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.

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Now introducing… The Interview Series!

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So as you may have noticed, my presence here on this website has been minimal at best for a bit now. And while I hope to slowly change that over time, a big reason for this has been a greater launch of my life into the world of radio as a news reporter and broadcaster.

Its led to a lot of great opportunities to both hone and enhance my skills (which I hope to start utilizing here soon enough). What it has also done is allow me to have a greater realm of access to recording equipment and new things I can bring to On The Back Edge of the Beat.

So lets start with this new segment, which I’m calling The Interview Series! Much like the pieces I’ve done here in the past, the focus will still be on the music of underground and indie musicians. In this case though, we’ll be personally discussing their craft, new music, background, and most other notable stuff under the musical sun.

For this first volume I had the privilege of interviewing the lovely Talay. Her recent self-titled EP has been a big hit in my earbuds and car radio, so when the chance came to snag her for a phone interview I was understandably pretty excited. Having already reviewed her EP (which you can read here), I was glad we could dish out more on the new music, Talay’s writing process, what’s on deck for her next EP and a whole hell of a lot more.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more of these in the future!

Singing “Hymns” With Third Class Frontman Lee Boyle

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The business of music blogging can be a tricky thing. One moment you’ll have a lengthy list of projects slated to add to your creative content, and the next you’re sorting through the bones of broken fragments looking for the next gem to steal away your eye’s attention.

That may sound like a statement that reeks more of famine than feast, but there’s always been something special about needing to use that extra bit of judgement to bring in something with just the right…. feeling.

Or sometimes, that right feeling comes looking for you instead.

Enter the band Third Class and their frontman Lee Boyle.

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It’s always been one of the great pleasures of my young journalistic career when bands and artists seek me out specifically to collaborate based solely on my body of work, and thanks to the outreach and spread of social media this Ohio-based trio chose to do just that.

So after a bit of back and forth, Lee and I were able to sit down to talk about the band, their latest LP Hymns From Some Small Town, and much more of the nuts and bolts of what brought their music together. So sit back, relax, and enjoy!

(LB): As youngsters, we learned to play our instruments incorrectly and just ran with the style which emerged. Jack and I are brothers who became fast friends with Pepe in the late nineties. We seemed drawn to music as an escape from boredom in our small town.
2. And because I always have to ask this whenever I’m interviewing anyone in a band with a creative name, what is the origin behind the name Third Class? Was there an epiphany moment that clicked to tell you all that that was going to be the name of the band, or did it just make the most sense at the time?
(LB): Pepe and I named the band Third Class in the interest of humbling ourselves.
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3. Now about your record “Hymns From Some Small Town”. First of all, I love this title and I can’t even begin to tell you how creatively clever I think it is. I feel like I can really sense the themes of loneliness and isolation reflected not only in the title of the record, but inside the music itself which has this feeling of spread out picture postcards. Now was that a conscious effort all around to explore some vulnerable themes in the band at that time? How did this record come together for you guys?
(LB): Every album we’ve released has been an accidental concept album about childhood. Hymns found us fresh from a camping experience in Seattle; we were also going through some mental turmoil as a result of the stresses of growing up. We leaned into our past and juxtaposed our small-town upbringing with our recent travels and tours, and Hymns was born. Many of the songs ended up speaking to our families and loved ones on a therapeutic way.
4. I’m also really taken with the wide variety of sounds you have splashed all throughout this album. Sometimes you all sound more folk-like with harmonies, sometimes like Stephen Malkmus and Pavement… there’s even a bit of David Byrne oddity sprinkled through there like pixie dust. If you’re coming from a lot of different points of view, how do you settle that down in the studio to make the songs sound musically cohesive? Because there’s a lot of fluctuation going on in that tapestry at any given moment, yet you guys really keep it making sense across the span of the album. 
(LB): For us, the variety of sounds has always been present. It is always a bit of a struggle to attempt to be uniform. The way we tend to makes sense of it all is to pay very close attention to the order of the tracks. We also, this time around, didn’t leave anything out; if a certain bridge or verse fit in more than one song, we’d let it exist in both in hopes that our listeners would enjoy the reoccurring moments, like in a musical. On top of that, our execution has always been a little sloppy, so that holds it all under one roof of style.
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5. And to build on that last point a little bit, given that you’re in a band and that’s very much a committee of voices to have to try and get on the same page, is that ever a difficult process? Has anyone’s defining influences or momentary stubbornness ever lead to any conflict or walk outs when it comes to making music?
(LB): We have always had differences in opinion. I have been more of a garage-rock type of writer. Pepe likes if we play punk music or dark pop. Jack tends to be more of an instrumentalist. As the primary songwriter, I respect their vetoes, but I am pushy in getting us out of our box. On tours, we sometimes get a little annoying to each other, but that usually is thanks to poor diets and bad sleep, like most bands.
6. Though speaking of defining influences, what was it that personally got you into music? What first inspired you to pick up an instrument, and what made you realize that it was something you wanted to do and do in front of people? I feel like it takes such a unique breed to have that level of tenacity, and I’m always insatiably curious to know what drives that creative instinct forward in musicians and people in all different mediums of art. 
(LB): In 1993, my father passed. My mom tried to spoil us during the following Christmas and got us some musical instruments. It wasn’t obvious then, but looking back, we dove into music in his wake and probably were expressing a lot of our feelings through that outlet. The strings broke off of our toy guitar and we have played with two strings ever since.
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7. Now to take a bit of a leftward direction here, you and your band Third Class have to be the first group I’ve ever done one of these with that has a podcast as well as an online comedy troupe. Tell me a bit more about that, and did playing music lead into these other creative outlets, or were they just all there at once? 
(LB): In our lives, music is the beginning and end of all things. Bullskit Productions, our online comedy skit group was a definite product of Third Class. The idea with Bullskit is that we can really let loose and use raunchy comedy ideas to parody a life in which we are constantly finding something to joke about. Nursery Podcast came about as a way to include a larger group of friends who have influenced our lives. Although it may seem like we think we’re serving out bonus material to super fans, Nursery’s purpose is quite the opposite in that we are trying to broaden our audience by bringing Third Class and Bullskit Productions into a place where they are better explained and able to be bounced off of guests. The idea is to enforce a larger presence online and to offer a campfire of sorts to friends to express their projects. We love the makeshift, communal vibe; we’ve felt more and more collaborative with our family of muses as we’ve aged.
8. Now to go back to the record again for a moment, I was really excited to see that you had “Hymns From Some Small Town” pressed on vinyl (which I don’t often see with indie bands). What’s that process like, and are you a vinyl listener yourself? If so, what are your top five favorites to spin on the turntable?
(LB): In getting Hymns From Some Small Town released on vinyl, the process went rather smoothly. We are diligent in getting releases off the ground because we tend to know what we want quickly. Therefore, the boxes of vinyl shipped to us in a couple months since we ordered them online and we were ready to go with a collection of intimate Ohio shows and even a couple tours to Pacific Northwest and Midwestern cities. I am a vinyl listener myself, but I am not an avid or knowledgable collector. My five favorites are Nick Drake – Pink Moon, Jessica Lea Mayfield – With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, Stars Of The Lid – Avec Laudenum, The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree, and Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. I tend to prefer the starker side of music on vinyl. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great Jr Walker And The All-Stars or Daryl Hall And John Oates sound on vinyl.
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9. Now I know “Hymns” was released back in 2014, so I have to ask…. are there any new concrete plans you can tell us about your next album or where that’s at currently?
(LB): We have twenty songs which are almost ready to take into the studio. Many will shed the sound of a rock band and lean more towards the ballads on Hymns, like “Hey There Lullaby.” The working title for the new album is Virginia’s Playlist and I am going to lay down fifteen solo tracks in August. The plan is that the guys will come in and sprinkle their harmonies, harmonica, ambient keyboard, and other sounds all over my ballads. Then, if the timing is right, we will record five slightly more Third Classy-sounding tunes in later months. We are very excited to make what may be an even prettier album than Hymns.
10. And finally, any gigs or live shows coming up in the near future that you can tell us about?
(LB): If I could, I’d love to direct anyone interested to investigate www.thirdclass.net. We are very up-to-date with some nice winery and bar shows on the horizon, most of them intimate and solo as the other members have prior engagements.
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Big thanks to Lee Boyle for doing the interview! As he said, go check out he and his band Third Class over on http://www.thirdclass.net, where you’ll get plenty of info on their music, press, side projects, and much much more! 

