BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
INKWELL MEDIA / RVA MAGAZINE / WWW.RVAMAG.COM
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RVA #10 FALL 2012
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SEVEN HILLS CREW
WORN IN RED
RVA MAGAZINE #10
erro Sugar have been generating quite the buzz around the RVA indie rock scene lately. Their catchy indie rock tunes and tight live performances win over new fans on a regular basis. They are clearly a band on the rise--which makes their young ages all the more noteworthy. “We’re all going to be juniors in high school when school starts,” they inform me recently, collectively responding by email to my barrage of questions. Lead guitarist Tristan Fisher recently turned 17, while the other members of the band--singer/guitarist Jack Mayock, bassist Noma Illmensee, and drummer Jack Oliver-are all 16. Taking inspiration from “a collective love of Wilco and The Smiths,” early 2000s garage rock revival groups like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and of course, plenty of local music (they cite The Trillions, Black Girls, White Laces, and The Milkstains as local favorites), Herro Sugar have integrated their influences into a strong, original sound that is quick to capture the attention of listeners.
BY ANDREW NECCI PHOTO BY MARIN LEONG
The four of them became a musical unit around three years ago. “We had all been best friends for years before we started to play music together,” they explain. “Tristan’s been playing guitar since he was 9, but the rest of us have only been playing our instruments for about as long we’ve been playing together.” At first just messing around in their garages, figuring out their instruments, and learning a bunch of covers kept the four teenagers amused. But then they discovered the local scene. “We started going to shows of bands like the I-Las and the Nervous Ticks at Plaza Bowl and the Camel. This inspired us to get more serious about writing our own songs.” However, wise enough to recognize their own inexperience, Herro Sugar only gradually began booking shows, taking things slowly and giving themselves plenty of time to grow and learn. They take this same painstaking, unhurried approach to songwriting. “We spend a lot of time with our songs. A lot of our current songs have been evolving for at least a year.”
Of course, for a group of teenage boys to be able to spend a lot of time learning their instruments, developing songs, and becoming comfortable as a performing unit, they need to have a group of tolerant and understanding parents. The boys in Herro Sugar have that and more. “We’ve grown up with a lot of musical encouragement from families,” they explain. “[Our parents] have also been kind enough to provide living rooms and basements for us to practice in.” Herro Sugar’s familial connections offer more than just permission to use the basement as a practice space, though. “Almost all of our dads were in bands, and are still,” they relate. “Noma’s dad has a long history as a guitar player in Richmond, having for many years been a part of Frog Legs and Boneanchor. Tristan’s dad grew up playing in the Richmond scene and is currently the drummer for the Jangling Reinharts. Jack Mayock’s dad spent many years hopping trains and making a living as a musician around the country.” This remarkable pedigree certainly helps to explain how such RVA MAGAZINE #10
“WE STARTED GOING TO SHOWS OF BANDS LIKE THE I-LAS AND THE NERVOUS TICKS AT PLAZA BOWL AND THE CAMEL. THIS INSPIRED US TO GET MORE SERIOUS ABOUT WRITING OUR OWN SONGS.” young performers come by such a prodigious amount of talent, and it’s always fascinating to see the ways that the talents of one musical generation pass down to the next. Although they self-released a homemade demo back in winter of 2010, Herro Sugar’s first real release came out earlier this year. The self-titled 3-song EP was recorded with studio time they acquired by winning a battle of the bands hosted by the nonprofit organization Let Them Shine. Its songs are both well-recorded and excellently written and performed, and a homemade video for “Moments,” one of the tracks on the EP, caught a lot of people’s attention. Filmed and directed by bassist Noma Illmensee, the inspired video mixes footage of the band and their friends goofing off at home and at school with madcap footage Illmensee shot while riding his bike around the Fan with his video camera mounted on his shoulder. “I had been filming all the stuff our band had been doing as our school year wound down, figuring MUSIC HERRO SUGAR
that I might as well document these moments in our lives for fun and posterity,” Noma says. “I also enjoyed the thrill and style of filming on my bike as I rode to and from practice and elsewhere.” The idea for the “Moments” video came from the juxtaposition of the song’s lyrics and the footage he’d shot. “I figured I could make a stylistic impact by using the song ‘Moments’ as inspiration for the videos, which ended up featuring ideas that inspired the song. So I matched the shots to the beat and figured that they went well together.” The end result is a sunny, upbeat video with a subtle undercurrent of deeper emotion, which matches with the feeling of the song and combines to create an unforgettable sequence of images and music. It’s an excellent indication of what Herro Sugar are capable of, even as young as they are. They’d rather we not focus so much on their ages, though. “We think of ourselves as less of a high school band, and more of an RVA band that happens to be in high school,” they com-
ment. “We hope that we can gain recognition for our music despite being so young compared to everyone else playing in Richmond.” In the wake of their first EP’s small-scale success, they’re in the process of readying their next release. “We’re finishing an 8 song EP we recorded with a friend of ours, musician and sound engineer Collin Pastore,” they explain. Their plans for the fall semester include the release of the new EP and plenty of local shows, and they hope to be able to take their act on tour next summer. If Herro Sugar carries on at the rate they’re going, they could be one of the leading lights of the Richmond scene by the time they finish high school. Considering that in a few years, their generation will be the one carrying on the RVA tradition of a vibrant, exciting, and original local music scene, it’s good to see that there are some talented, passionate young musicians preparing to step into that role.
BROTHER BILL INTERVIEW BY DAN ANDERSON / PHOTO BY KELLY SHEPHERD
rother Bill is a four piece folk/indie/punk rock group from Warrenton, VA. They officially began in 2008, when the members were asked to throw a set together and play a show at an Irish pub in their hometown. But long before brothers Dan (Lead Vocals/Lead Guitar) and Pat Mulrooney (Drums) settled on their moniker, the driving force behind what would become Brother Bill was developed during campfire sessions with close friends, booze, and guitars. Brother Bill was initially formed as a three-piece featuring the brothers Mulrooney and original bassist Bill Patchett. Bill soon left the band on good terms, in pursuit of a long and exciting career in accounting, and Dan and Pat added Aaron DeLong (Rhythm Guitar/Vocals) and Alex Berklovich (Bass/Vocals) to round out the lineup. Soon after, Brother Bill completed a solid ten-track album to accompany their well-earned reputation, which still precedes them in the Warrenton/Fairfax/Winchester area of Northern Virginia. While Dan has long since relocated to Richmond, his bandmates have remained rooted in their hometown. When asked about the difference between RVA and Warrenton, Pat said: “Richmond’s our baby. The fans are different here. People dig the creative stuff. [They’re] not like ‘We just want to dance.’” It would undoubtedly be an easier feat to focus exclusively on an up-and-coming music city like Richmond, but the group refuses to put their achievements in Warrenton behind them. I recently spent a weekend with Brother Bill to find out why they spread themselves between two locations. We hit the road on a booze-fueled adventure that would take us from a wild show at The Yerb to Griffin Tavern in Rappahannock (near Warrenton), then back to Richmond to watch them perform at The Watermelon Festival. Before the trip, I considered Brother Bill to be just another talented group of musicians with an intense live show and an album that I thoroughly enjoyed. But since then, I’ve learned a lot about musicianship--not just theirs in particular, but musicianship in general--and how integral kinship is to the longevity of a collective concept. I found Brother Bill’s music to be a completely accurate depiction of who they are as people. Before the trip, I’d spent quite a bit of quality time with
“THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND WHAT WOULD BECOME BROTHER BILL WAS DEVELOPED DURING CAMPFIRE SESSIONS WITH CLOSE FRIENDS, Tell me about your self-titled album. Dan: It was released in February of 2012. We BOOZE, AND GUITARS.” recorded for seven months. All in all, it took about Dan Mulrooney, as well as having met and hung out with his band mates on several occasions. However, I’d never associated their tunes with a specific lifestyle that they were leading. On the surface, Brother Bill’s music simply combines intellectual lyrics with intelligent instrumentation and complex vocal harmonies from all involved. But at its core, Brother Bill is as honest, vulnerable, and amusing as its members.
eleven moths to finish the album. There were originally eleven tracks, but one was a cover so we cut that one off. We wanted ten, solid, original tracks. How do you guys feel about the album as a whole? Dan: If we hadn’t spent eleven months on it, I don’t think it would be nearly as good as it is. We recorded drums in a professional studio with our friend Mark Reiter, the drummer for The Daycare Swindlers. [Mark] really cared about what we were doing, so he spent a really long time with us. Of course while we were recording, we had shows to play. Every other weekend we’d record. I had a job, so I had to drive up from Richmond [to Warrenton] and would drive back, terribly hungover, on Sundays, because I had to work by ten. This time when we record, it’ll be a little easier, as long as I still don’t have a job. Pat: We had certain songs written out, completed, but a lot of it was just like--we laid drum tracks down in the studio, with loose guitar with it. It seemed like the songs built as we recorded them. It’s kind of an old school way of going into the studio and writing. AD: It was like going into the studio with an unlimited budget. Pat: It was like six grand for everything. Dan: It would have been a lot more. But we got surprised. We went in there with five complete songs that were finished, written.
tracks down, because they weren’t all the way written yet. But that became the structure. There’s a big difference between your studio album and your live show. Did you guys notice that? Dan: That was one of the criticisms. That’s going to be one of the differences in our next album. It was our first shot. It was hard not to be like “Throw another guitar on there, we need this shit rich!” or, “Throw another vocal harmony on there, we need it super resonant.” It ended up being a little overproduced. You learn from that. It seems like Brother Bill always ends their set with “One Heart In a Hole.” Is that always the case? Dan: So far. It’s the most punk rock [of the original songs] that we play. It’s the loudest and fastest, it seems like it should be saved for the end. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but I started a mosh pit at The Yerb. Do mosh pits ever break out at Brother Bill shows? Dan: Yes. That’s the best part. Pat: When we first started getting shows, it was with The Daycare Swindlers, and that was a real punk rock crowd, at really punk rock venues. We didn’t really know our songs that well. We still had to change them, make them faster. Playing those shows for the punk rock crowds, we didn’t know what we were doing. Now, we’d probably just play it normal, just like, “Fuck You!” Dan: We’d just turn it up a little louder.
Pat: Oh, that’s right, it was supposed to be an EP.
Alex: And we can play them quietly if we need to. If we’re playing for a dinner crowd.
