborative process. It’s been really fun- I’m excited to write a bunch more new songs in the next year to work out together.

5. Now speaking of your latest EP (which is on pretty constant rotation here at OTBEOTB), what’s the story behind your lead song “The Reverend Robert Pawlings”? Because judging by the song he sounds like a pretty resourceful guy, and I notice he also happens to play bass in Pinkwing. Now is Robert a real Reverend (in addition to his many other alleged skills), or is there some deeper story to that?

(JL): The Reverend Robert Pawlings, as you may have guessed by now, is tribute to my husband of the same name. Yes he is an ordained internet Reverend *laughs*. He’s married several of his friends. The song was my wedding gift to him, which I recorded on the sly with our friend Jon Jetter at his Right Angle Studios in NYC, and enlisted the help of all Rob’s friends to sing/play for him at our wedding. Rob is a really special person. He has more energy and a bigger heart than anyone I have ever met. He keeps me grounded.

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6. I know we’re a little behind the ball in talking about your latest music (“Honey & Salt” dropped back in August of 2015). But if anything, I think it provides an interesting window into how the music matures over time. I find that to be one of the hardest parts of reviewing new music on a release day unless I’ve had a few weeks to study it, because it’s just too fresh to settle into where it should ultimately be right at that moment. How do you feel looking back at this latest EP compared to when you started making music? How do you feel it’s evolved, how do you feel you’ve evolved, and how do you feel like this music is “settling” so to speak looking back at it now?

(JL): The Honey & Salt EP is kind of a patchwork. it was recorded/mixed in 3 different studios. I think I learn something every time I release something. I love each of the songs on this album and I loved collaborating with the people who helped us put it together. I think my sensibilities have started to settle in… the musical direction I want to continue to pursue is there… I love blues rock. I want the next album we release to be a full length album- and I want it to be fucking gritty. I wrote SO many sad, folky songs for so long. I’m pretty sick of them. I want to write and record a roots and blues rock album next. It’ll still have a little bit of folk and country feel, But I’m really trying to move away from that and into more up-tempo blues rock.

7. You’re the first musician I’ve ever had the privilege to metaphorically sit down and interview who happens to have an additional children’s music side project band called Joannas ’n Bananas. After listening to and loving your cover of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” (complete with bubbles and kazoo solo), how do you end up having a children’s music side project band in the first place? Especially balanced against a pretty serious minded Americana-blues band in Pinkwing? I think it’s a really interesting contrast and I’d love to hear the backstory.

(JL): After abandoning the fashion industry and getting fired from several serving jobs, I started working as a nanny. Shortly thereafter I began teaching an early childhood music program called ‘music together’ . Eventually I began offering my own kids’ sing-alongs, occasionally joined by Rob and hence Joannas ‘n Bananas was born (Bananas is one of Rob’s many nicknames- Bobby Bananas). Teaching kids classes is still my bread and butter. I do it more and more- actually in the process of developing a new program I’ll be offering in Westchester starting this spring called Monkey Music ‘n Play. It takes up a lot of my time! It’s kind of a struggle to balance the two… I have a hard time deciding what I should be working on- the kids stuff is a lot more profitable- It’s hard to make a living playing the Pinkwing tunes- and I like teaching. It’s just a constant balancing act. I love Joannas ‘n Bananas but I wish I had more time to give to Pinkwing development too.

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8. Also I have to ask, who’s a better audience, the adults or playing for the kids?

(JL): Kids, if you can get and hold their attention, are a magical audience. They will straight up stand half a foot from your face and stare at you for an entire song. There is no filter and no sense of social convention. I love little kids.

9. Getting back into Pinkwing again, how does the creative process for new songs work for you exactly? Going back to question two for a moment, is it a matter of music coming before words, or do words develop that need to be set into music in your mind? I’m always very curious about that because I find that the question is very different for everyone I’ve asked, especially for people in a band.

(JL): I think I usually play around with chord progressions and then add lyrics. These days- I usually set out to write something specific. I like sitting down with a thematic goal in mind. To be totally honest I have written more kids songs than adult songs in the last year. Which is really fun and kind of freeing- I’m not really worried about a kids’ song being too simple. The simpler the better. But I really really want to get back to writing more Pinkwing tunes. The older I get the more conscious I need to get about how I spend my time. I think the only way I will sit down and carve out that time to write is if I spend money on a rehearsal space or make a song-writing date with a friend. It’s really something that’s at the forefront of my mind lately. Because I refuse to accept the notion that my most prolific period might be behind me. Fuck that. I just need to figure out a better system to get around to writing.