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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Views From The Road: Catching Up With Stephen Babcock


I always find April to be an interesting time in life and in the world as I know it. 

On one hand I think of it like that because it is the month of my birth (originally supposed to be in May, don’t ask), but also because April is such a time of travel and transition. The temperatures creep up higher, the last of those stubbornly sticking snow piles disappear, and it finally starts to make sense to leave home in order to pursue a view from other windows. 

So as I take my own advice and look out upon a window scene that is not my own, I share with you the words of someone else who is doing much the same. As you may remember, OTBEOTB spoke with musician Stephen Babcock back in March about his album Said & Done. As is often the case, we did a review on the album as well as an email interview with Stephen who was kind enough to answer some questions and add some…. illumination to the man behind the music. 

Luckily, Stephen recently reached out to us again and we wound up chatting about touring life, the reception to Said & Done, and a bit of what the world of a traveling musician is all about. 


1. Hey Stephen, good to catch up with you again. How has touring life been treating you since we last spoke around the release of your album “Said & Done”? And how have the audiences enjoyed it as you’ve toured it out?

(SB): So far things have been really great! The release show was amazing and really blew me away with how people responded to the songs. The shows lately have been really fun as people start to learn the songs and the words. I see people singing the lyrics at shows now, which is super surreal. It means a lot to me to see that. The songs mattered enough to someone that they learned the words and feel invested in the lyrics. That’s pretty darn cool.

2. Are some areas you’ve toured to more or less receptive to the music, or do you find that the places you tour to are pretty much all greeting you warmly?

(SB): So far its been pretty warm everywhere, but I’ll be honest, my music always feels right when I am in the south. Since the subject matter is mostly about being in the Southern US, I think people really grab onto that when I am playing down there. Still, the songs are really all about heartbreak in one way or another, and that resonates with folks no matter where they are from.


3. What’s life on the road like, depending on whether you’ve touring solo or with other bands? As a music writer who has always aspired to see the touring life, give us a mental taste of what some of that day to day is like. 

(SB): Honestly I’ve only ever toured as a solo artist. I have done tours with friends, who are also solo artists, but I have also done a tour with just me and that’s it. I like being out on the road with friends though a lot more as you get to share that road experience with someone each day. As far as a tour day to day, it’s pretty straight forward. Basically I just get up each day, grab some coffee, and hop in the car and drive to venue. Once I am there I basically drop my stuff and wander the town a bit. I always like to get a feel for where I am playing. Even if I have been there before, it always is nice to see what is new and what stayed the same. After that I usually hit the venue and get warmed up and then I get to playing. After the show I try and meet as many people as I can and talk a little bit before packing up and getting ready for the next night’s show.

4. Now regarding your album “Said & Done”, have you largely toured it solo acoustic or have you had a backing band to bring more of that instrumentation on the record to life?

(SB): It’s been a little of both. When I am in New York I basically always play with a band. It’s my favorite thing to do and I think it really brings the songs to life the way I always imagined them. When I tour outside of New York though, it has been fully acoustic. The great thing about that is I think it allows me to give the songs a more personal spin. It’s just me up there with these songs of mine, and I think it allows me to be more spontaneous on the road. A lot of people I meet while touring have never seen me before either, so I think the acoustic experience is a great way to start that connection off. It allows people to see my music in it’s rawest form.