Dan: Ryder, our producer, was like, why don’t you lay down the drum tracks for all of them. Some of them, the song changed when we laid the drum
You guys don’t seem like you want to play for a dinner crowd. Dan: No. But we got to make that money. RVA MAGAZINE #10
MUSIC BROTHER BILL
RVA MAGAZINE #10
GOLDRUSH AT THE CAMEL
GOLDRUSH BY SHANNON CLEARY / PHOTOS TODD RAVIOTTA
he supposed year of our Earth’s demise has proven to be a fruitful one for Goldrush. In linking up with MAD Dragon Records, they have achieved prominence beyond the local level, and they’re all the merrier for it. Between their upcoming 7 inch vinyl EP and their frequent recent tours, Goldrush are yet another of the many Richmond bands that have brought positive attention to our local scene. “We’ve met a lot of bands on the road that are constantly asking about coming to play in Richmond because we describe it with such fondness,” says Goldrush frontman Prabir Mehta. Goldrush’s relationship with MAD Dragon began when Motion City Soundtrack bassist Matt Taylor made an inadvertent discovery. “He was cleaning his house with his ipod on shuffle,” Mehta relates. “A song came on that he was digging, but [the filename only] said ‘Track 01’--no other info. So he asked his friend [local musician/engineer Kevin Willoughby], who gave it to him, and it turned out it was us!” This discovery led Taylor to include Goldrush in the Motion City Soundtrack-curated Making Moves series of vinyl singles, released on the MAD Dragon label. Goldrush joins a plethora
of emerging artists that have had their releases produced and engineered by members of MCS. “Everyone involved in this has been fantastic human beings that are interested in doing something fun,” Mehta relates. ”I’m very happy that things worked out the way they did, and am super grateful that we wrote the song when we did, recorded it where we did, and had it passed along the way it was.” Goldrush’s Making Moves single, the fourth in the series, features the tracks “Settle Down,” “REX,” and “The Dream is Over.” These tracks help display several different facets of the group’s personality. “The Dream is Over” reflects the group’s early sound with its waltz pacing and somber moods, while “Settle Down” takes the epic rock nature of Goldrush for a couple of spins before hitting its upbeat momentum. The noticeable differences in these two tunes in particular are part of what keeps things exciting for Mehta. “[They’re] pretty different, but having the strings doing their thing over both the songs kind of unifies [them],” he says, referring to the stringed instruments played by his classicallytrained bandmates, violinist Treesa Gold and upright bassist Matt Gold. “Again, not saying that we’re doing straight blues on one song and then a
“ THE GOLDS ARE AWESOME TO WORK WITH BECAUSE THEY APPRECIATE A SIMILAR FLOW OF MUSIC,” HE EXPLAINS. “IT’S SO EASY TO UNDERSTAND WHAT PART OF THE SONG NEEDS THE MOST ‘OOMPH,’ OR WHICH PART NEEDS TO BE LEFT ALONE.”
tribal percussive thing on another,” he considers. “We’re still playing rock music, but it’s the first time that I’ve just [brought] in the songs and whatever happens, happens.” One of Goldrush’s greatest assets is Mehta’s musical relationship with the Golds. Both are incredible talents that help flesh out ideas and thoughts in ways that he would never have considered in the past. “The Golds are awesome to work with because they appreciate a similar flow of music,” he explains. “It’s so easy to understand what part of the song needs the most ‘oomph,’ or which part needs to be left alone. Smart folks, those two.” These interactions also lead to moments of hilarity that may or may not have included a midtour 3 AM slapping contest between Mehta and Treesa. While no immediate victor was declared, the hotel hallway setting was more than appropriate for bonding over drunken shenanigans. In addition to their recent work with Mad Dragon, Goldrush recently spent a week in July as guest artist/faculty members for the Omaha Conservatory Of Music’s summer program. As educators, they allow students to fully realize music’s potential for letting imaginations run wild. In many ways, Mehta sees teaching the next generation of musicians as an opportunity for exploration of his own craft. “Nothing is cooler than when I play a song in that class and someone says, ‘Why do you like that?’,” he explains. “Having to explain something to a third party is hard enough. Make that third party someone who’s holding a cello and is 11 years old and you’re in for a whole new line of thought.” Goldrush’s participation in this endeavor speaks volumes about the band’s penchant for utilizing their talents as a means of encouraging others to follow in a similar path. If there is a downside to spending more time on the road, it’s that Goldrush must leave behind many of their Richmond-based creative ventures during their time out of town. But Mehta feels that the positives far outweigh the negatives. “I mean honestly, we’re still all living in this town; playing here, getting drunk with our friends, and whatnot,” he explains. “Not much has changed other than it has forced us to be better about what we do. Bringing the quality up will do nothing but make it better for everyone, I hope. We’re practicing more, working on really fun ideas, looking forward to some cool opportunities, and hopefully representing Richmond in a good way when we’re not here.” In the midst of all the excitement, one thing is certain. Goldrush are joining the ranks of artists that are helping to give Richmond a reputation we can all be proud of. The release of this new single on MAD Dragon Records is only the beginning of a prosperous future for this local outfit.
TERRAIN 360 BY DIANA BOXEY / PHOTOS TERRAIN 360
f you haven’t seen the Terrain360 bumper stickers riding around the Commonwealth, perhaps you’ve missed the latest breakthrough in trail technology. Terrain360.com brings users an interactive, virtual platform for navigating Virginia’s hiking trails and mountain biking trails, along with many of Virginia’s waterways and race terrain. Available on PCs and mobile devices, Terrain360 allows users to explore Virginia’s trail systems from an entirely new perspective with 360 degree panoramic photography. Where did the concept for Terrain360 come from? Where all great ideas begin, with two icy cold beverages on a shipwrecked canoe in the upper James. As Ryan Abrahamsen and Ross Milby wandered aimlessly over train tracks and through overgrown brush hoping for a friendly face or
clearing to guide them back to their release point in Scottsville, VA, an idea was spawned out of both necessity and wishful thinking. “I was thinking it’d be cool if I could see the trails of the area on my phone,”Abrahamsen says. “We obviously have Google Maps to guide us in our cars, but that didn’t help much being lost in the woods.” Exploring other outdoor websites, online maps and apps, it was apparent that no such technology existed. And with that, Abrahamsen, Milby, and a third partner, Ryan Emmons, joined together to create a dynamic navigational trail technology which, just six months later, launched as Terrain360.com. As nearly 100 trails have already been uploaded to the site, including the Buttermilk Trail, High Bridge State Park, First Landing State Park, Humpback Rocks Trails, and more, users are able to explore
terrain at their own pace within one of three main regions of Virginia. Each trail page includes a summary, points of interest, trail sponsors, suggested gear and a user forum providing a voice for trail enthusiasts to share their own experiences or advice. As Richmond natives and lovers of the outdoors, the Terrain 360 staff are all aware of the number of recreational activities available around the Commonwealth, and how the diversity of terrain facilitates the many options for outdoor recreation. “I love the outdoors, so I decided to do this to bring the outdoors to our community, to let them know what’s out there,” mentions Abrahamsen. “We combined the concept of Google Street View with our own photography, and quickly learned that we could stitch trail photos together to create a panoramic tour,” says Milby. “We want users to be able to experience the trails from their own home, allowing them to better plan trips, navigate trails, hear about upcoming events, or get updates on various trail conditions.” RVA MAGAZINE #10
BUTTERMILK AND BELLE ISLE(BELOW)
“ WE WANT USERS TO BE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE THE TRAILS FROM THEIR OWN HOME, ALLOWING THEM TO BETTER PLAN TRIPS, NAVIGATE TRAILS, HEAR ABOUT UPCOMING EVENTS, OR GET UPDATES ON VARIOUS TRAIL CONDITIONS.” The team of developers continues to expand on the website’s usability, content, and features, and a new version of the site is expected to launch at the beginning of October that will surely have every couch potato ready to explore Virginia’s trails! Additionally, the official Terrain360 Mobile App will be available for download in January 2013. As Richmond’s outdoor community continues to gain momentum with the upcoming Richmond2015 races and the recent pursuits of the Capital Improvement Plan, Terrain360 aligns itself with similar objectives, hoping to ignite this underserved community with a new passion for outdoor adventure experiences. LOCAL TERRAIN 360
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
SKINNER INTERVIEW BY DAVID KENEDY
hink of a cryptic demon lord from space. Go ahead--think of one right now! Now give it some acid and a skateboard. Watch as it picks up an enchanted crystal staff, puts on an ancient shamanistic mask, and becomes one with the universe. Don’t get freaked when it comes closer, it’s only trying to give you a high five. Give it a high five. Good job! Now it’s time to party, because you just got one step closer to understanding the mind of one of the most gruesomely talented artists around.
Skinner works out of his studio in Sacramento, California. He’s totally self-taught, and has been regularly pumping out a shit ton of seriously fucked up, head-turning artwork for years now. So needless to say I was pretty excited to be able to drill a hole in his brain and see what kind of sorcery he’s been working with lately. So you must be a pretty busy guy these days! What do you find yourself currently spending most of your time on? Wrapping up the art for a commercial for Santa Cruz Skateboards. I’m doing it with my buddy Jim Dirshberger, who I did my Hell Dream cartoon with. It’s going to be pretty great, I think. I got to legally get away with doing my own versions of the iconic Santa Cruz characters: the ScreamART SKINNER
ing Hand, the Ripper, and that big yellow Rob Roskopp face. I’m also trying to wrap up an album cover for the band Holy Grail and some toy concepts. Then I’m doing something for the Pangea Seed [shark conservation society]. You’ve done quite a few shows at this point. How has seeing your own work in the context of so many other artists around the world affected your artistic approach? Well, I can do more involved installs and be more a part of a show when it’s closer to me. It’s nice to have shows in other countries and I’d like to fly over and go off like fuck, but it’s something I will get to when I do. A lot of shows in Europe are more diverse in genres; more of the spectrum is represented, from fine art to sculpture to graffiti to weird shit like what I do. Here it’s very galleryto-gallery and each one has a focus or a parameter of what they show. But there are always artists who are exceptions, ones that cross barriers. It’s cool to see.
“ IT’S INTERESTING TO LIVE IN THIS TIME AND BE AN ARTIST. I FEEL LUCKY THAT I LIVE IN A TIME WHERE ART IS KIND OF PUT ON A PEDESTAL, AS WELL AS THE ARTIST.”