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10. And lastly, I know it’s only been about six months since your last EP, but are you already looking at future plans and songs for the next record? And what gigs and live stuff can people look forward to seeing you play at next if they like the record and want to see the music up close and in person?

(JL): We just moved into a house in Westchester with a great basement with a built-in vintage bar that We are slowly turning into a studio- I would love to release at least a single by the fall. and hopefully another album within the next year. Like i said, I need to write a bunch more new tunes. It’s happening. I’m excited to get set-up in the basement and record a whole album in one location.

We are playing quite a bit over the spring and summer- next up: brooklyn may 27, pete’s candy store, brooklyn june 3, rockwood music hall, NYC june 10, the back door, old forge, ny july 16th, the grape room, phillidelphia, pa

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Humongous, BIGGEST of BIG thanks to Joanna Levine of Pinkwing and Joannas ‘n Bananas for sitting down to interview with me! I love the content of doing this stuff as well as getting to know the artist, and I hope that you do too!

For more on Joanna, you can look up (and like!) either of her bands on Facebook, and by all means go and purchase the lovely Honey & Salt Pinkwing EP over on their Bandcamp page! If you do, not only are you doing the awesome thing of supporting independent artistry, but you might also get something as cool as this for buying the physical CD!

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Rothschild’s “Carolina” Carries Wealth of Country-Folk Charisma

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As a writer who was both born and raised directly in the guts of small town living, it’s always been a revelation to experience the urban jungles of New York City. The way fields and flocks of trees dotted by fast food chains and auto part stores whiz by to become boroughs of ever-shifting ethnicities, 24 hour bodegas, and skyscrapers that seem to rise from the very depths of the sea itself.

That sense of awe (mixed with slight initial terror) has eased a bit after a lot of time spent in Brooklyn these last several years, but there are still moments that remind me of how far taking that journey feels. Whether you come from within the same state or across the country, your sense of self seems irrevocably altered when you land where the world truly feels… bigger. Where it’s breathing the deepest. Where your past feels like another part of you that’s still shaped who you are as a person, but seems like it was in a picture postcard where you marked your height upon the wall a lifetime ago.

I get that same vibe from David Rothschild and his new EP Carolina Seems So Long Ago, where he and his band The Downtown Local create a tightly slick, country-folk landscape that carries The Band’s sense of Americana and joins it with a warm brandy glass of soul sweet enough to rival Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey”.

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From the count-off of lead track “Solitary Serenade”, I feel my foot as well as my mind tap into time with the song’s shuffling piano lines, emotive pedal steel, and Rothschild’s vocals which erupt with the purity and imprinting message of songwriters the decades here and through. Young Tom Waits, David Gray, Levon Helm, all the way up to another contemporary by the name of Anderson East. But while East is Sam Cooke and Otis Redding wrapped in the brass of Muscle Shoals and New Orleans, Rothschild is Morrison reaching for his East Nashville croon… a youthful Bruce Springsteen just finding his poetic presence on a more rootsy Greetings From Asbury Park.

And indeed, Rothschild is every bit the well-hewn storyteller. While he might not emulate Springsteen’s working class loners and desperate racers struggling to break free of society’s darkness, his tales of returning lovers (“Serenade”), broken wayward souls (“Caleb”) and the wish to simply reminisce (“Carolina”) bring out the wearied best in what Ryan Adams’ everyman Whiskeytown period sadly left behind in Jacksonville.

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Carolina makes the type of lyrical connections that take you from the forest pines to New York’s Canal Street and back again, and is even further bolstered by the fitting inclusion of a strong cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. Because whether it’s New York City, Memphis, Tennessee or Carolina, this EP seeks the dust rising off of every road. The heated grit inside each subway platform. Getting to look back on every tale that comes from running up and down each point on the map.

And while I can’t say I’ve been to many places dotted on that metaphorical road map, it’s not about having done so. Carolina feels like it’s about youth. It’s about that want to exuberantly spread your wings and see what the world has waiting down every place flagged by a street sign. It’s about the stories, the lovers gained and lovers lost to go back to. It’s thinking that yeah, Carolina seems so long ago, but look at where I am today. As huge as it is, I’m still out here looking for that Graceland.