5. And regardless of whether you’ve done it solo or in band mode, have you found the arrangements of the songs on that album to be changing at all? I know a lot of bands talk about taking new songs on the road and finding them change in some ways over time. Have there been any twists or curveballs in your sets like that?

(SB): That has happened a bit. I know with the band, we tend to draw out instrumental moments more and make the vibe more fun and bouncy. I love it when a solo just like takes off and brings the song to a whole new place from where it started. On the other hand, when I play acoustically I tend to take more vocal chances that I might not with the band. I will change how I sing certain things and occasionally I’ll even add a new verse or outro to just see how it comes off.

6. Now I know one of your latest touring cycles has been shared with Darryl Rahn who I’ve heard a little bit about. What has it been like touring with him, and in general what’s it like on the road with another band? Is that sort of a bonding experience, and does it become like a band of brothers over time?

(SB): It has honestly been fantastic. Darryl is a great guy and just all around amazing songwriter. I think touring with friends is definitely a great experience. I think it is great to have people around to share that experience of the being on the road. A lot of things can happen while you’re out traveling around, so it is great to have a good friend to share a laugh or two with while you are playing.


7. Have you found yourself writing any new songs or getting new ideas while you’re on the road? Do you find the road to be an inspirational place to write, or do you save that side of your creativity for when you’re in your element at home?

(SB): For me the road is a catalyst to pull things out of me. I never really write while I am on the road, but touring allows me to think about things in my personal life. When I tour, I kind of escape my day to day life. It allows me to think on recent heartbreak or whatever may have happened in my life. I know lately when I have been on the road, it has made me think a lot about certain people I wish were still in my life and are not any more. So by hitting the road, it allows for a certain sense of clarity I can’t always get just sitting at home. I think there will be some definite heartbreakers coming out of me sometime soon haha.

8. And finally, now for those who might be reading this and are curious, where can we catch you out on the road next? And who will you be with?

(SB): Well I hit the road with Darryl Rahn April 27th, 28th, and 29th. We will be at Gypsy Sallys in DC on the 27th, Café Caturra in Midlothian, VA on the 28th and 7 Locks Brewing on the 29th. Then in June I will be out on Cape Cod for a weekend run of shows and then another southern tour in July. And I will also be playing here and there in New York. I’ll be on my own when out touring, but I’ll be back to give everyone their full band fix in New York. Basically, I am all over this summer hahaha, but I hope that anyone who is curious swings by and checks out a show or two.

Big thanks goes out to Stephen Babcock for catching up with us! As he said in the interview you can catch him with Darryl Rahn tonight in DC (along with plenty of dates still to come). 

Also be sure to check out his album Said & Done which is currently available on a variety of platforms. Go check it out and give Stephen’s music some much-deserved love! 

Getting Started With “Said & Done” And Singer/Songwriter Stephen Babcock

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So it seems like every time I get ready to write and tell you a new story here at OTBEOTB, we’re entering some new untold musical realm that seems to sync up perfectly with my mindset for the time of year.

Last time I spoke to you we were drifting through the mire of February and shaking up that grey Polaroid of activity with the music of David Rothschild & The Downtown Local. Now, we find ourselves in the very fingertips of a new March beginning, and with that comes the notion of a spring just waiting to be sprung. And while that blossoming of what’s to come seems to be stirring up the musical realm as well (with some great releases just starting to emerge), I find none to be quite so perfectly fitting for a summer in the making as the goes-down-smooth textures of Stephen Babcock’s just released LP Said & Done.

Babcock has an immediate flair for a good hook and a sweet melody, and when you put it all together his sound is the kind that makes “radio friendly” the term of endearment it used to be before largely tone-deaf Top 40 ruled today’s airwaves. Listening to Babcock’s songs recall that period when it was fun to find a song by an artist you didn’t know on your FM dial that just sounded great (and felt the same), and all it made you wanna do was roll down the car windows, blast the speakers, and hit the highway.

Thankfully, yours truly here at On The Back Edge of the Beat was able to catch up with Stephen Babcock just after the release of his album (and coinciding release show at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on the 27th), and ask him some questions. I hope you find it as interestingly illuminating as I did, and if your interest is piqued you can now pick up Said & Done on Stephen’s Bandcamp page, Amazon, iTunes, and you can stream it over on Spotify. There will be a review of it to come here on this very spot tomorrow, but without any further ado:

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1. Congratulations on releasing your new album Said & Done! How has the reception to it been in the days since from both fans and newcomers alike?

(SB)-So far it’s been really overwhelming and exciting. A lot of people have shown their support and it’s been fantastic. New and old friends alike have reached out to me and have been really kind and supportive. Some blogs here and there have also given the record some really positive reviews, and we had a full room at the Rockwood Music Hall release show. It makes me happy to see that people have really been enjoying it.

 2. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to ask anyone this, but what are the mixtures of emotions like in the days leading up to and after the release of a new album? Are there a lot of nerves? Does this perfectionist side emerge where you wanna change a guitar part or lyric in hindsight? 

 (SB)-I definitely had some nerves right before releasing the new record and playing the release show. You never know how people will react and I really just wanted people to like the album. I had put a lot of time into perfecting everything I could and making sure I loved each and every song. So my hope was that people would fall in love with the songs like I did. So far the response has been nothing but positive and really exciting. I know that no matter what anyone says, I still love every single piece of music on Said & Done. It just makes it even sweeter to know other people love the songs as much as I do. It makes all the time, money, and effort worth it.

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 3. Now I know you played a release show for the album at the venerable Rockwood Music Hall this past weekend. What’s it like from your experience playing a venue like that, and where does it rank in terms of places you’ve gotten to play in during your music career?