I love the Butcher Kings series. How does it feel be an artist at a time when we have so much pop culture to pull from? Compared to, say, a hundred and fifty years ago or so when artists like Gustave Doré were doing amazing work but it was all limited to subject matter drawn from Biblical influences? It’s interesting to live in this time and be an artist. I feel lucky that I live in a time where art is kind of put on a pedestal, as well as the artist. How many times do you hear about the stereotype of the 23
“ BECAUSE IT’S THE VISIONARY INERTIA OF EVERY ANCIENT CULTURE, AND IT IS OUR COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS AND ANCIENT WORLD MIND.” starving artist who only gets popular after they die? It’s almost like a PSA on why you should never become an artist. But the art movement that I am in affects so much: movies, video games, toys, shirts, design, cartoons, skateboarding. Almost every part of our culture is inundated with art and design. It’s a good time to be an artist. I feel lucky. And it’s all on the backs of those that came before me: the Robert Williamses, the Big Daddy Roths, the underground comic companies, the weirdos and the visionaries who just did it and weren’t being given big-ass checks by Nike or whatever. All the kids my age who grew up with cartoons and 80s pop culture are now kind of the prevalent adults, and determine what’s kind of cool. So here I am, doing all this stuff. I’m not into heavy-handed pop culture stuff for myself, but it was fun to collaborate with Alex Pardee on [Butcher Kings]. I got to be like Mad Magazine cartoonist Basil Wolverton for the month! As for Dore, he would have been better off living now, as well as Virgil Finlay--the best of the best. In your Fragile Art of Existence series, you deliberately moved away from your typical freaks and ghouls type of thing and went into a whole other world. There are elements of nature and mystical spirituality. The overall tone is much deeper. How did this come about? Why do you think it’s so hard for so many artists to move away from what they’re used to and explore new territory? I think if you are concerned about keeping up an idea of what people can expect from you, then your concern is immediately about appeasing a projection, and your art immediately takes a back seat to being liked. It’s a pressure everyone feels once they are establishing themselves. This series of paintings was a risk for me, and it’s a place I am going back to as soon as I have the time. I want to take the risks because the rewards are great. I recommend that every artist do it. Your work definitely has a very recognizable aesthetic and style. How did that develop? What advice would you give other self-taught artists who are trying to find their own? Well, I would say it’s ok to be influenced by other artists, but be honest with yourself about it. If you really, really like someone’s art and you kind of use it as a guideline, that’s fine, but you have to know that your own style and voice is waiting to get out. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that you are deriving too much influence from someone else, the better. It takes years and years to get your shit together. It’s weird, because 24
I worked my ass off for ten years and then was like, “I’m ready to try and do this for a living.” But dudes are hitting me up on the interwebs asking me what I think about their art, and they just fucking started doing it. I’m like, “Keep going. Do 100 paintings and then hit me up.” I had 190 paintings in my first solo show, 180 in the next. They may not have been good, but I was dedicated to it, growing and learning. The internet has made it so people do a few paintings and are pushing them on their Big Cartel [online store]. That’s fine, but check your dedication to shit if you want to rise above the ocean of this stuff. What is going to make you better, or good, or memorable? That you already made prints out of your first 20 paintings? Fuck no! You haven’t even begun. Just work. Work your ass off and make sacrifices. The rest will work itself out. There’s something about really vibrant color patterns mixed in with super grotesque and demonic subject matter that just seems to make sense at this point. Why is that? Because it’s the visionary inertia of every ancient culture, and it is our collective consciousness and ancient world mind. I remember being young and always imagining these fantasy battle scenarios, like Terminators and Predators somehow making it to Jurassic Park and everything going crazy. I feel like your work somehow embodies that same kind of spirit. Yeah, except I think what I do is like a third grader gone mad. It’s funny; I’m just doing more twisted versions of what I have always done. I’m more gods and cosmos than Terminators though. Were you ever into Ralph Bakshi’s stuff back in the 70s and 80s? I got into it later, but I did remember liking the Lord of the Rings stuff. He really did some great stuff, except I think he bummed out a bunch of people he worked with. I love Fire and Ice. Top 5 favorite monsters of all time. Go! 1. Hulk 2. Godzilla 3. Jaws 4. Frankenstein 5. That horned thing from Conan Can we talk about your band a bit? What role does that play in your life overall? What are your musical influences? Ungoliant is on hiatus, maybe even indefinitely. Some of the dudes in the band developed different priorities, and I’m too busy to be a band dad, RVA MAGAZINE #10
which is what every band needs to keep going. There’s always one band dad. I’m still jamming on my guitar for fun and will form another band at some point, but I’m doing this album of dance music that will blow your freakin’ socks off. The project is called Absolute Warriors, or AbWar for short, because abs are awesome. Have you ever had a bad trip? Yeah man, I did. I was on a long, long walk with a lot of people and it kept going into this forest for so long. It got darker and darker, and I asked everyone if we were going to die. It turns out [this] isn’t the best thing to say to a group of people high as fuck on LSD. Some were all concerned, and others were like, “Oh shit! Are we going to die?” [laughs] Seriously, I wasn’t that scared, I just wanted to know. I was curious. It seemed like it was supposed to happen. I have tons of stories like that. The lesson being, don’t ask questions like that while frying with others. Can you tell us about the first time you ever saw The Neverending Story? It was right after my mom got us a small little apartment after she divorced my dad. This is taking me back. We got one of those early cable boxes. We never had that before. My mom got it working, and we were flipping through the channels. There must have been 26 channels on this thing! My sister found The Neverending Story. It was awesome! All three of us wrapped up on one small couch in an unfurnished apartment watching cable for the first time. Wow. This is kind of an emotional thing to remember. I wish I was young again.
Ancient Aliens, what’s up with that? Well, there’s a lot of unexplained shit that points to a lot of different theories that have little to do with preserving our fragile grasp on reality. It’s hard for people to feel okay about aliens, or that our beliefs in some way aren’t the whole story. You will find fierce resistance when challenging the narcissism we have with our importance. It’s not safe for a little eggplant brain. Gotta go easy on these lumps or they start freaking out. I’m open and hoping that aliens are flying by our planet and pick up a Nickelback song on their advanced alien radio and say, “We gave them the technology of the ancients, the crystal skulls, the understanding of the vast universe and its beauty, and this is what happens a couple thousand years later? This aggression will not stand. We have to destroy the planet. Every mewling pink worm must pay.” What are your thoughts on death? I fantasize about it way more than I should, but I’m super sensitive and I’m really affected negatively and grossed out about our privilege and how much people and animals suffer. I want it to stop and I feel powerless and I get depressed. I try to hide it from people but I’m really transparent so my friends know. My girlfriend knows. She’s really sweet though. She makes it worth it. If Satan came up to you and he was all like, “Hey listen, uh, I just wanted to say that I’m really just trying to chill, and if you ever need anything you know where to find me, ok?” what would you say? Easy. I would challenge him to a rock-off and make him pay my rent.
“ EASY. I WOULD CHALLENGE HIM TO A ROCK-OFF AND MAKE HIM PAY MY RENT.” So what’s around the corner for you? Any long term endeavors or projects in the works? I’m just trying to make time to focus on my weirdness expansion, skills, and travel. I have some cartoon pitches out right now with Jon Shnepp, and art direction on that. I’m going to get more involved with my company, Critical Hit, making shirts and prints. I’m going to dial it in more, make some music videos, focus on my music, laugh more. Get some vinyl figures. I’ve gotten inspired to get weirder with that stuff. Be a good partner to my girl, Kristie. Have more fun. I would like to leave you with this hypothetical battle situation: An army of countless thousands of Satanic Tyrannosaurus Rex Warriors are standing their ground on one side of a battlefield, and on the other, an army of countless thousands of Doom-Enchanted Hello Kitty Mutants… Well this sounds really, really good, but what I’m really hoping is that they join forces after realizing that their real goal is to annihilate mankind. Just wash that shit away in a massive sweeping wave of gnashing teeth and bone splintering cuteness. Crush all the malls, destroy the politics, smash our cute outfits and fake boobs, disintegrate our social hierarchies and judgments, slash our selfimportance, and disembowel our arrogance.
RVA MAGAZINE #10
THE CATALYST BY ANDREW NECCI
ichmond’s punk and metal scene is without a doubt the strongest music scene in the city. Everyone knows it; in fact, almost every article in this magazine about a band that isn’t punk or metal mentions it. But it can be just as difficult for a band that is playing loud, heavy music to get out from under the shadow of more famous Richmond punk/metal bands as it is for hip hop or indie rock groups to do so. The Catalyst are living proof; they’ve been around nearly as long as Municipal Waste, have toured Europe twice and the United States at least half a dozen times, and are hailed like conquering heroes in random farflung locales (Delaware, Tuscany, etc). And yet at home, they sometimes seem like Richmond’s best-kept secret. However, with the release this month of their outstanding third LP, Voyager, it seems as if this is about to change.
The Catalyst formed in late 2002, in circumstances that were about as far from ideal as possible. Guitarist and longtime Richmond resident Eric Smith, stranded in the bourgeois wasteland of Fairfax County by an abortive attempt at college and a run-in with the law, caught up with drummer and former roommate Kevin Broderick at a time when both needed a place to crash. Kevin’s friend Nate Prusinski, who happened to be a bass player, had some space in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment, so Eric and Kevin moved in, and the three of them formed a band. Undaunted by legal prohibitions against leaving the state, The Catalyst immediately began booking cross-country tours, and released their debut EP, A Hospital Visit, on McCarthyism Records in 2004. Years of cramming up to six people into their tiny apartment just to be able to afford the
outrageous rent took a toll, and by the time summer 2005 rolled around and the trio was free of legal obligations, the members of The Catalyst were more than ready to decamp for the greener pastures of RVA. Soon after the move, they made multiple lineup changes. Nate left the band and was replaced on bass by Michael Backus. They also added multiinstrumentalist and former Delaware resident Jamie Faulstich, who could play both guitar and drums, and would switch back and forth between the two instruments during their set--sometimes within a single song. Over the next two years, working with local labels Perpetual Motion Machine, Rorschach, and Robotic Empire, The Catalyst released a split LP with Mass Movement Of The Moth, a split EP with Brainworms, and a live cassette entitled Freak Out The Squares. All of this was a buildup to their first LP, Marianas Trench, a distinctive one-sided vinyl release with a silkscreened B-side. Their sound grew heavier and more distinctive over the course of these releases, mixing a strong Nirvana influence with the offkilter time signatures of the Melvins and the full-
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PHOTO: CHARLES ANTHONY LYNCH
tilt hardcore velocity of Born Against. They also delighted in effects-laden psychedelic interludes, and featured lengthy instrumentals on all of their releases from this era. After a 2008 European tour, The Catalyst signed to Italian label Sons Of Vesta, who co-released their second LP, 2009’s Swallow Your Teeth, with American label Perpetual Motion Machine. Swallow Your Teeth showed sonic evolution--their standard tempos had become faster, and the longer, more psychedelic songs that showed up on the album had vocals. Both their sense of humor and their political consciousness were becoming sharper; the former indicated by song titles like “Assholier Than Thou” and “Small Town, Big Mouth,” and the latter demonstrated by the lyrics to songs like “Werewolves Of Washington” and “Too Big To Fail.” They spent 2009 and 2010 touring the United States and returning to Europe in support of the album.
a fast punk rock song. ‘Our Science Is Too Tight’ is much longer, and as I recall, it was pretty heavily dependent on the double-drum lineup.” Indeed, as those who have seen them live recently have undoubtedly noticed, The Catalyst has returned to being a three-piece. Jamie’s role in the band had been evolving in recent years, with him playing second drum kit far more often than second guitar, and everyone in the band had been wondering whether it was really working. “We just reached an impasse,” Eric says. “Song structures were getting to a point where it wasn’t conducive to having two drummers. It was more precise and focused, less improvisational [and]
“ BOTH THEIR SENSE OF HUMOR AND THEIR POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS WERE BECOMING SHARPER; THE FORMER INDICATED BY SONG TITLES LIKE “ASSHOLIER THAN THOU” AND “SMALL TOWN, BIG MOUTH,” AND THE LATTER DEMONSTRATED BY THE LYRICS TO SONGS LIKE “WEREWOLVES OF WASHINGTON” AND “TOO BIG TO FAIL.”