I’ve sensed the same thing many times just looking at those New York City skylines. The excitement, the fear, the magnitude of it all… that’s the part of the awe that never leaves. And I hope the same applies to Rothschild, because on only his second EP I can’t even begin to see the sky to his potential.

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Something tells me he’s got plenty more stories, still left to be told.

David Rothschild and The Uptown Local’s second EP “Carolina Seems So Long Ago” arrives digitally today, and can be purchased via their Bandcamp (davidrothschildmusic.bandcamp.com), on Amazon and iTunes, and can also be streamed over on Spotify. The band will also be doing a record release show for the EP tonight at The Studio at Webster Hall. For more information about the band as well as their music, check ’em out on davidrothschildmusic.com, as well as Twitter and Facebook. 

Photos are courtesy of the band’s Bandcamp page, and their Facebook. For more on David and The Uptown Local, check out the “Carolina” Release Day interview I did with him in the post below! 

EP Release Day Chatter With David Rothschild

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It’s almost the middle of February now as I write to all of you from this metaphorical foxhole in this ever-expansive musical battlefield. And, much like the weather outside this time of year is known for being almost as barren in activity as the leafless trees standing guard outside my window. The animals and insects have disappeared, the sun has gone behind the clouds to converse in silence with itself, and I’m left to piece away at time and daydream of warmth and the comfort of hammocks yet to be.

Thankfully, in an effort to perhaps snap me out of such monotone poeticisms, the musical community has once again chosen to send me a heat wave. Some lightning in a well-spun singer-songwriter’s bottle if you will. And that lightning comes in the form of none other than a New York musician by the name of David Rothschild. He and his band The Downtown Local are new on the scene (having only just formed in 2014), but they already have two EP’s under their belt and are just releasing their 2nd (entitled Carolina Seems So Long Ago) on this very day.

Carolina will be hitting the digital shelves of their Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon as well as being available to stream over on Spotify, plus the band has an EP release show planned for tonight in New York City over at The Studio At Webster Hall. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with David beforehand and get a few minutes of his time to discuss the new record, get a bit more info on he and his band’s background, talk about the lyrical/creative process and discuss what lies ahead!

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1. Now I know you formed your band The Downtown Local in 2014, and released your first EP (called Simple Changes) not long after in February of 2015. What was the origin of your band and what brought it all together? Did you have a batch of songs ready that you needed to build a band around, or was it just something that happened to come together with friends/fellow musicians in the creation process?

(DR): Forming the band and watching the band grow has definitely been the most rewarding part of this whole process. It all started with a few guys jamming at my friend’s apartment, at first just two guitars and a pianist, then I invited my buddy who played bass, and another friend who liked to sing showed up, and it was very informal. We’d hang out and play a bunch of jazz standards from a Real Book or pull up some other covers that we all liked, but eventually after a few months of sporadic jams, I sort of went out on a limb and asked, “hey would you guys wanna try one of my songs?”

I had always written songs, but never really put them out there — but I’d been writing a lot of late and had this batch I was really proud of, so I went for it. I kind of “proclaimed” I was going to start trying to take this music thing seriously, and pretty quickly over the course of a couple months we went from jamming in the apartment, to a trio of us playing cafes, to booking consistent gigs as a 6-piece band.

The interesting thing, though, was that I started recording “Simple Changes” sort of as the band was still coalescing, so there are a bunch of session musicians on the album. And so what makes this new record, “Carolina”, so special, is that after these sessions there was a moment where we all looked at each other and felt, “wow, we’ve officially found our sound.” But long story short, we were a bunch of friends who like playing music, and I’m really lucky to have friends who supported me and bought into what I was doing…and who also happen to be incredibly talented.

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2. I know it can be thought of as kind of a tired question, but I’m always fascinated by musical influences. Not only in how they bring an artist into music in the first place, but how that dynamic works within the committee of a band. What were those deciding factors for you, and how did that change or evolve as you got older/worked with other musicians? 

(DR): So this is something I actually find really important to our sound: we all have pretty unique influences, and are very much our own circle in the venn diagram, but each member overlaps with the others in their own unique way — so one of the things I love is hearing how everyone brings their own thing to the songs, most of which are not from influences I originally shared. It’s funny because I think the big unifying overlaps for all of us is a love of jazz and soul — which is not really the music we play at all.