(SB)-I’ll be honest, Rockwood Music Hall is easily one of the best venues in New York City, if not the US. When I first started out in New York as a songwriter, Rockwood, Stage 2 was where I wanted to be. All my favorite bands have played there, from Bahamas, to Dawes; to even just recently Johnnyswim came in and sold out the venue. So Rockwood always holds a special place in my heart. Playing Stage 2 at Rockwood for me meant that you “made it” as a New York songwriter. So I started out playing really early slots at Rockwood Stage 1 at like 6PM. After playing up through Stage 1 to Stage 2, I was finally able to pull off a Saturday night slot for my release. The folks at Rockwood couldn’t have been kinder and more supportive of the release too. When it came to the night of the show, I think everyone was surprised at how packed it was. I had basically sold out the venue and we were at capacity. It just blew my mind to see how supportive and wonderful my friends and fans are. Even people who didn’t know my music before came out to the show and were totally engaged. The release show is easily one of the highest points in my musical career. After the show my band and I just hugged each other because we knew how special that moment truly was.

 4. So as I’m reading the summary of your new album and the personal journeys and stories involved in it, I have to ask (because it always fascinates me) what are your origins as a musician and songwriter and what led you to making music as a creative outlet? 

(SB)-I grew up in a very musical family. My dad had my brothers and I taking piano lessons when we were about 3 years old and I tried numerous instruments as kid (the viola and saxophone in particular).Things changed a lot though when I was 10 years old and my older brother bought John Mayer’s Room for Squares. I just identified with the music and it led me to really loving the singer-songwriter genre. I picked up the drums at about 13 and started playing in bands with some school friends but it never allowed me to write songs like I wanted to. When I was 16 I gravitated toward the guitar as soon as I learned a few chords, I went home, wrote three songs, and recorded them the next week. That same year, I won the high school talent show, which triggered the light to go off in my head thinking “maybe I could always do this?”. To this day I still play both drums and guitar consistently as a musical outlet. They provide different things for me musically and I really enjoy that. The work I do with drums is more collaborative and includes writing with other people, but the guitar is all mine I would say. The guitar gives me a chance to say things to people I might not people to in real life, and I need that sometimes.

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5. And to add on to that a little bit more (coming from this fellow Upstate New Yorker), how does a guy coming out of Utica and Syracuse find himself down in the big city doing the whole music thing? Do you still find time to come back to our neck of the woods, and does that play a role going from places that could arguably be considered quite rural compared to that big “City That Never Sleeps”? 

(SB)-I grew up right outside of Utica in New Hartford, NY, and Upstate is really dear to me. I personally think my time in New Hartford, Syracuse, and Albany really helped shape me as a person. I just really love coming from a very suburban place that allowed me to figure out what I wanted to be. I still visit all the time because I think going Upstate allows me to connect to a part of me that the city could never get to. Being from outside the city helps keep me grounded and makes me appreciate the littler things in life. It keeps me from being so “go, go, go” all the time (though I know I’m still a very anxious guy). I’ve been a suburbs guy I guess. It is a big part of me.

 6. In listening to your stuff, I can definitely sense an acoustic-pop flair that has the warmth and invite of a Jason Mraz or early John Mayer. Now was that just a type/style of music you fell into naturally, or as you grew into it did that require experimentation? Did you secretly start as a psychedelic punk rocker and just scale back?

(SB)-I think I definitely fell into it naturally. I believe that every songwriter just naturally writes and sings in a certain way, and mine just happened to be that singer-songwriter style. I have played drums in punk rock bands and hard rock bands and I definitely love that style of music, but I have always been in that songwriting vein musically. A lot of people use the Jason Mraz/John Mayer comparison too, but for me, I have slowly drifted away from that. Nowadays I feel the music I love (and play) has a more Americana and “southern-pop” feel. To me, the new record, Said & Done, is a more pop inflected take on bands like Dawes, Bahamas, Rayland Baxter, or Ryan Adams. Still songwriter-y, but tracks like “Tightrope”, “Worth”, or even “Someday” come from an Americana beginning stylistically.

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7. Now in that music/lyrical creation realm, what comes first for you? Is it a process where the words of the song shape themselves out of a place or idea and just need to have the chords built around them? Or does the music come out in chords or particular riffs and the words come after?

(SB)-I have always been a “music first” guy. It allows me to find the meter and flow of the song while giving me a chance to decide what I want to say. Usually, if not always, the lyrics come from personal experience. You could point at any song and I could tell you “oh that’s about so and so” or “yep that’s about such and such”. Said and Done is basically about one person in particular, but the songs also come from numerous experiences with different women in my life. Each song is like a melting pot of real events, but some songs are more about one person and others are about a culmination of people. I take a lot of pride in lyrics because the music I gravitate to is all about that. Lyrics can usually take the longest time to gather together, but I always find it is absolutely worth it. The best thing to hear from any listener is that they loved the lyrics or that they identified with them. To me that sends me over the moon with joy.

8. Going back to the description of the album again for a moment, is there anymore you’d like to add about that journey you took in the creation of making this record? I’m always so intrigued by such vulnerably human journeys of discovery, and I think what most catches my attention is how you were influenced by the Southern United States. How did that come about exactly, and what did that part of the country infuse into this record?

(SB)-The trips and tours came about after my desire to play some shows down South. I have some family from the area and I knew my music would fit well there. Lo and behold, it totally worked out better than I ever could have expected I met so many people and learned so much that it really inspired me. The Southeast helped me really discover who I was and what I wanted to say musically. You can hear it in the songs; the love for Southern music and particularly a girl named Georgia. Every state from Alabama to North Carolina can be heard in this record. Each one has a special story and imparted a certain wisdom on my music that I still feel is very crucial to who I am. I just think the south made me look at myself in a certain way and the Americana music I heard really inspired me. I traveled the South both alone and with my good friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. Both trips just made me feel at home. The music, the food, the people; everything was welcoming me with open arms. It allowed me to grow in a brand new way. It’s a second home and a personal proving ground.