Voyager is The Catalyst’s first release since Swallow Your Teeth came out three years ago, but that wasn’t the initial plan. The band recorded
two songs for a split with French band Aussitot Mort, whom they had met and toured with during the 2010 European jaunt. “The idea behind the 7 inch was that Aussitot Mort was gonna come over from France and do a tour,” Eric explains. “We booked the whole tour, [but] they work full-time jobs, three of them have got kids, and they just couldn’t get it together. So when they cancelled the tour, [the record] got put on the back burner.” It is still coming out, though, and will now be released by Richmond label Sound Era. Whether the band will continue playing the songs recorded for it is uncertain, though. “We’ll bring at least one of them back,” Eric says. “‘Thumbsucker’ is pretty straightforward, kind of
MUSIC THE CATALYST
PHOTOS: MARKUS SHAFFER
free flowing than our older stuff was. There was never a point where we were mad at each other or anything, and in fact, when we brought it up to him, he said he had been thinking about his place in the band already.” There had been a previous period in 2007 during which Jamie left the band to spend a year working in Central America, and attempts at the time to bring in a replacement to play both drums and guitar had not panned out. “Kevin is like a freight train,” Eric says. “He is not a subtle or nuanced drummer. Jamie was only able to play along with him because Jamie’s really attentive and precise. I’m sure [having two drummers] made us more memorable to see live. But musically, I feel like a lot of times [Jamie] got lost in the mix.” Voyager is the second of The Catalyst’s albums to be released in Europe by Sons Of Vesta, but the first to be released here in the US by RVA’s own Forcefield Records. “[Forcefield owner] Tim [Harwich] is an amazing dude,” Eric says. “We’re glad to be working with him. He’s really got his shit together, and every record that he’s put out so far is pretty mindblowing.” This is as true of Voyager as it is of any previous Forcefield release-their latest album is clearly The Catalyst’s most fully-realized work yet. The overt melodies and epic song structures that previously showed up only at their more psychedelic moments are more smoothly integrated throughout the album. Each side ends with a seven-minute song; “Septagon” ends the album’s first half by building over the course of its first three minutes from a quietly echoing instrumental intro to a brutal metal riff that relentlessly pummels the listener in glorious fashion. There are dynamic shifts within the last 30
half of the song, but all of them serve as no more than a brief respite allowing the song’s main riff to hit that much harder when it inevitably comes back around. The album-ending title track is even more distinctive--featuring almost entirely melodic vocals, this mournful epic retains a solid grounding in heavy guitar distortion, but evokes emotions much more complex and multi-faceted than the harsh anger that dominates much of the album. For those who come to The Catalyst’s music seeking fast, heavy hardcore/metal fury, though, there’s plenty to rejoice about. Voyager’s first side starts heavy, with the slightly off-kilter galloping thrash of “King Of Swords” being a particular highlight, and just keeps building in intensity through the chaotic climax of “Square Waves,” in which Kevin’s pounding drums are underscored by a bunch of clattering noise. “That’s us in the alley behind the studio beating on a trashcan,” Eric explains proudly. Side two’s opener, “Jupiter Brain,” returns to the ridiculously low drop-G tuning Eric used for Marianas Trench’s “This Bike Is A Gravity Bong,” and features an opening sure to get a lot of people’s attention. Over a tremendously distorted guitar riff, Michael screams, “You talk too much, you fuck!” with Kevin’s drums slamming through the speakers just as the last word hits. Michael’s lower, throatier vocals are a bigger presence than ever on this album, and the interaction between his vocals and Eric’s higher-pitched screams works extremely well. Eric also sees Michael’s basslines as the glue that holds the band’s entire sound together. “All the basslines are so funky,” he says. “I can’t do awesome guitar solos. I’m not Eddie
Van Halen or Slash. When the time comes where the song would need a guitar solo, I just turn on three or four effects pedals and trudge through it. [Michael] really holds together my chaotic fucked up noise guitar and Kevin’s unstoppable juggernaut of drum death.” Perhaps the most interesting facet of Voyager is the lyrics. A concept album about a doomed space voyage, the lyrics to the ten songs on Voyager tell a single story that flows smoothly throughout the album. However, the thematic unity seems almost like a happy accident in light of the frantic pace at which the album was completed. “We were in a rush because we were trying to plan a tour this summer,” Eric explains. “We wrote the album in order, [and when] we’d written most of side A, we booked studio time in three weeks, and had to jam out four or five songs in that time period.” So in light of all that, where did the concept come in? “I write lyrics in a different way than most people do,” Eric says. “I’ll have a phrase in mind that, when I’m singing and playing the song, just kind of comes out. This series of syllables-maybe they make sense, maybe they don’t. What I did at first was just write down what I was actually saying. Some of it was absurd, but some of it was poignant, and I realized that there was a lot of sci-fi paranoia shit going on. One of the first lyrics I came up with for the album is in the song ‘Square Waves,’ and the lyric is ‘Bow down, behold the glory of the cloud.’ If you’re talking about a mass of water vapor trapped in Earth’s upper atmosphere, that’s not very menacing. But if you’re talking about a huge cloud of nanomachines that eat your organs from the RVA MAGAZINE #10
“NONE OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE NAMES, GENDERS, OR EVEN PERSONALITIES. THEY’RE JUST VEHICLES TO MOVE THE NARRATIVE FORWARD. THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN SAY AND HAVE THE LYRICS STILL RHYME AND LOOK BADASS TO A 15-YEAR-OLD KID.” inside out, take over your brain, and turn you into a homicidal maniac, that’s pretty cool. It just kind of came from there.” At this point, I mention a recent ad campaign about cloud computing; when I’d heard this line in “Square Waves,” I figured Eric was casting the same sort of sardonic gaze upon cloud computing that he’d focused on other semi-disturbing technological advances a few years earlier in the lyrics to Swallow Your Teeth track “I Hate The Future.” He laughs in surprise. “Yeah, shit like that will sometimes get absorbed by your brain and come out of your mouth, and you don’t even think about it. I hadn’t made that connection, but that’s probably what happened. I also mentioned nanomachines in [‘I Hate The Future’]. I think about that shit too much.” I ask about the plot to the album’s lyrical narrative, but Eric’s reluctant to spell it out. “Maybe people should figure it out for themselves,” he says. “It was fun to write, but I think it’ll be even more fun to see what people think is going on.” I mention that I observed a resemblance to the plot of Danny Boyle’s 2007 sci-fi disaster film Sunshine. Eric admits that I’m on the right track. “Yeah, I love that movie,” he says. “It’s not a coincidence that there are 9 characters on the album and there are 9 characters in that movie. There are some other similarities as well, but I don’t want to give MUSIC THE CATALYST
anything away.” He lets on that each song is from the viewpoint of a different character in the story, but that none of the characters are very fleshedout in his mind. “None of these people have names, genders, or even personalities. They’re just vehicles to move the narrative forward. There’s only so much you can say and have the lyrics still rhyme and look badass to a 15-year-old kid.” This catches my interest due to the perhapsnot-coincidental fact that I met Eric when he himself was 15 years old. I ask him to elaborate. “Whenever I make a piece of art, I almost always look at it with the idea of ‘What would I think of this if I were 15?’” he explains. Laughing, I mention Assuck’s Anticapital, his favorite album when I met him, but Eric is 100% serious about this. “Music is incredibly important to me, and I know it is for you too,” he insists. “That time period in your life is so strange, and you lock onto things, and carry them with you for the rest of your life. I probably listened to 15 records on repeat the entire year of 1997. I still have all of those records, and I still listen to them at least once a month. That’s never gonna change.” So he’s making music for the 15-year-olds of the world? “Making music for the fucking alienated teenagers who need something to make them feel sane, make them feel at home,” he says in
agreement. “I mean, it’s a completely different world now than it was in 1997, but teenagers are still teenagers.” These days, life is a lot different for The Catalyst than it was when they were 15. But music is still the most important thing in their lives, and they plan to keep playing for as long as they possibly can. “I love this band,” Eric says. “I hope that I am never not in it. I have a fucking great time when we go on tour, a great time writing these songs and playing them for people. But it’s hard to plan for the future.” I ask if the pressures of adult life get in the way, but that isn’t what he means at all. “Playing music basically is my real life,” he explains. “I’ve been doing it for so long now that I have a support structure built around me. I’m able to get time off of work if I need it. My girlfriend, friends, and family all know that at least four or five weeks of the year I’m going to be living in a van, and they seem to be OK with it. It costs a shitload of money to do this sometimes, but it’s worth every penny.” After nearly a decade of struggling to be heard, no one can say that The Catalyst haven’t paid their dues. They’ve had to do a lot of work and spend a lot of time, money, and effort just to get as far as they have. However, the fact that the ultimate result of that effort has been the release of an album as amazing as Voyager makes it all worth it. We can only hope that the city they live in takes notice.