I came from this country/folk place, Alex, our bass player, is more a funk kinda guy, Tim on drums loves to joke about bringing out his double kick pedal and metal-ing up the tunes, and the influences I share with James on guitar are very different from what James shares with Alex or James shares with Christian on keys. And still we’ve all found this great common ground that takes what could easily be described as musically un-interesting — I’m a folk fan through and through, but it’s not always the most musically complex of genres — and brought some cool flavors to it. I think we’re listening to a whole lot of everything, so it’s been great to feel out all those commonalities and take advantage of the differences.

Personally, I grew up on a mix of singer-songwriters — my parents were big James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell types — with a lot of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye thrown in, but I also grew up playing saxophone, so everyone loved to buy me jazz albums when I was a kid before I could even appreciate them. I was all over the place, but I think I really began to find my voice as a songwriter when I stopped worrying so much about writing fancy guitar parts, or out-there chord changes, and started focusing on the storytelling.
I called that first EP “Simple Changes” because pretty much all of them were straight-ahead, four-chord songs. As I began to work with other musicians I learned that I didn’t need to supply all this complexity, but that I could allow my bandmates to create it naturally by bringing their own style to what I had written. 
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3. And speaking of influential music, what led to Paul Simon’s song “Graceland” being included on your soon to be released EP Carolina Seems So Long Ago? It’s probably one of my most favorite songs (as well as records) from Simon’s solo catalogue, and I love what you guys do with it on the record as sort of a building uptempo jam. 
(DR): I will actually give all of the credit to (our guitarist) James on this one, he suggested we do some Paul Simon. We’re all big fans of his, of course because he’s got this incredibly diverse discography, from the very folky stuff to the Afro-Carribbean and everywhere in between. So when James suggested we play a Paul Simon song, it clicked pretty quickly that we should do “Graceland,” because it was written like a song straight out of the American Roots catalogue, but it was played by South African musicians who brought their very unique interpretation to it.
I write a lot of songs that are meant to sound like country western tunes straight out of the American Songbook, and the band ends up interpreting them uniquely — it was an easy fit. We started playing it like a rockabilly Elvis tune, and of course all those other sounds just naturally came out.
4. Now I love your lyrical work on this EP. And I could make comparisons to Dylan and any other folk singer from the last 50 years (though I am sensing some early Bruce Springsteen vibes, which I really dig). I won’t slap on those labels though, because the point is, I really like how you approach YOUR songs as such a storyteller. From “Caleb” to the title track (which might be my favorite on the record) your stuff is very cinematic. Tell me, does a lot of that come from true experiences, or are you able to place yourself in a position where you can create characters and scenarios and your own stories?
(DR): Always appreciate when people say they hear early Springsteen. I am in absolutely no place to be compared to that, but I do listen to a whole hell of a lot of him. If vinyl was still a thing, his first three albums would be my most worn down for sure (Editor’s Note: Someone send David some Bruce vinyl and a turntable stat, it’s still a thing!).
“Caleb” is probably the exception that proves the rule, in that it’s one of the only songs I’ve written that doesn’t come from a very personal experience. It happens to be one of the songs I’m most proud of, but I’m not sure if that means anything. It also started as a lyric from something I’d jotted down a really long time ago… well, before I wrote the rest of the songs we play. I finished it later on, but that idea was first written down when I was a freshman in college. I guess I could give credit to the fact that I was an English major, and that jackass who thought he was going to write the Great American Novel.
But again, I think I started to find myself as a songwriter when I just broke things down to simple images and straightforward stories. Of course, if you get too straightforward, you get boring — but even a song like “Solitary Serenade” that doesn’t really have “characters” like most of the other songs, is still built around something concrete and has it’s own kind of “plot.” The first rule of writing is show, don’t tell, so I just think it’s more interesting to express myself through a story than through a soliloquy.
Nobody wants to hear me explicitly sing about my problems because, even if they’re relatable, it can come off as self-indulgent; I think it’s much better if you just lay out a story and let people take from it what they will. For the most part, yes, they’re all some version of my own experiences, or at least a thinly-veiled roman-a-clef…so I guess let’s all just be thankful that they’re not all about an ex-girlfriend anymore.
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5. And as far as the lyrical process goes, is that a journey you embark on alone and bring it in to form and shape into a finished product with the band? Or is that a process where someone suggests a part or a line or different melody and a song you thought was going in one direction initially becomes something else?
(DR): For the most part I write lyrics by myself, just because that’s the only way I’ve known how to do it. A lot of them are very personal, but I’ve gotten better at letting people into that process, which has been really nice. Typically, I will write a song on my own, bring it to the band with a good idea of how I hear it in my head, and then let them go wild with what they want to bring to it.