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9. In this grand realm of music and album creation, when you boil it down to the real nuts and bolts of what goes into it all…. what does music represent to you? Is it a great burst of catharsis and really being able to unload that emotional weight out into the world, or is it just that storytelling aspect and wanting to share it with others? I guess to really sum it up, what drives you and inspires you not to just play music, but to create things like Said & Done?

(SB)-I think it’s a little bit of both things you mentioned. I love having music as a release in my daily life, but I also use music to tell stories and say things to or about people I might not normally say. For me, music is a way to collect my thoughts and be creative in a way that I think people can identify with. Most importantly, I use music to connect with people. I long for that connection with others and it’s really vital to me. So music gives me a way to look people in the eye and share experiences.

10. And finally, now that Said & Done is just starting to spread it’s wings and make it’s way out into the world, what are you looking at as far as future musical plans go? What dates will you be playing that you can tell us about, and what are the prospects of making some new stuff further down the line?

(SB)-Well now that Said & Done is literally “said & done” (sorry had to use the pun), the plan is to work to tour a lot. There is an upcoming show on March 24th at Pianos at 8PM with my friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. We then will be playing in Washington D.C. on March 30th Gypsy Sally’s and Richmond, VA at Reclaimed RVA on March 31st (the Richmond show also includes my friends “The Tide Rose”). There is more shows booked for April and into the summer, so the hope is just to get the record in front of people at shows. I’m also planning on doing some work with some labels and management companies which should be really exciting too. As far as the next record, I started writing it while finishing this one, so things are definitely on their way. I personally can’t wait to get back in the studio and make something brand new to show everyone. Writing has been really fluid so I’m excited to see what happens in the future. Be on the look out though for more Said & Done shows and content in the near future. 

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Thanks so much to Stephen Babcock for taking the time to sit down with me! Like I said in the beginning, if you want to buy his new record you can check him out on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, or if you’d prefer to stream it beforehand you can go over to Spotify as well.

As I also mentioned before, look for a review on Said & Done to be here front and center tomorrow!

All photos courtesy of Stephen Babcock’s artist Facebook page. 

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. 

The Lord Binds The Broken: Sessions With Ivy, Beck & Neill

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It’s All Happening….

I first (partially) meet up with the band Ivy, Beck & Neill and it’s principal members Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck and Amanda Neill out on the laid back city streets of Park Slope in Brooklyn. Ivy and Neill are both leaving work on this particular late season evening, and the plan is to drive over to Beck’s studio “The Refuge” in Gowanus to tour the setup, talk a bit about the band’s debut release Live at Rockwood Music Hall, as well as delve back into the history of what brought this tightly tuned trio together.

Think of it as two parts tell-all, and one part gentle mediation.

Anyway, after some debate about our plan for the evening (and a stop to a McDonalds and gas station later), we arrive at Refuge Recording in the ex-industrialized Gowanus area of Brooklyn with plenty of necessary equipment in tow. Quality beer being right at the head of that list (it’s an excellent interview aid after all).

Shortly after Beck lets us in and shows us up the stairs, through a bustling apartment of lights, activity and a nearly movie theater quality projector screen, and into a small yet charmingly assembled studio space. It’s nearly the complete opposite mood of what we walked through just moments before, and at once feels as peacefully contemplative as it is creative. Looking around I notice how instruments of all shapes and sizes fit in neatly like stacked puzzle pieces against hardwood floors, monitors, a comfortable couch and enough tech to keep any musical gearhead salivating.

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From that point on it was easy to break the ice and ease into our back and forth for the evening after initially comparing notes on small town living, the cost of upright bass players, potential podcasts, and debating the gig the group had played the evening before. Oh, and figuring out who the person was that had even brought us all together in the first place. But that’s another story.

Introductions & New Beginnings

Once the floor had gotten past it’s opening banter for the night, it was time to discuss what makes this band tick. Namely, what were the origins that took three individual musicians and made them into the fluid country/folk Voltron Transformer that they are today?

Live At Rockwood Music Hall

Well according to Ivy, IB&N was initially started as a backing band blueprint to further her solo career after cutting a record down in her hometown of Nashville at the time. She had already known Beck following some previous musical excursions together, and Neill was a friend of a friend coming courtesy of another local Brooklyn musician named Jamey Hamm.

With a show for her solo material fast approaching and the need for a band imminent, Ivy got together with Beck and Neill at Refuge with the idea being that Beck would play (along with a drummer and bassist), and Neill would sing backup as she tended to do with a lot of area bands. However when the initial trio came together the first time to simply rehearse vocals, they found not only an immediate sense for harmonies, but also an existing electricity in their unison that extended well past a simple backing band and it’s solo artist.

Or as Ivy succinctly put it, “We just nailed it.” 

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And that “it” quickly turned into deciding to create a song together that very first night. So as they sat together writing on the floor of Refuge (allegedly aided by a fair amount of whiskey), both Ivy and Beck were taken aback when Neill was gradually coaxed into revealing an excerpt of a gorgeous song idea she’d been holding onto previously called “Blame It On The Whiskey”. And while it was initially thought that Ivy would sing it as a part of her originally planned show after it was complete, as time went on the only vocal that worked on the cut was Neill’s.

Listen to “Blame It On The Whiskey”

As Ivy explained it, “The way that she sings that song, you believe her. And while it meant something to us all in a different way as we wrote it together, it was her initial story that it came from and was meant to come from her voice. And it just made it so, the way she sang it was the way it was meant so be sung. And that was the first time I’d really felt that in a collaboration before.”

Beck adds, “It was the first moment it felt like we were a group”. 

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Having written lyrics in large part since high school, Neill was well-versed in the subject but was discouraged in the years after by the amount of writers around her. Thus, she only considered herself a singer and would simply make audio recordings of her lyrical ideas that would get gradually discarded. Fortunately “Whiskey” was one of her then-latest that not only led to it being the first song of IB&N’s infancy, but also proved to be an outlet where Neill’s unexpected writing skills could freely flex their creative muscle. 