RVA MAGAZINE #10
FUTURA BY R ANTHONY HARRIS
utura 2000 is one of the foremost names in the history of street art. He got his start painting on the New York subways back in the ‘70s when that was still possible, but soon built a career in the fine art world, beginning with his gallery showings alongside such famous New York artists of the 80s as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He worked extensively with The Clash during that same period, doing artwork for their single “This Is Radio Clash” and a guest vocal on their album Combat Rock, as well as appearing on tour with them, doing live paintings while they performed. In the ‘90s, he created artwork for the covers of many releases on Mo Wax Records, as well as for the electronic music project UNKLE. He’s designed his own clothing under the label Futura Laboratories, and collaborated with many other clothing companies, from Nike and North Face to the NYC-based streetwear company Supreme. He released a coffee table book in 2000; has designed collectible toys; and made appearances in music videos, documentaries, and video games. A true renaissance man, there aren’t many creative endeavors that Futura has not turned his hand to at some point. Most recently, he’s worked with Hennessy to design a limited edition label for a bottle of their VS Cognac line, and in August, he went on a promotional tour around the United States, appearing in venues where Hennessy is sold; meeting fans, signing bottles, and doing live paintings. It was this tour that brought him to RVA, and during his brief time in town, he made a little bit of room in his busy schedule to sit down with us and discuss his career, his motivations, and how he sees the art world in 2012. The conversation began with him telling us about the last time he’d been in Richmond, and how pleasantly surprised he was to see the changes it has undergone since then... Futura: I might predate some of your DOBs out here, but ‘77 was the last time I was [in Richmond]. So when I rolled into town I was like, “Wait a minute.” I know cities grow, but damn, what’s up with Richmond? All the shit by the OMNI [hotel], where I’m at, that wasn’t like that. I’m psyched to be here. What I saw this morning, I was like, “Oh shit.” Totally not expecting. From what I can tell, you’ve already upgraded the city status. [You’re] doing a good service locally, and it might take a few years to catch on. You’ll probably have people coming back to you now, who you may have wanted to work with initially. And you know how that works. That always happens. The conservatives that want to hold on to shit and keep it as it was, stopping progress in whatever form it takes. I think street art… It doesn’t scare people, but... It has bad connotations. It does, but I think that’s all been diminished from
the recent work that everyone’s been doing. It’s obvious. They’re not vandals, they’re commissioned. So that’s exciting. Maybe next year I’ll see the issue that features me, and be thinking, “Man, you guys are all right!” Hope so! I’d like to get an overview of your career, educate people who have never seen your work before. I think going back to ‘77 would be a good starting point. So, that was the last time you were in Richmond--at that point were you doing graffiti work? Actually, I wasn’t. I was in the military. Well, I started writing before I was in the military, let’s say ‘70? High school. Fifteen years old, I’m looking at graff, going “Oh wow, what’s this?” Got in there. ‘73, I went into the military. Went back to New York in ‘79, right about the time when things were starting to percolate and people were about to take it from the streets, [having] initial ideas of doing alternative exhibitions in galleries that weren’t really galleries, spaces in the Bronx. Then it all started to snowball in New York. So for the next five years, you have a full-blown art movement with gallery support. Kids [were] still doing trains in the morning, then having an exhibition. It was just a melange of everything. Then in ‘85, you had the death of street art as we knew it then. What was the reason for that? Everybody was done with it. Anything that could be sold found every buyer that would buy it. The market’s over. It’s done. Then I fell back to a position where, fuck, I have an infant baby--I don’t want to run to Europe and continue being an artist through European support. I’m not going to expatriate just because people are buying work there. I live here, how can I support my family? It’s not going to be through art. [So I] found other ways to make a living. Here come the ‘90s, someone comes and pulls me out of it. “Let’s give you an exhibition.” So I had another little push, and that was very short-lived. That was the introduction of street wear, computing--the ‘90s are here. Everyone was off the streets now. Kids who were good at graff got good at graphics, once they learned how to use Illustrator. Mid-90s, I’m a fucking computer wizard, I’m doing DOS, backstage on a PC. I know how to do all that. Internet? What’s that? [I found] Art Crimes--looking at graff all over the world. How can you see photos from there? What is this platform? Seeing the influence of what you guys did earlier being spread all over the world. Sure, because your first book is Subway Art, the first bible of the ‘80s. Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant. Spray Can Art, which is the second com-
ing of that bible--new testament, old testament. The new testament is not the subways of the city, it’s the walls of the world. So, Spray Can Art was the first look at the world and what kids are doing in Auckland, New Zealand or Guangzhou, China. So that all started to percolate. I created a website, looking at the web as a possible next venue for exposure. What I was getting off on was, here I am in my little apartment, writing fucking webpages, there’s my shit uploaded, and I’m getting messages from kids in Germany and Sweden. I’m thinking, “This is amazing, this connectivity thing.” Now, [though], I think it’s gotten to overdose proportions. It’s just too much of a pool of information, it’s very hard to sift through. Suffice to say, [with] my webpage, my commercial graphic clothing company collaborations, Mo’ Wax record covers--I rode that wave into the millennium. [I did] my Futura book in 2000. I made some toys. I’m meeting all these [corporate] people and having relationships [that are] less business and more like [we have] something in common. I’ve worked in all of these different realms, and I decided not to be a gallery artist. I was not gonna pursue all of that, because I was doing quite well. I had a company in Japan, which I’ve subsequently shut down. But anyway, recently, all these other artists--Shepard [Fairey], Banksy, everyone else--have created a lot of hype over [their commercial work], and then people are like, “Hey, Futura...” Quite frankly, if I make a painting [for a commercial collaboration], there’s nice numbers there. Why am I going to deny that? I think I’ve been in denial, because knowing that my dad busted his ass, and at the end of the year, that small fucking number that he sweated, cried, and bled for--that’s a very small percentage of what I can make without lifting a finger. I’ve been blessed, but now at age 56, I’m like OK, OK. You guys want to compensate me for my work? OK, I think I’m happy in accepting it now. Maybe it will profit my daughter, maybe it will profit my son. Maybe it will do good for my friends and family. It’s not my ambition, but at this point I’m not going to deny it. So in September, I’ve got a pop up show in New York. It’s going to be mega major. It’s going to be my first exhibition in New York in at least ten years, and I’m coming with the heat. I’m really excited about it, because this project is a million dollar promotion. [It’s] what I couldn’t do that these guys have helped me do now. After all of that, I’m going to go for the fine art world again, and see what they are offering. From what I hear, it could be OK.
“ YOU GUYS WANT TO COMPENSATE ME FOR MY WORK? OK, I THINK I’M HAPPY IN ACCEPTING IT NOW. MAYBE IT WILL PROFIT MY DAUGHTER, MAYBE IT WILL PROFIT MY SON. MAYBE IT WILL DO GOOD FOR MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY. IT’S NOT MY AMBITION, BUT AT THIS POINT I’M NOT GOING TO DENY IT.” ART FUTURA
How was that transition for you, especially starting out-- I’ve talked to a lot of artists, especially a lot of the guys who are doing the murals, they start off with the purity of just having someone see it, and then... I think everyone has to grapple with that, with their own morality thing. It is hard. That was such a valid argument in the ‘80s when it was first happening. Like, how do you guys feel about putting your work in a gallery when it’s supposed to be free for the public? I had problems dealing with that in the ‘80s, which is why I’m never fast to run to [a commercial] opportunity. I could critique, artist by artist, who I think deserved whatever, but that would be wrong of me. I’m not a purist that says, “That’s fucked up, you didn’t pay your dues.” That’s kind of ridiculous. I can’t decide who’s entitled to what. I also don’t know their situation. If I think they are rising too quickly, I don’t feel threatened by that. I think that they are going to burn out quickly too. I’ve been around for a few years. A lot of these kids are relatively new. Yeah, you can be a flash in the pan for 36 months, but at that five year window, shit’s kind of like, “Wait,
what happened?” To me the short play, it’s not the one. But young people don’t have the patience and the vision to lean back and perhaps wait for something that they can’t calculate will happen. All these cliches about, “act now,” blah blah blah-I listen to my own conscience, I don’t want to be led into something where... A trend or something. Or whatever, yeah. I’ll come and view something. Hopefully I inspire, I educate, I have something positive to say. But when I see too many people gravitating to shit, I’ll duck out the back. The funniest thing I can say about originality: Instagram, right? The new shit, everyone’s on it. I’m on it, it’s amazing. You have a community that is dying for visibility, dying for attention. Every popular tag that the instagram application has, whatever it is, whatever the generic crap everyone is drinking, this fucking wack Kool-aid--people are all about that. People say, “Let’s play within the rules.” I say, “No--let’s break the rules a little bit.” I had a thing called camerathrow. My own tag. I’ve invented a hundred of them already. What am I doing? I’m combining words. I’m making something original. No one used it yet. It’s mine. So what’s hap-
pened? After a month or two, people are just taking it. Now, part of creating an original tag is that if I’ve got 20 different images with that tag, and you touch that tag, you’re going to come to that page, and that’s all me. It’s my way of filtering you into another folder--”you saw that recent one, but now look at the timeline of all those other ones.” What’s happening is everyone is jumping in there, because everyone knows now--”Oh, people are looking at his shit.” It’s sort of like a graffiti wall, where I come up and I write my name. If I go back a month later, there’s a hundred names right there. I get it, it’s like alignment. “I’m with so-and-so.” But like, come on, guys, really? It’s so boring that it just forces me to want to leave. It’s like, “Wow, you turned something cool into wack.” You made it too accessible, I don’t want to associate with that anymore. It’s about maintaining originality, and Jesus, man, it doesn’t take much. I’m just going to lay back and let my work speak for itself, as it always has. You know, all these sneaker heads and all these Supreme kids, everyone is just a part of this feeding frenzy. I gotta get them off that. You won’t be seeing any of my stuff like that anymore. You
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know, commercially available. I think it diminishes things. It takes away your super powers. You’ve seen a lot of the scene fluctuate in the way it has developed. A lot of the large mural guys came from the street and went to the gallery. Then they thought the gallery was getting kind of wack and commercialized, went back to the street, and now are doing these giant things. That the gallery couldn’t support, because the gallery doesn’t have space like that. What can happen after this? After you go six stories high on a building, where do you go from there? You keep going, and you look at the global. You start thinking, “I’m a citizen of the world.” I don’t just live in America. Look at Blu. Blu did something exceptional. He redefined how you do this shit. Stop animation. “I painted it. I took it away. I had a character move across the wall. You don’t even know how the fuck I did what I did. But I did it. I’m autonomous enough that I can do all of it. I can paint it, I can whitewash it, I can photograph it.” That kid, fucking... Really, he’s the best right now on the planet. In my humble opinion. And his genius of going to Jerusalem, going to Colombia.
He’s an Italian, he can do shit Americans can’t do. America has got, sadly, a little stigma about who we are. Some people ain’t feeling us. What’s dope about Blu, he can go to places we can’t go and do fantastic shit that we can’t even dream about. So I envy him. I envy his European status, and the fact that he can just go around the world and do what he does. And yeah, Banksy kind of showed us how to do that too, but I’m over Banksy. Banksy lost me with Exit Through The Gift Shop. That shit is a fucking travesty. Mr. Brainwash [the subject of Exit Through The Gift Shop] is a fucking travesty. It ruined everything. Brainwash set everything back ten years. In my opinion. And I dig the fuck out of Banksy, but man... you just took a piss on the whole culture. You just shit on the whole shit, and introduced this knucklehead as some fucking... whatever. The whole thing is mad insulting. And in fact, some of that got me back. Got you pissed off and got you motivated? A little bit, a little bit. Like, something about Banksy, he continues to inspire. Although my problem is, he’s also part of that Shepard Fairey, “I’ve got a production team” world now. I don’t
even know what I’m seeing anymore. And quite frankly, his shit is so clone-able that... I don’t know. He gave away too much. He revealed too much, and in the process of revealing too much, he gave away [the way] to do it. And to me it lost the power of the originator. So you are doing the show in New York--what’s after that? We’re going to pop up in five cities. The beauty of the pop-up show is that you aren’t allowing a gallery, because they have a reputation and white walls, to profit 50% of your sales. There are ways that I can be involved financially, and that maintains my ability to not give away half. Something about that whole art world half/half thing still bothers me a little bit. Especially like the new kids on the block--like, who are you? Why should I tie you into me and let you make paper? Now, mind you, if you are cool and you are my peeps, then I want that opportunity for you, because I want us to do well. I don’t want to put that money in my pocket. I want to put it in our pocket. I mean, am I Robin Hood? Yeah, a little bit. Can I rob from the rich and give to the poor? I hope so. I hope I can keep doing that. That makes me feel good. It gives me pleasure.
“HE GAVE AWAY TOO MUCH. HE REVEALED TOO MUCH, AND IN THE PROCESS OF REVEALING TOO MUCH, HE GAVE AWAY [THE WAY] TO DO IT. AND TO ME IT LOST THE POWER OF THE ORIGINATOR.”