I’ll suggest something here and there, or try to give some shape or direction, but the challenging — and also fun — part is translating what I hear in my head into how the band wants to attack it. Lyrics though are just something I do alone pacing around a room over the course of several days, mostly just by hearing things in my head. It’s just hard for me to bring someone else into that, as much as I’d like to. I simply don’t know how yet.
But what’s been amazing is, as we’ve grown as a band, the other guys will bring songs to the group — either lyrics that I’ll help put to a melody, or a progression that I’ll help put lyrics/a melody on — and we’ve now begun to collaborate even more. I’ve always considered the band to be a big part of the songwriting process, just not necessarily at the stage of lyric writing — now we’re starting to figure out how to really write things together.
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6. And when it comes to the music as it blends to the lyrics, is there a singular process where the music comes first and the words shape themselves out of it? Vice versa? Or is it sometimes just a mix of the two as it grows in the studio? And also, what is the process like recording live in the studio compared to other methods? I know you do that on this latest EP, and you can really tell with how full the sound of the songs are. 
(DR): It can go either way — it used to be that I’d write up a guitar part or a progression first and then try to hear a melody or a hook out of that, but these days more often I just hear a hook in my head with some sort of words on it, and then can naturally build the progression out of that. It’s not very common, though, that I just have words without an idea of how they sound — if the words come before the progression, they typically come with a melody line that naturally has its own changes. There is definitely always a moment, though, usually after a verse and chorus are written, when I know, “okay, this is how this song goes.”
As far as recording live, this was just a very different experience from the first record because, as I mentioned, this was the first time we really recorded songs that we had built together in full. The first set of songs we kind of built and arranged as we recorded them, piece by piece, but these four were songs that we’d been playing for a little while. There’s always something nice about having multi-track recording and being able to overdub here and there, but it was really cool to go into the studio and just play through the songs a bunch of times until we felt like we’d nailed it. A lot more instant gratification that way as well. 
7. When it comes to making music, whether it’s creating the instrumental side, the lyrics, the collaborating as songs grow in the studio…. what is that music to you? Does it represent a catharsis and a way to really unload an emotional weight, or is just that you have these stories in mind that just need to be told? What keeps the spark going in you that keeps that creating fresh and inspiring?
(DR): Again, I think a little bit of both. At different times in my life there have been very specific things that I needed to get out: “Carolina,” the title track, for instance, was written very much at that quarter-life crisis stage of my life when I was trying to figure out where the hell I belonged and what the hell I was doing, so I wound up writing a very nostalgic song about simpler times. A song like, Caleb, though, just kind of came out of the aether — I heard it, got an idea of what it was, and just ran with it.
In any case, though, it is very much a catharsis just to finish a song. Whether I’m writing something deeply personal or just a fun rocker, I can sort of get lost in the process and then feel really refreshed when I come out on the other side. Sometimes it’s a real grind, and I’ll drive myself (and my roommates) insane just pacing around trying to figure out that next lyric, but I’m really fortunate to have found an outlet that I sort of know how to use.
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8. And finally, I know you’re just getting starting with the release of EP number two and getting that out into the world. But, do you see any future plans on the horizon for doing a full LP at some point? And do you have more songs waiting to go in the pipeline regardless of the type of record you want to make next?
(DR): We’ve definitely got more in the pipeline! Not to plug to shamelessly, but we’re finishing new songs pretty regularly, so odds are if you catch a show, we’ll be playing some pretty fresh stuff mixed in. No real plans for an LP at this point, but in this day and age of music consumption, the medium of the album itself doesn’t mean too much to me. Whether it’s four songs or six songs or twelve songs is really only a matter of how many songs are ready to be recorded.
These two albums felt very much like their own batches of songs that easily fit together — it wasn’t like we specifically wrote the songs for these releases, but just came to a point where we just organically felt, “these 4 songs fit together.” I’ve already got a bit of a sense of a next batch, songs we’ve been playing live for the last little bit that represent a unique stage of the band, but I imagine when the time comes, we’ll know what we have.
A big BIG thanks goes out to David Rothschild for doing this interview with me! As I said before, his new EP Carolina Seems So Long Ago is due out today, so get out there and buy it up on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, stream it on Spotify, and be sure if you’re in New York City to go see David and The Downtown Local play their EP release show TONIGHT at The Studio at Webster Hall!
And be sure to check out my review of Carolina in the post up above!
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Photos are courtesy of the band’s Bandcamp and Facebook page. 