Music & The Ties That Bind

It became a full fledged writing addiction after that for the newly forged group, as a later full-band noodling around session led to delving into Beck’s personal story and the creation of “If You Ever Leave Me”. The song features each of the trio on lead vocals separately dealing with some post-breakup blues (“I like that those lyrics truthfully came from our separate stories”, Neill says), and if nothing else one of the greatest things about listening to the band talk about their process is the amount of real, honest-to-god backstory.

Take a listen to “If You Ever Leave Me”

There’s so much honesty infused into everything they do, both lyrically and emotionally.

As Beck describes it, “Our songs are like therapy sessions for us”. And that immediately becomes evident as the three describe early writing sessions that “might take other bands an hour” stretching into five or six as they would not only write, but bond over the experiences that led to each new song’s respective creation.

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“It was the year of a thousand tears”, Ivy jokes, but behind the humor is a sincerity and a deep familial connection formed between the three as a result. That same connection and therapeutic sense of catharsis hangs heavily on their Live at Rockwood release as well, though that didn’t come without it’s fair share of learning in the process and growing pains felt both together and individually.

“We had our dark moments, but it’s nice cause it’s not fake,” Neill says quietly, “It was all part of it, cause we’ve all seen the bad sides of each other. That’s part of the beauty of when the good times are great, because it makes the good times that much better.”

For Ivy, it all came down to learning to let go. “It was really difficult for me because I’d been doing solo work for such a long time, and I’ve had bad collaboration experiences in the past. I love collaborating. It’s just easier when you can control everything yourself and you don’t have to worry about playing well with others or having to mutually decide what direction a song is going in. It was difficult to relinquish control and trust we were all going to go in the same direction at some point and trust that we all had the same goal for the song. Which was honesty and vulnerability and that sort of magic which makes it something different that people need to hear”. 

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Afterwards we talk about the defining musical influences for the band, and that sense of relinquishment and need for mutual connection comes up again in Ivy’s love of Patty Griffin. “The first time I heard Patty Griffin I thought to myself, ‘I want to write songs that make people feel what that made me feel like'” she says, “and that’s kinda carried me through and played a part in every song I’ve ever written. You just don’t know if they’re gonna get that along with you, but I’ve been lucky enough to find people who have the exact same goal in mind. And that control got easier to let go of, the more I got to know them.”

For Neill it was the opposite issue, as she’d never really had that type of platform before or the freedom to really state what she wanted her goals to be musically. “Trisha always says I was never jaded about the process. I’m just always grateful, ya know? I guess for me the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do is songwriting. And despite the two of us being women songwriters in music, we’ve never clashed over that because we’re two totally different sounds and styles. I think that’s why we work together, because we aren’t trying to do the same thing and we’re still not the same.”

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Where’s a Music Nerd When You Need One….

While when it comes to Mike Beck, his more cloudy swirl of influential sounds seems to coincide well with his role as the musical glue holding the trio in place. At first he mentions having parents who were into listening to musical theatre, and as a result growing up around a lot of the Great American Songbook.

“He loves piano bars,” Neill jokes.

But then he mentions really being a quote unquote “music nerd”, who traveled through a big phase of blues (and playing in blues bands), covering James Taylor’s Greatest Hits on his 4-track in high school (“the first time I was really moved into playing folksy sounding guitar”, he explains), and having a deep love of classic rock.

deep love.

“Almost every single time we bring up a song and start writing it, Mike will play the chords and then go into a classic rock song,” Ivy says, miming Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”, “Oh, this song but it’s also this song!”

“Well you guys do seem to write “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” a LOT”, Beck retorts jokingly.

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All joking aside though, Beck is musically trained with a degree from Berkley and has a strong instinct for bonding composition and arrangements to the lyrics of both Ivy and Neill.

As Neill explains, “One thing I feel so fortunate to have is that if I ever have an idea for a song, I’ll ask Mike what he thinks and he’s so talented instrumentally that he quickly takes that idea and makes it into the beginnings of a song.”

“He just has a vision for where a song should move. It’s really nice to have.”

It’s quite an interesting relationship in that way for the three, as Beck laments being “too technical” at times and having perhaps a bit too much musical education when it comes to working on new ideas for the band. While on the other hand, Ivy admits that it’s nice because it helps keep she and Neill working within a logical hemisphere of music when they need to be “wrangled in”. Eventually they often just meet in the middle anyway.

“I’ve sort of learned how to understand what their weird ideas are through the lens of what people are used to hearing”, Beck says.

Ivy adds, “He kinda basically makes our ideas that we can’t musically make happen on our own… happen. He’s the Bridgeman. He just loves making music, he’s the quintessential producer that way. That’s how his mind is geared, and that’s a lot of what you hear in his work producing Live at Rockwood.”

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The Science of Production

And when referring to Beck’s inner “music nerd”, there was no bigger moment to see it emerge then when he lit up talking about Rockwood and those very production aspects.

“So… well Rockwood is such a fancy venue, Ken Rockwood spares no expense in making the place sound beautiful and having the best gear,” Beck says, “So not only can they get great sound but they have a fancy rig up in the back to record shows with. So if you pay like $100 or something they’ll just press record and put it on a thumb drive and give it to you.”

“So I got that, and it sounded pretty good but it’s live so it’s not perfect. But after doing some tricky stuff with my gear here (as he gestures to the consoles) I could just sorta goose it up and make it sound polished and pro. The hard part is that all the drum and bass parts are in all the vocal mics too, so if you do anything to the those or vice versa… it all becomes sort of a juggling act. Fortunately there are ways around that.”

He continues, “Initially the thought was we were going to use the bare bones of the recording and build stuff or fix stuff to make it sound more like a record. But in the end we just ended up using what happened that night, cause it was more than good enough. All it really came down to was technical and audio fixes to make it sound full and like a record, but like it was still right in the room where you could sense the audience and that big space.”