T OHBLIV INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY MARC CHEATHAM
hough the comparisons are not 100% accurate, Richmond’s Brad Ohbliv does not shy away from being mentioned in conjunction with musical geniuses Madlib and the late James Yancey, aka JDilla. “I consider it an honor and great compliment to be mentioned in any sentence with those guys. I have mad respect for both of them. I could talk about their music for days,” Ohbliv tells me sitting in his living room (and music studio), located on the Southside of Richmond. Always carving out his own unique sound, the former MC, now an avant-garde music producer, has begun to chart a new course in sound that he hopes Richmond music fans will appreciate. I first met Bradford Thomas Caudle, known to most as Ohbliv, last year while photographing the hip hop collective Just Plain Sounds (JPS). I was immediately
drawn to the soulful sounds that his fellow JPS comrades were freestyling over at The Shop. Every once in a while, the unassuming producer would come from behind his SP-404 and dance to his own groove or drop a few bars, only to return to his SP to change up the boom bap his teammates loved. I was unaware of this the first time I met Ohbliv, but he was one half of the team responsible for one of my favorite albums of 2011, Yellow Gold, his collaboration album with Richmond hip hop artist Nicklus F. While Yellow Gold was highly praised among the underground hip hop scene, Ohbilv is always on a search for new sound. As I sat with him in his home, we talked candidly about his music, his motivation, and the relatively new spiritual journey through sound that he finds himself on. The consummate RVA MAGAZINE #10
“ THAT WAS OUR GOAL, TO MAKE A RECORD THAT PEOPLE COULD LISTEN TO YEARS DOWN THE LINE, AND I FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT.”
workaholic, in 2012 Ohbliv has traveled often to New York, San Francisco, and LA, playing gigs, meeting contacts, and working on new music. He describes his latest release, SLPHNC2 [Soulphonic-2], from June 2012, as one of his favorite of his albums to date because it best displays his true intentions in sound. “Oftentimes the sounds that are in my mind doesn’t come out exactly how I would like it on record,” he explains. “With SLPHNC2, it is really what I wanted to get out. I’m proud of that.” Musical talents like Ohbliv do not come around often. His sound ranges the spectrum from hip hop, to funk, to soul, to even that 80’s rock that unites all walks of life. He’s a throwback to a different era, while still being ten steps ahead of his time. The real question is: Can you catch up? Let’s start with Yellow Gold. That is the first time I was put on to your work and it just blew me away. How did working with Nick F come about? It’s funny how it all came together. I had known about Nickelus F for a while--he is an O.G., a real local legend with his skills. It wasn’t my intention to work with him. At the time, I really wasn’t working with many rappers at all. But I had a pretty big show that was sponsored by SHHO (Student Hip Hop Organization), and I remember right after my set, Nick came up to me and was like, “Yo, that set was crazy.” We connected, exchanged contact information, and I just started sending tracks to him. Initially, it was just going to be a couple tracks for his upcoming project. MUSIC OHBLIV
But his turnover rate is ridiculous. He would be sending me back songs and ideas every day. And then he was like, “You know what, let’s just do an album.” It wasn’t really a big deal to us. We were just doing it for the love of it. It definitely wasn’t like, “We about to smash the game with this record.” It was more like, “We dig each other’s vibe and work ethic. We have a similar approach to this project. Let’s put it out there and see what happens.” So we ended up doing Yellow Gold. SHHO supported and sponsored the record. To this day, I still feel that it’s slept on, but it definitely helped me get my work to a wider market. Where I was coming from, I wasn’t working with a lot of rappers, but it really changed the landscape for me. It also solidified a new level of credibility because I was able to really craft a whole project. And even for Nick, we get a lot of love about the project. It definitely motivated me to keep going. Yellow Gold is a slow burning album, it’s really on some word of mouth type stuff. Somebody has to be like, “Have you heard this record?” But once you hear it, people really feel it. They keep it and hold on to it. That was our goal, to make a record that people could listen to years down the line, and I feel good about it. You mentioned that you feel the Yellow Gold album is still slept on. Do you feel that you are still slept on as a musician/producer? Yes and no. I get mass amount of love from all over the world. I have fans in Iceland. I’m about to do a record with a label in Iceland. They are put-
ting out a 7” vinyl of my music. But at the same time it’s so hard to get people to notice what I’m doing right here in Richmond. This is not new; I’ve been dealing with this my entire career. Back when I started, I was mostly rapping. I wasn’t going hard with the beats and production. It may be different for other artists in other hometowns, but I do feel Richmond often sleeps on their own artists. Especially if the artist is not really blasting their work out all the time through social media and other outlets, it’s really easy to get lost in the shuffle. So I do think that I’m slept on locally, but I don’t think that is the case nationwide, because I get booked out in California, San Francisco, New York, Florida – and I’m dealing in a niche market for the music I make. Don’t get me wrong, I love Richmond, but we have never been on the cutting edge of the music scene. We’ve always been adapting to the most popping sounds we receive. And I credit that diversity to my style as well. My style is diverse because of the different sounds I have heard living here, but with that, the people in the city have a real hard time accepting and embracing innovation. People in Richmond don’t believe it until they see it work somewhere else on a bigger scale – and then they will embrace it. That’s interesting that you hit that point, because your following is very unique and made up of very knowledgable and loyal music fans. I really appreciate my fans. I take the time to speak to my fans on facebook, twitter, soundcloud, emails, etc. When I first started, my focus was really just one fan at a time. I’m not trying to take over the world. I’m not trying to run RVA. I just want to have my lane, and I want to stick to that. If people want to join me on this ride, that is great. I think when you do music with good intent, from the heart and from the soul, people feel that and respond to it. I want a really loyal following. If you have a handful of people really excited about your work, then it will spread out. How do you describe the music you make? Is there a certain internal place where your music comes from? Well, lately there has been a real place. When I first started, I was just putting out records. I inherited a couple of stacks of records from my dad, and in the beginning, it was just about hooking up records and seeing what I could come up with. But over time, my knowledge and attitude about music has changed, and now I do come from more of a spiritual place with my music. Especially at this time right now in 2012, there is a lot of chaos going on in the world, a lot of craziness, and a lot of lost souls and people. There is a lot 37
of misinformation, disinformation, and ignorance in the world, and this may be a tall task that I may not be able to accomplish, but my goal is to change the frequency of people’s thinking and the way that they understand hip hop and music overall. I use to be on this term, “anti-bangers,” meaning I was against the “club banger,” because those bangers set the club off but there is no emotional content behind the music. My whole thing is trying to raise people’s vibrations through sound. I have learned that there are different octaves that strike different vibrations through your body, so I take that knowledge and apply it to what I do with certain samples and chops. I’m looking to get an emotional response with my sound. My music is all about spirit and emotion, and that is the place I’m coming from right now. I just want people to feel something. So when you say spiritual, do you venture into religion? I grew up Southern Baptist and there is so much emotion in that sound… is that the angle you are going for? Not exactly, but to a degree yes. I grew up going to church. I used to sing in the choir. I was really involved until I was about 15, then I started to back off a bit. It took me a really long time to get back into religion. Once I started to learn more about the ways of the world, my ideas about 38
religion changed. I got to a certain point where surface knowledge was not enough. A lot of the questions that I had were not being answered, so I had to dig deeper. My music is a way of trying to open up those senses to understand things differently. Whether it’s social issues, spiritual issues, or internal, we have to get out of the box. I think that is another issue with music in general. It’s too easy to put things in a box, but there are some things that are better left unspoken and up to your understanding. It sounds like music is therapeutic to you. Absolutely. I would go crazy if I didn’t have music. I would probably be in jail or worse. You are a different guy in 2012 then you were when you first started making music. You have a wife and a young son now. How have those life changes influenced your music? Before I was married, before I had my son, I was just doing music as a hobby. It was something to do and I was good at it. I got married, had my son, and my mother passed away, all within 9 months. I was a wreck. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had all of these new responsibilities, and music wasn’t really going the way I wanted it to go. But that challenging time really made me focus. It made me start to really think, and go
hard on what I wanted to accomplish. I was at the crossroads and I just decided to go as hard as I could. The crossroads period, do you know the specific moment or was it gradual? It was gradual, because I had always been involved in music but for me to come to terms with what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it was pivotal. Those months, with all that tragedy and joy, were such a rollercoaster. It really solidified my motivation. I did make a change during that time, to fall back with rapping and go hard with the beat making and production. I made that change because at that particular time, I didn’t want to talk about what was going on with me – let alone rap about it. I just put it in my beats. Some people will look back on a time like that and say that’s when they did their best work. Have you done your best work? No. I don’t think so. I am my own worst critic. I always take my work with a grain of salt, and I’m always surprised at people’s reactions to my music. When I’m making music, I really don’t think about people’s reactions. It just comes out. I listen to it afterwards and make a call on if it’s good enough to come out, or it needs more work. RVA MAGAZINE #10
Have you done something that you really just love? Actually, the last EP that I just came out with, SLPHNC2, I’m really proud of it. I feel like I was finally able to put down what I was thinking in my brain. To be honest, a lot of my stuff comes together by mistake; especially with the SP404 that I use – it’s very open to improvisation. So a lot of things that happen when I’m working on music just happen organically. With this record, the things that I had in my head, I was able to put down. I really enjoy SLPHNC2, but I don’t think it’s my best yet. I’m always trying to outdo myself. Tell my about your musical influences. Where do you get your inspiration from? It’s a combination of many influences from older stuff – I’m an old soul. If I had a preference, I would listen to older school music over modern stuff; including hip hop. Growing up, my parents had the standard essential black family music collection: Parliament, George Benson, and Michael Jackson. But then my folks had some really
out there stuff too. I’m talking some really rare records you can’t find in the store. I would also say that my peers influence me a lot. Locally, my Just Plain Sounds partner Sleaze is a big influence on me. My homies out in Cali, the homie Ahnnu that’s in the collective Chocolate Milk with me. I try to take influence from all over. What’s the most important thing that you are going to teach your son? To always be himself. To know who you are – to have knowledge of self. That is the foundation to everything. If you don’t have knowledge of self, you don’t know what you’re going to do in life. It took me a long time, but gaining that knowledge of self allows me to do what I do today, because I’m secure in who I am and where I want to go in life. I know who I am and I know my worth. Do you brick? Have you put out a musical brick? Oh yeah. Like I said before, people’s reactions to my music completely surprise me. Sometimes I
“I MADE THAT CHANGE BECAUSE AT THAT PARTICULAR TIME, I DIDN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH ME – LET ALONE RAP ABOUT IT. I JUST PUT IT IN MY BEATS.” MUSIC OHBLIV.BANDCAMP.COM
put out stuff just to gauge people’s reactions to it. Other times I may put something out that I’m feeling one day and I hate the next day. It’s really confusing to me. Some of the stuff that I really hate, people love. For example, on Yellow Gold, the track “What to Believe,” I’m not really fond of that beat, but people really responded to it. They really like it. It’s always a gamble. Tell me more about SLPHNC2. It’s actually a continuation from last year’s Soulphonic that I released thru SHHO. This is an independent release. It has 9 tracks. The record really reflects where my head is at right now. It has some experimental sounds, there are some groovy sounds – it is sample based. You can find it on my Bandcamp. What next for 2012? What can people expect from Brad O? They can expect some vinyl. I’ve got a 7” coming out on vinyl with a label in Iceland. They just hit me up on Soundcloud a couple months ago and asked if I want to drop something with them. I’ve got a spilt tape coming out with a guy named Dil Withers from Seattle. It will be released through a label called Dirty Tapes.