Talay Shows Folk-Pop “Underside” On Brilliant “Piece By Piece” Debut

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It’s now the first week or two of autumn as I write this, and the changing of the seasons always manages to put me into a contemplative frame of mind. The leaves haven’t quite started to fall completely yet, but the nights are colder, the sunlight doesn’t last as long, and the world here gradually starts to burrow itself away piece by piece in preparation for what’s to come.

As I find myself starting to burrow with it, I think it’s appropriate that Megan Talay’s EP Piece By Piece should land in my lap as the soundtrack to accompany the changes. Talay is another New York City-area songwriter, but unlike the country/folk blending of my prior NYC subjects Ivy, Beck and Neill, she takes that folk and puts it through a blender of sweetly blissful pop, delicately intricate acoustic guitar, and a hook-laden feast of songwriting craftsmanship.

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Piece By Piece is an often laid back slice of an EP, yet still doesn’t waste a moment snagging attention starting with lead single “Underside” and it’s driving foot-tap of a rhythm. Talay is a versatile mix of Ani DeFranco and Brandi Carlile on the track, nimbly thumbing through a list of concealed emotional turmoils before raising a fist and letting a wave of catharsis wash over as a tide of frustration made fury. It’s an immediately relatable moment to anyone who’s ever been an expert at the art of bottling up the world, and Talay’s voice rings true in your ear as someone saying it’s okay…. I’ve been there too.

It’s in that role of relatable narrator and lyricist that Talay finds her greatest footing on this record, whether it’s in the role of a person overcoming the uncertainties of love and life on “Light The Way” and the cinematically-tinged title track, or holding up lighthearted like flowers toward the sunshine on optimistic closing song “Just Fine”. Piece by Piece is an EP that’s like looking through the contents of someone’s cracked and peeling moving boxes shoved behind the boiler in a basement. A few of those memories may be buried back there for a reason, but the years have finally said it’s time for them to breathe and be set free.

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Those years seem to fly by in the span of these mere minutes, and close with a brightly harmonious beauty for having shared them. Piece by Piece makes yet another case for records that speak as complete stories instead of just in fragmented singles that can be bought for $0.99 on iTunes. You may appreciate the radio-friendly lift of the chorus on “Light The Way” or the infectious six string melody of “Forever In My Hand”, but when albums or EP’s speak like this, I feel as though they speak closest to their heart… when they speak together.

Don’t just listen to one part of what Megan Talay has to offer. Go “piece by piece, inch by inch”. Let her mixture of folk/pop and lovely lyricisms get under your skin.

I promise that it’s worth the journey.

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As you can see, Megan’s EP is coming out this week! You can go pick it up on her Bandcamp, and go check out her Facebook page Talay for much information about shows as well as this release! 

2012 ARCHIVE: Artist Spotlight 2: The Difference Engine

And here is part two of that archive set from 2012. It’s honestly been overdue to get both of these on here, because despite their age I think they’re both excellent, indicative of where I wanna go and what I wanna do as a writer, and I’m immensely proud of both.

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So as you likely know by now if you’ve seen the videos I’ve posted here or the reviews I’ve done through this blog, I maintain a steady presence in the realm of musical “commentary” as it were. Generally I do coverage on whatever band or artist happens to catch my fancy at that moment in time, and expand my way outwards from there in a variety of little segments(all of which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ThisDogAteMyVlogs/videos?view=0)

Now on a few rare occasions I’ve gotten to work with smaller much more independent artists who were interested in having me do some sort of review for them after seeing what I’m capable of within my projects. Luckily for me in addition to the video coverage I’ve also managed to snag a written interview before this(with singer-songwriter Jessica Allyn in Spotlight 1), and was able to branch out once more to do the same thing again today with rock band The Difference Engine.