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When The Willow Stops Weeping

After a bit more bantering with the band (and another beer or two being passed around) we once again go further into the emotional depth of the record, and arrive at probably one of the most poignantly meaningful exchanges of the night. At first, it begins with favorite songs for each of the band on the Rockwood release

For Neill, “To be honest, my favorite of all the songs are the slower sad ones. Like the ones that get real honest. While the other ones are fun I would cut them out entirely if I could. The most upbeat one I enjoy is “Texas”, but it still starts the way that I like best. It just always feels right.”

Adds Ivy, “I think that “Texas” is probably my favorite song on the record too.”

And Beck chimes in, “I love “Blame It On The Whiskey” because it was our first song together, and it makes me love you guys. And I love “Play Me A Record”. I think it’s just very well constructed from a songwriter-y perspective. But I also love “One Day at a Time”, because the slow stuff is really where we’re at our best.”

Listen to “Texas” & “One Day at a Time”

But truthfully the best may still be yet to come for this trio song-wise, especially when I pose a question to Ivy about an older song of hers called “Weeping Willow” and it’s recent sequel “When The Willow Stops Weeping”. “When The Willow Stops Weeping” is a bonus track that originated after Rockwood was finished and has not yet been formally recorded. But the story behind it makes needing it in the world that much stronger and more deeply essential.

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As Ivy explains it, “Weeping Willow was the first song I ever wrote with Brian Elmquist. I wanted to learn how to play guitar, he wanted to write songs, so I suggested writing songs together and he could teach me to play guitar. That never happened, we just ended up getting carried away in writing songs together instead. And I had just been through a heinous breakup, and as a songwriter I’d kinda written some…. stuff. But I had not yet figured out how to write what I was going through in the moment. I could write how I wanted to with things that had happened in the past, but if it was happening to me now I couldn’t do that.”

She adds, “I would give Brian most of the credit for pushing and teaching and pulling that out of me, because I had gone and sat under a willow tree in Park Slope and just written pages and pages of lyrics and all this stuff to do with this breakup. And, I got into this writing session with Brian and flipped past it. But he got it out of me and pushed me into being able to open and unlock that door in my songwriting. And so we wrote Weeping Willow.”

“Fast forward to now and a few months after cramming for the Rockwood record. We were exhausted and had taken a month off. We were burnt out essentially. And we were doing a bunch of shows later to play out the record, and some friends of ours had things happen. Two stories basically, the first being my little cousin dying in an accident, which wrecked my whole family. And my grandmother had died in the last few years, my brother had passed…. it was just a lot of heavy losses in my family. And it was just too much.”

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“And not being with my family (back in Tennessee) I couldn’t go to the funeral, and just knowing my family was falling apart and not being able to be there…. and then, a couple of friends of ours Kanene and Katherine had their friend from college kill himself. And them just kinda sharing their story with us and how hard and swift that had hit them… out of the blue. They had no idea. And all of that kind of happening at the same time… my family had gotten together at the time. And my cousin’s Mom asked me to write a song following her passing.”

“I was anxious about it because we weren’t very close and I didn’t really have a major connection with her, but after a while this other stuff with our friends came up and I just started thinking about it all over again. Family, friends…. people who had lost. That can’t be replaced, and how sad life can be. And when we first started writing the song, it was really depressing. I mean as it starts out, but I feel like we had come to a certain place and a maturity in our songwriting where there was still hope.”

Neill interjects, “You have a chance to speak life into people. You’ve been given the platform of the stage and you can use it for whatever you want. But you have a chance to speak life…. to do something for somebody that’s true and good. And leave them with some kind of hope. And that’s like the best feeling in the world.”

Ivy continues, “It was that way with “Texas”, and “With The Willow Stops Weeping”…. it started out just sadness. And then we decided where we wanted it to go.”

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“The Lord binds the broken, he won’t leave you the same”, murmurs Neill, quietly singing a line from “Willow”.

Ivy concludes, “And writing a different story, and a different ending. That song is one of the most honest things I’ve ever written. It’s definitely very true to how my life is completely different from what it used to be. Different from the darkest of times, and that song in three or four minutes was just the way of telling someone else the story of my life. And how everything was taken, and somehow…. I was able to see that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Not everything good has to always end.”

Sit and behold a live Rockwood version of “Willow”

Fun With Stupid Questions…. And The Road Ahead

And that was like listening to a statement that puts all other statements to shame with it’s power and sheer… soul-wrenching honesty. Eventually though (much like what I’d been talking with IB&N about all night) we did emerge from that emotional darkness and ended the night on something a little lighter.

Namely, the Stupid Question Lightning Round. And while that may seem, well, stupid, I ended up learning a lot from the fine folks in Ivy, Beck & Neill. Such as there being a majority preference in the group for the Rolling Stones over the Beatles, that dragons held the vote over zombies in which was more awesome, that Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Elliott Smith were top choices in favorite 90’s bands, that no one particularly cared for either the Mets or Yankees, which Jonas is Beck’s favorite (Joe… it’s a long story), and memories of Michael Jackson’s death that either evoked great stories or no recollection at all.

Or an MJ joke that I can’t repeat here in print.

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Hint: Garfield wasn’t responsible.

But all in all, it was an evening of great storytelling, music, and something that by the end felt less like an interview and more like friends sharing equal dosages of their light and dark in how they got to this point.

As Neill put it as our interview was winding to a close, “ I wanna do music for the rest of my life. It’s more than therapeutic, it’s like-“

“-becoming who you were supposed to be. That this… was always going to be.” Ivy finishes the thought, and ends it on a note of stark truth that rings equally strong for the both of them.

And as for LP number two?

“We’ve got about five or six songs up our sleeve” Neill says, adding with a laugh, “It’s just too much fun!”

And if it’s one thing I learned this night at Refuge Recording as I later leave and head back out into the quiet of a New York City night, fun is a big part of when you’re around these three.