WORN IN RED INTERVIEW BY GRAHAM SCALA LIVE PHOTOS BY DAVE KLINGTHING
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to book there and it was one of those places that people would just come to whether or not they knew the bands. That’s awesome, it doesn’t happen in every town.
When that died, it became a lot harder to get people to give a shit about loud bands. Most of them broke up except for a few UVA bands scattered here and there. But a few people in town realized that they didn’t want to just get old and listen to bluegrass or jam bands, which are the big things in Charlottesville, so all these other bands popped up and we built a cool little scene. This past Saturday night, we played our record release show and almost 150 people came out to support a screamy-ass punk band. And that blows my mind, because that would never have happened when we started. So if you have the right people booking your show, you can have one that’s every bit as appreciated as in Richmond. But Richmond, unlike Charlottesville, where people will come out for a band they know and give a fair chance to any other band that’s playing, seems more plugged into, “Oh, this touring band’s coming through, I don’t care who the local is, I’m just going for the headliner.” That’s just the nature of being a bigger city. Matt: Having more options.
ince 2004, Worn In Red has consistently churned out material that recalls both the moody post-hardcore of Hoover or Four Hundred Years and the triumphant rock-based approach of Hot Water Music or Planes Mistaken For Stars. Through years of steady touring, the band has refined their approach, evolving more and more with each succesive release. Banshees, their second full-length, was just released on No Idea Records in time for a three-week tour. I managed to get in a few questions with drummer Brad Perry and bassist/vocalist Matt Neagle. You guys started in Charlottesville and now half of you are Richmond-based. How do you feel the two environments compare with each other in terms of nurturing what you do? Brad: In Charlottesville, we started at the tail end of what was a really awesome scene centered around the Tokyo Rose, which is still there in name but they’ve gutted it and changed owners. I think our second show was their last show. I used MUSIC WORN IN RED
Brad: Having those options forces you to get to know what’s up rather than just going to the one loud rock show that happens that month. They both have their strong suits--Charlottesville’s got a really tight-knit community of people that will come out and support those bands that have been at it for a while, whereas in Richmond there’s so much going on that it’s hard to convince people to give a shit, even people who might otherwise like a band. Matt: I have a lot of old friends too. They’re getting too old for it. [affects tired older person voice] “Ah sorry, Big Bang Theory marathon’s on.” [laughs] Which I can understand, but they just gotta be reminded that going to a show’s awesome. It took me a minute to figure out whether you were saying “old friends” in the sense of people you’ve known for a long time who support you or people that are just chronologically advanced.
Brad: [laughs] Well, we’re older than most touring punk bands. Matt: But not that old. In punk years, you’re nearing grandfather age. Brad: Yeah. I like that I remember some of Richmond’s history. Growing up in Fredericksburg, I used to come to shows here and in DC. Matt: Strange Matter’s the only place I still have that’s been here since I was a kid. [affects a weepy, maudlin tone] My parents don’t live in the same house but I can go back to where Twisters was and that’s the only place I have like that. And now they put video games in and shit. The sound you guys have on your last few recordings reminds me of a lot of mid- to late-90s bands – Maximillian Colby, Four Hundred Years, Hoover, Hot Water Music, that sort of thing. What does that era of music mean to you? Brad: Growing up in Fredericksburg, I was exposed to whatever DC and Richmond bands played there. Through skate videos I was already into Minor Threat, Black Flag, Descendents--all the basics. Then I heard Fugazi because they’re related to Minor Threat. And I heard Avail because they were playing all the time in Virginia back then. But even those bands weren’t playing house shows at that point, so seeing Maximillian Colby in somebody’s living room, just ending up in a pile on top of each other, I thought it was fucking insane. Dumb as it might sound to people who are more learned about bands, because I know there were plenty of bands doing that before them, [but] that was the band that opened my eyes to that kind of stuff. It sort of re-invented punk for me and opened up my eyes to a whole slew of bands. And Hot Water Music, seeing them play basements when I was in school in Harrisonburg was the same thing. That you can have a melodic punk band that isn’t poppy. You don’t have to be the Queers to still have melody and to have--I hate to use the term because it’s so loaded--an emotional element. Matt: I think they’re calling it emo these days, Brad. [laughs] Brad: I just happened to be the right age to catch that stuff when it was around. Going to school in Harrisonburg in the mid- to late-90s, that was
“ IN RICHMOND THERE’S SO MUCH GOING ON THAT IT’S HARD TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO GIVE A SHIT, EVEN PEOPLE WHO MIGHT OTHERWISE LIKE A BAND.” 41
the shit there. And, as uncool as this will sound in our message board generation, there was a real sincerity to those bands. They were singing about things that mattered to them. In retrospect some of it might seem stilted, but it felt real to everyone who was there when it was blowing up. And that’s something indelible. I’ve never connected with anything since then on the same level. Matt: It comes in waves. When you’re nineteen or twenty you’re full of emotions anyways. I remember seeing, cheesy as it is to admit, Jimmy Eat World and thinking that shit was awesome. Or Converge, people piling up and screaming their asses off. [feigns crying, voice cracking] It was fucking awesome. You’re really helping your emo credibility there. Matt: There was an interview with one of my old bands that said “Matt Neagle, Moby of emo.” [laughs] You look more like Moby and Ambrose Burnside mixed together. Confederate Moby. Brad: That’s the next band I’m starting. Fife and drum techno. So your newest album seems a little more uptempo and rock-oriented than your previous work. What motivated the shift in tone? Brad: It’s more fun to play that stuff live.
all of us.
track. It was kinda Mike Patton-ish but really bad.
Matt: Most of these songs were also developed playing live. We toured across the country with them before recording them, I’ve never gotten to do that.
Brad: You mean there’s good Mike Patton?
How has the songwriting approach evolved since Matt’s been in the band? Matt: The guitars, man. Joe and Brendan come in with these riffs and Brad and I, since we’re five years into it, knock it out. That’s the great thing about being so familiar, you know what everybody wants. Brad: And we’ve had songs just come out of screwing around at the beginning of practice. I know that’s not revolutionary or anything. Matt: [assuming the gravelly voice of an aging rocker dude] I mean, it’s like the music gods were talkin’ man. Brad: But I don’t think the way we approach songwriting is vastly different from most other punk or hardcore bands. Matt: It just took us a long time to figure out that we just need to let the guitarists write the songs.
Matt: Those were also the first songs that the four of us wrote all together.
Brad: I will say that we’re more picky than any band I’ve ever played with. We’ll dick around with a part for months. We don’t just throw shit out there, everybody has to be one hundred percent on board.
Brad: The album before this had some songs that were written before Matt was in the band, so this is the first collection of songs that were written by
Matt: I even had some lyrics for one of the songs on the record that were really bad. I hadn’t shown ‘em to anybody, just been doing them on my four-
Matt: I couldn’t tell if it was actually bad. I just had to ask somebody. Brad: So we told him. [laughs] Your new album is the second you’ve done on No Idea Records. I know that’s a big selling point for a lot of bands, and have seen the logo on your flyers before. What does that label mean to you? Matt: I feel like No Idea’s one of the only really punk labels still around. None of the bands are getting money for putting records out. You have to pay for the recording, but they put it out and it helps a band tour. Brad: I’ve always called it the Dischord of the South. Same model – handshake arrangements. If you don’t want to get into the business side of things, you better trust each other. It’s pretty rad for a label that’s where they are, which is a decent level. Since the downfall of ILC/ILD, they’ve become a pretty massive distribution base. They’ve been at it for over twenty-five years and it’s pretty rare for a label to have sustained itself at that level through all the ups and downs and the bullshit. We love them as people and a lot of the bands they’ve put out. Matt: [feigns getting choked up] You had been a band for a half-decade before putting out a full-length. How did that extended gestation affect how you developed? RVA MAGAZINE #10
“ I WILL SAY THAT WE’RE MORE PICKY THAN ANY BAND I’VE EVER PLAYED WITH. WE’LL DICK AROUND WITH A PART FOR MONTHS. WE DON’T JUST THROW SHIT OUT THERE, EVERYBODY HAS TO BE ONE HUNDRED PERCENT ON BOARD.” Brad: We actually had recorded a full-length with our old lineup which will never, ever be heard. [laughs] If you’ve ever been in a band where you didn’t have a PA and the first time you ever really heard the vocals was when they were recorded, you suddenly realize, “Oh my God, what the fuck is going on?” That was what happened. I don’t know how it affected things, other than [the fact] that I had a chance to get better at drums before anybody could hear me recorded. This was the first band I’ve played drums in, so that was helpful. Because studio nerves exist. Also, all the earlier stuff that nobody really has ever heard or will ever hear was stuff that Joe wrote before this was even a band, done in the style of X or Y band. And the songs were good, but they definitely sounded like those other bands. So by the time we put something out with the real Worn In Red lineup, we were able to do stuff that was more indicative of what we were trying to accomplish. Matt: It was a rock opera. [laughs] Brad: I prefer to think of it as a smooth jazz movement in B. Matt: [whispering dramatically] Sketches Of Richmond. Brad: Neagle’s Brew. One thing that was mentioned earlier was that in punk years you guys are practically grandparents. With that adulthood usually comes certain responsibilities, employment-wise. How do your respective work situations inform and MUSIC WORN IN RED
accommodate what you do as musicians? Brad: Up until recently, we toured in the winter months a lot because Matt runs a food cart downtown and doesn’t work in the winter. So that’s just one less person that has to ask off work. I’m back in school now, but my old job was pretty flexible about when I could get off. Brendan works for himself doing web design and Joe works in a restaurant, so it didn’t really matter much, it wasn’t seasonal. As far as what we do, I feel like Matt’s job probably informs a lot of the lyrics. Matt: Yeah, I work across the street from Cooch [Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli], I see him roll down with his entourage. And I’ve gotten to know some of his employees and they can be fucking awesome. One’s a metalhead, it’s kinda cool. But you see both sides. It’s weird knowing that there are cool Republicans. Brad: Up until recently I was doing work on sexual and domestic violence issues. I saw and heard enough doing that kind of work that it kept me wanting to listen to loud, cathartic music. Matt: A lot of the songs on the new one were inspired by interactions I had during the whole Occupy movement. I’d have these guys come up to my cart and I’d take their order and they’d just start in on “you know what I want to do is just take my SUV and run right over those guys.” And when I explained those were my friends they’d just move on to, “Oh, can I just get some chicken salad?” It enraged me, but there’s a couple songs about how the Occupy movement really did inspire me, just how ordinary people could go after what’s really wrong, the banks and all that.