Comprised of lead vocalist Alex Ward, drummer Ryan Hahn, guitarists Jason Thomas and Nicholas Vanderveldt in addition to bassist Josh Cook, these St Louis area newcomers look more than ready to make music fans stand up and take notice with their debut EP “Strange Angles”. It may not be very much on their resume to this point, but at present the quintet is already planning on a full length followup to “Angles” that is sure to impress.

But of course besides the musical review side of things(which you can find in full in my video on “Strange Angles” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share), I was as I mentioned also able to ask the band some questions regarding their origins, their musical process, and what the future holds for them going forward. It was a lot of fun and I’m really grateful that they took the time to give some pretty interesting answers!

1. So to start with, what are the origins behind The Difference Engine? I know that the “Strange Angles” EP is your first release to this point, and I was curious to know what the driving factors were behind the formation of this group. 

Alex Ward: The rhythm guitarist(Jason Thomas) and I grew up together. We started off as neighbors, became good friends right away, and have stayed that way ever since. Both of us picked up guitar at an early age while listening to a lot of the same bands. Funny that to this day he is turning me on to new music. At some point we decided to write music of our own and started in. Throughout my bouncing around from state to state and in and out of town over the years, Jason and I somehow stayed in touch and continued, whenever we had the chance, to write and make music together. About nine months ago we were both introduced to Ryan and asked him to record some of the songs that we had written…the wolf pack is now five and we call ourselves, ” The Difference Engine”.

Nicholas Vanderveldt: We all started working together in January of last year. I met Ryan through Craigslist. I moved here in September of 2011, and I was just trying to meet people and play music. Ryan introduced me to Jason, and Jason brought over Alex, and then Josh appeared with bass in hand. Suddenly we were hashing out songs.

Jason Thomas: I’ve had a plan since I’ve been about 8 years old and first met Alex to take over the world with our music. Luckily we finally, after numerous attempts, managed to put together a band with like minded people who share the same passions and a love for music. We wrote some tunes and wanted to give them to the world.

Ryan Hahn: Alex and Jason approached me a year and a half ago about recording some songs and also playing drums on the recordings for them.  We grew up in the same area so we had a lot of mutual friends.. that kind of small town vibe so I think that’s why they contacted me. The driving factors behind The Difference Engine to me, would definitely be the life long friendships that reside within the band between Alex and Jason and with Josh and myself. I’ve known Josh since I can remember… playing in other bands together and growing up together, so there are 2 sets of really great close friendships. I met Nick about a year ago…he’s our transplant from Washington State and our chemistry is really great..its the most important factor I think.

2. Now there are certainly a lot of garage bands out there and musicians that get together casually simply to jam or have fun; what ultimately led to the band seriously deciding that they wanted to get into the studio to make this debut EP? Was it the initial plan going in or did it just gradually get to that point?

JT: Things lead where they lead. I think every band wants to document their sound at any given time. That’s how I view a recording, it’s just a snapshot of a particular point in time.

RH: It just gradually happened. We practiced a lot before starting the whole “recording process”. I live in an old electric substation from the late 1920s and have a recording studio in it. It’s where we rehearse, its the first thing you notice when you set up to practice… so knowing we had access to this stuff there’s no rush or worry about money….or anything so the EP doesn’t sound like we felt rushed or felt we had to compromise artistically too much.

3. To talk a bit more in-depth about the EP, what were the influences behind the style of these songs? In fact what general types of music have had an effect upon the band as a whole? 

AW: Wow, that is nearly impossible to answer, but if I had to name a few bands that influenced my writing I would have to say Naked Ray Gun, anything that Mike Patton has done, Concrete Blonde,The Pumpkins, Fugazi, The Cure, Tool, Radiohead, Supergrass, Guided By Voices, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Blonde Redhead, honestly the list could go on and on, not to mention the things that creep in while you’re sleeping.