Too much fun, indeed. 11816281_480369432127080_379973624232207851_o

Photos are courtesy of a variety of sources including myself, Mara Schwartz (for whom I dedicate this piece to), and bits and pieces from the band. For more on Ivy, Beck & Neill search them on Facebook, tweet their Twitter, and buy their record on Bandcamp, iTunes, and any sensible retailers that digitally carry “Live at Rockwood Music Hall”. Available now. 

Dreaming of a Milky White Christmas With Mikey Bar-Lavi

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As I’m starting to slowly and unnervingly realize now: it’s already the very beginning of December. That time of year when the snow starts to fly, the temperatures descend, and I begin to think about the Christmas season as the year we know as 2015 starts to draw to a close.

And as this final holiday of the year approaches, as most start to dream of sugarplums dancing in their heads or what type of whiskey smell the mall Santa will have on his breath, I begin to think of the music that provides an ample soundtrack to this time of year. Burl Ives singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Elvis Presley and “Blue Christmas”, that time Run DMC did the ageless classic “Christmas Is”…. okay maybe not that one quite as much.

The point is, it’s time to focus on music around the holidays. And luckily, Mikey Bar-Lavi is going to start helping me do just that. Bar-Lavi, who is the lead singer and guitarist of a group called Milky White, reached out to me recently to mention that his band was recording a Christmas EP (A Milky White Christmas) and doing a couple of benefit shows on December 17th and 20th around New York City. The profit from said shows (at 89 North and Bowery Electric) as well as the EP go entirely towards a 9/11 first responders charity called Feal Good Foundation, and really make for a fantastic music-related fit into the giving nature of the season.

So with all of this information tucked firmly under my metaphorical cap, I was eager to interview Bar-Lavi and help spread the word about the band’s project:12239192_743319009134563_1556148251436671911_o1. What was the inspiration for putting together and hosting these upcoming December charity shows at 89 North and Bowery Electric?

(MB-L): The shows all came from our original plan to record a Christmas album. Once we decided to make this a charity event we just wanted to make sure we could make it as big and helpful as possible. We were lucky enough to have booking agents and venues who were excited about this project and willing to work with us to make this memorable.

2. And speaking of 89 North and Bowery Electric, having been to quite a few venues around NYC I’ve often found that each one possesses it’s own type of atmosphere and unique sense of…. character if that’s the right word. What have your experiences been like playing places like these as a band, and does that change at all around the holidays?

(MB-L): In terms of Bowery Electric and 89 North, they have such extremely different energies and I’m excited to see how different each show is. You’re 100% right that every venue has its own character and it adds an unseen element to every show. During the holidays I just think the vibe is a little friendlier. Especially when bands are coming together for a show like this, I think everyone feels very much on the same team.

3. You’re also playing these benefit shows with some other bands . What can listeners who have not yet been initiated expect to hear not only from your group, but some of these others that are also on the bill? 

(MB-L): Honestly, I can’t say I know every band on the bill for the 17th at 89 North. There are so many amazing bands in NY its hard to keep up! I work with an amazing team in putting these shows together and I look forward to discovering some new music picked by my collaborators.  For December 20th at Bowery Electric I picked Appalachian Apollo and my partner Nick Mishkin from L Rock entertainment selected Beecher’s Fault. Both are fantastic and I’m so excited that they will be joining us. 

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4. Now I know you’re playing these benefit shows on behalf of the charity Feal Good Foundation. What made you decide to choose this charity, and can you tell me a little bit more about it? 

(MB-L): When we were looking for a cause to support it was important to us that we find something localized that everyone could feel a connection to. Being a NY band, every one of us has a memory of 9/11 and we know that everyone who lives here has a strong connection to that day. When I found The Feal Good Foundation I immediately knew it was a perfect fit for us. John Feal, the founder got in touch with me right away as I reached out to him and his enthusiasm over the phone was very inspiring. He told me his story and why he started his charity and I knew then that I had to get involved. The FealGood Foundation raises awareness of the problems concerns and issues faced by 9/11 First Responders in their every day duties. This charity ensures that yesterdays heroes are not forgotten.

5. You’re also putting out a Christmas EP that coincides with the live shows and will also have all of it’s proceeds donated to the same charity. Tell me a little bit about that, and as a band that’s self-described as “Rock and Roll/PowerPop/Indie Rock/New Wave/Post Punk”, what’s the process like adapting Christmas songs to your brand of sound? Is it a broad leap or has it felt natural? 

(MB-L): It all started with the Christmas EP! To be honest it was a pretty natural transition musically. I think that we are going to surprise a lot of people with how this thing sounds. Most of our band has a jazz background and personally I’m a big fan of the kind of swing/rockabilly that is at the heart of most Christmas classics. We had so much fun putting this thing together and its probably the best guitar playing I’ve ever gotten to do on record. From now on we should probably just be a full time Christmas band.

6. Now I know the EP isn’t technically going to be out for a little bit longer yet, but is there a tentative tracklist?

(MB-L): There is! The record is done being recorded and heres the tracklist in no specific order.

 Let it Snow

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Baby it’s Cold Outside (Feat. Veronika Jokel)

 Here’s a fun fact about these three songs: all three are written by Jewish Songwriters. As a Jew myself, I’m glad to be keeping the tradition of Jewish Christmas Music alive.

5. And finally, in the spirit of the holidays… favorite Christmas song/artist?

(MB-L): I’ll take Brian Setzer’s Christmas music pretty much any time of year.

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Big thanks goes out to Mikey Bar-Lavi of the band Milky White for graciously taking time to do this interview with me! The EP A Milky White Christmas will be released soon (at which time I’ll do a review), but in the meantime you can check out news on the band, the benefit shows, the EP release, the Feal Good foundation and much more down at the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/MilkyWhiteBand

http://fealgoodfoundation.com/

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