NV: For me the EP is pretty straight ahead rock’n’roll, I tried to conjure up some of the stuff in my head that fit with what we were doing, Funkadelic and Led Zeppelin especially. I’ve always been fascinated by Bebop and free-jazz, as well as ballet music, so I get these little notions in my head, and then I have to figure out how to make them fit in what we’re doing. Sometimes it works great, other times, not so much.
JT: I grew up on punk rock and bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. I think that stuff informs how I write to an extent, but I also love a good melody, just trying to serve a song and make it the best I can. I don’t know if the whole band looks to one particular style; it’s all rock and roll to me.
 
RH: Influences… well I grew up listening to my parents music…Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, Tom Petty….but then I got into newer groups like Guided By Voices, Weezer, and The Pixies. But I’ve always analyzed music… I’m a sucker for a good hook in a song. So it doesn’t matter what I’m playing as long as it helps the song I’m playing sound better.

4. I’ve always been fascinated by the process of recording in the studio, what was that aspect like in terms of writing and putting together this initial album? Was that very much a collective process or did it come together more individually?

AW: The great thing about playing with these guys is how each one of us have so much to bring to the table individually. If one of us has an idea, we listen to the idea and work on it, and other than older songs that one of us may want to rewrite or present as workable ideas, most of our stuff just happens. Someone starts playing something and material forms. If something ends up swerving off in an tasteless direction, we put it to the side temporarily and start something new, keeping the pace and excitement of creative curiosities. We’re still evolving as friends and as a sound, so this new thing has plenty more to produce and I can’t wait to hear where we end up in the next nine months.

NV: Most of the songs were well assembled before we started recording them. We spent a lot of time really playing the stuff, and everybody figuring out how their parts fit in with everybody else’s parts. We do a lot of collective arranging I feel like. Someone has an idea, then we all try and develop it and add our own opinions into it. Sometimes it’s hard, and stuff gets put aside because we can’t give enough to a song… it’s gotta sit on the shelf a bit and age before we can take it back down and see all the merit in it.

JT: Totally collective, there were songs people brought in individually but they really didn’t take shape until we got ahold of it as a band and bashed it out. Going back to earlier, I feel like the EP is just a quick snapshot of the band in its first six months.

RH: I know that Alex and Jason had already written “At The Gates”…. it used to be a lot longer, and from the initial recordings when I met those guys to how we play the song now with The Difference Engine it’s much shorter but much stronger. The other songs were very collective and came together at practice…I think Tattoo and Chicago Machine came out of the air in the same 2 or 3 days. We’ve since refined parts of each song but that’s a great moment.

5. I know that you(Ryan Hahn) produced and mixed “Strange Angles” and have done work for other artists in the same capacity. Does that process or mindset as a producer change at all when you’re also a member of the band you’re working with? 

RH: I try to think about what I’m doing on the drums and make sure I’m not being noticed when the vocal melody or another aspect needs to be focused on. But once the drums are recorded and okay’d I become the whipping boy to some degree haha. But the guys do listen to me if I have an idea, but they also listen to everyone else’s ideas and their own so there’s no special attention that I get haha.

6. Now that “Strange Angles” has been in the can and out since mid-October, what’s coming next for The Difference Engine? Are there any details that can be revealed about a full-length album at this point? And will it be an extension of the EP or a new set of material?

NV: We have a bunch of great new songs. Really, we’ve had a lot more time to develop ideas with one another, and open creative dialogues. That goes miles and miles when you’re all collaborating on music. The EP is a nice little prologue to what’s coming.

JT: I think with the full length you’ll see our songwriting get better and the band grow a little. I feel like the songs we’ve written lately are head and shoulders above what we have on the EP. Hopefully we can just continue to improve as individuals and as a band and make the best record we can at that given point in time. Continue to evolve and grow so while we sound like the same band you never know what we’re going to try.

RH: Yeah I’m excited that we were ale to get this EP finished so quickly and to be proud of it too. We’ve already started recording some new material. Also we’ve been working on a lot of new songs… It’s just a matter of time to get them to develop. Not sure if it will be all new music on the full length or if we will use a few songs off the EP that we all really feel strong about. We’re just kind of letting it take it’s course.

If you want to check out The Difference Engine, you can find their Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter all down in the links below(as well as my review for their EP), and I definitely cannot recommend it enough. It was a pleasure to be able to interview some of the guys from the band, and again I appreciate the fact they helped me put together what turned out to be a great little Q&A.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thedifferenceenginemusic?fref=ts

Bandcamp: http://differenceenginestl.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/diffengineband

“Strange Angles” EP Review Promo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share

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