Brad: Which you also are working right next to. Matt: In the shadow of Suntrust. What have been some high points of the band’s existence so far? Brad: Getting to tour Europe. Matt: Bunch of the Fests [The Fest is a yearly punk festival held in Gainesville, FL]. Brad: Especially the year we played there when our first record came out. We played a 3 A.M. post-Fest show and I didn’t think anybody was going to be awake at that point, but we had a big group of people come out who went apeshit and gave it the last little bit that they had. Where do you see Worn In Red heading? Brad: I think Guy Fieri said it best... Fuck you. Brad: …we’re on a one-way bus to flavor town. [laughs] Matt: We’ll just keep writing. We’ve got the right people to play and write songs. Brad: We’re all such good friends, I don’t foresee anything standing in the way. If we have to take time off, so be it. It’s not like when you’re in your twenties and you have some problems and immediately resort to, “Ah fuck it, the band’s done.” I always want to play with these dudes. We leave for tour in forty-eight hours. After that, I don’t know. We always have short-term goals, if you could even call them goals at all. Just write more songs and try to get people to hear them. 43
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aiting in the backstage corridors at Sprout, the first show jitters assailed the three members of Fire Bison. Despite the strong showing of support from their friends, it was impossible for them to know where any of this was headed. They made their way to the stage and made it through their first song. As the song ended, a random audience member shouted out, “That was awesome!” Fire Bison had earned a fantastic first impression. From that point forward, there was no end in sight.
Fire Bison began when two co-workers were inspired to create something together. Adrienne Shurte and Laurie Lay’s immediate sonic communications created a bond between the two, and helped establish a design for their collaboration. Drummer Wess Brockman was the final component added to the line-up. The last of a run of temporary drummers, Brockman was the first to fit in immediately. By the time Brockman showed up, Shurte and Lay had determined most of the structures of the songs. The simplicity of the group’s lineup configuration helped to define their roles within it. “Adrienne usually plays outside of a basic chord mentality, so it requires me to stretch my resources on bass to play to that,” explains Lay. Brockman has contributions to make as well. “I come from a background of primarily
BY SHANNON CLEARY PHOTOS BY KRISTEN LAWRENCE
being a songwriter and I have found myself in the role of drummer every so often,” he explains. “It’s nice to take some of the background I have as a drummer in grind bands and straightforward pop bands and find a creative mix.” Considering the prior work of each of these three musicians, Fire Bison emerges from the remnants of widely varied musical styles. From the post-hardcore of Segway Cops and Hail Hydra to the indie pop of The Catnip Dreams and Jan And Dan and the garage-rock of The Color Kittens, a lot of different musical ingredients are being thrown into the mix. All of these previous groups add certain elements to the foundations of Fire Bison’s sound. Ultimately, though, they are all so different that it seems most likely that Fire Bison’s sound stems primarily from the union of these three unique musicians in a previously unexplored musical realm. Two of their earliest numbers,“Instigator” and “Rocking Chair,” demonstrate the group’s prowess. “Rocking Chair,” which ties together a subtle opening and a dynamic and raucous finale, is a proper testament to the band’s unorthodox songwriting approach. By avoiding a reliance on simply mashing chords together, Shurte is able to combine elements that musically illustrate the world these songs manifest. The interlocking lyri-
cal exchange between Lay and Shurte is particularly fascinating. When asked about this, the two mention that each band member contributes the majority of their own vocal parts. “Everyone has a say in their lyrics, and it makes the stories we tell that much more interesting,” Shurte says. “It helps for us to take an idea of where a [narrative] is headed in a Fire Bison song, and all contribute what we want for each aspect,” Lay adds. The material that followed their initial songwriting burst showed a new lyrical direction for the group, one that involved increased complexity and a more detailed composition process. “[The way] we put songs together might not be practical, but a lot of the words are plot-driven,” Shurte explains. The band has developed a fascination with disturbing scenarios. “We do creepy lyrics,” Shurte continues. “The song ‘Married Men’ has a lot to do with a girl who messes with [the] heads [of men] that she thinks are awful people. [It] focuses on the more fucked up, manipulative aspects of her active role in hurting these men.” Other songs like “Birds,” which references the classic Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, fit into a cinematic ideal. This shows up again on an even newer song that takes place in a fantasy dimension. “The new song takes place in a dark forest with babies with sharp teeth and claws
“ I KNOW IT SOUNDS STRANGE, BUT I FEEL LIKE IF YOU ARE INTO COMIC BOOKS OR SCIENCE FICTION, THIS COULD BE REALLY UP YOUR ALLEY.” MUSIC FIRE BISON
chasing everyone,” Shurte explains. “I know it sounds strange, but I feel like if you are into comic books or science fiction, this could be really up your alley.” Lay immediately points out that such subject matter really isn’t that strange at all for Fire Bison. “I think we all find inspiration in so many different places,” she says. “It doesn’t seem too wild that we would venture here. I mean, we are just three creepy, drunk people after all.” “Three creepy drunk girls,” Brockman quickly corrects her. The entire band bursts into laughter, showing their easy cameraderie. A question about the song “Glitter Girls” brings forth much discussion among the three bandmates. It’s one of their more complicated songs to pull off live, yet there is a certain emotion behind it that resonates deeply with almost every audience that has had the opportunity to see it. “A woman came up to me one night after our set and was just floored by the amount of emotion 46
behind that song,” Lay says. “It really meant a lot to have someone come up to us and acknowledge that what we were doing wasn’t just a ‘cool’ thing, [but that] this is what we should be doing.” Lyrically, “Glitter Girls” ponders the way society’s construction of rigid, cosmetically enforced gender roles can restrict the opportunities available to women, regardless of their talent and potential contributions in areas having nothing to do with physical appearance. As a band built around the work of talented female musicians, Fire Bison force audiences to re-evaluate their expectations of bands with female members--one of several reasons they are an integral asset to the city’s scene. When asked about other bands Fire Bison consider themselves to have a close musical kinship with, the easy answer was The Milkstains. In the wake of the two bands having spent time on the road together, the dynamic seems natural.
“When we got John Sizemore to play on one of our songs, it was just so great,” Shurte recalls. “He already has all the scales down and can really just pick up the pieces immediately. He adds this weird spaghetti western vibe to the track that I couldn’t even comprehend when it all started to come together.” “The funny thing is that our sounds aren’t really alike at all,” Lay says. “I don’t think that matters too much. Even within our own band, we enjoy a lot of different styles of music. If anything, that can only contribute to us creating a Fire Bison sound.” The influences the members of Fire Bison list are all over the place. Shurte expresses a penchant for all things Nick Cave, while Brockman started off into grindcore yet slowly moved on to becoming a huge Morrissey fan. Lay’s background indicates a mentality from the world of garage rock and go-go, but that hasn’t limited her from exploring the musical interests of her collaborators. RVA MAGAZINE #10
“THERE ARE SO MANY AWESOME PROJECTS THAT ARE GOING ON CONSTANTLY THAT SOMETIMES A BAND WILL FALL TO THE WAYSIDE AND NEVER REALLY ACHIEVE AS MUCH AS THEY SHOULD. WITH FIRE BISON, THIS IS THE FURTHEST I FEEL LIKE I HAVE GOTTEN WITH A GROUP OF MUSICIANS, AND I WANT TO SEE THIS THROUGH.” Fire Bison spent some time earlier attempting to record a debut release. The results weren’t terrible by any means, but they weren’t as satisfying as the band felt they should be. “We went down to Virginia Beach and it’s really no one’s fault,” Shurte recalls. “I just think there was a communication breakdown between us and the producer.” Since then, there have been constant demands for a release, which the band has heard loud and clear. Within the past month, they have spent a weekend at Sound of Music Studios, where Shurte also interns. The plan is to record four songs and figure out the best means of releasing them, perhaps as a vinyl EP. They may not altogether abandon the Virginia Beach sessions, either--they could see the light of day on a cassette release. Following the potential release of these recordings in October, the band wants to continue hitting the road. “I’d like to see us travel as far as MUSIC FIRE BISON
Europe by next summer,” Shurte exclaims. The biggest priority for the band is to just get their name out there and not fall into a Richmond curse of sorts. “What I think holds Richmond back is the fact that we are so spoiled with having so many bands and musicians in town,” Shurte adds. “There are so many awesome projects that are going on constantly that sometimes a band will fall to the wayside and never really achieve as much as they should. With Fire Bison, this is the furthest I feel like I have gotten with a group of musicians, and I want to see this through.”
are because we are a band fronted by two women. My first thought to that is ‘Fuck you.’ It’s never been about that, and it never will be about that. I play music because it’s what I want to do, and it means a tremendous amount to me. I don’t want people to look at Fire Bison as a chick band. I don’t want to be seen as a girl that can really wail at guitar. I just want to be seen as a person who plays music, and have all the gender identification bullshit thrown away. It’s not worth any of our times and if anything, it takes away from what Fire Bison is all about.”
The band hasn’t been without a few hardships. It’s disheartening to recognize that there could be sexist reactions that are prevalent when people see a band fronted by women. Shurte hopes to escape all of the nonsense, allowing Fire Bison to be the band she has always dreamed of being in. “That is one thing that has driven me insane as a whole,” she says. “There are people that will come up to me and make a remark about how we are only as popular as we
What is Fire Bison all about? They are a remarkable group of talented musicians that not only bond over their solid musical foundation, but are taking a new and exciting approach to prove their social relevance in a male-dominated scene. Their fantastic tales, spilling over with creepiness and a penchant for exploration of human follies, are what make Fire Bison a band to keep an eye on. 47
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RVA MAGAZINE #10
OCCULTIST INTERVIEW BY ADDISON HERRON-WHEELER PHOTOS BY SARJA HASSAN
ichmond VA has always been known for it’s quality punk and metal bands. Anyone who frequents metal and punk shows in Richmond knows that crossover bands, which combine elements of metal and punk music into a powerful hybrid sound, are a staple at almost every local show. GWAR and Municipal Waste both brought this wonderful cross-pollination to the nation and the world with their goofy, thrashy brands of punk-tinged metal and metaltinged punk, respectively. Recently, doom bands like Inter Arma and Cough, as well as hardcore punk like Unholy Thoughts and Dry Spell, have also been making a name outside of RVA. As awesome as that is for the local scene, those bands represent their respective scenes, rather than a blending of the two--which is what makes the recent popularity of local crossover group Occultist so exciting. Not only does this band play thrashy, punky, hardcore metal that every fan of either genre can enjoy, they are down-to-earth people who appreciate heavy music of all genres, and are themselves big supporters of Richmond’s extreme music scene. Occultist is made up of Leland Hoth on drums, Jim Reed and Ken Jung on guitar, Nathaniel Acker on bass, and Kerry Zylstra on vocals. The group started in 2009 in Jackson Ward, and have since been forced to acquire an actual practice space due to the fact that the neighbors found them “brutally loud.” Zylstra is the newest member of the band, having joined in 2010 when Will Towles, their original singer, left the group. “I had seen Occultist play quite a few times and and loved their sound,” says Zylstra. “I was also friends with the other band members and it had been a long-term goal of mine to front a punk/ metal band.” Zylstra’s dynamic stage presence and abrasive shrieks gained the band even more attention, and they began getting booked for more
shows and bigger events. Although the presence of an attractive female frontperson seems like it might elicit some unsavory responses from smallminded fans, Zylstra says she hasn’t had to deal with too many jerks. “I do feel as though people focus on my gender quite a bit, but I haven’t encountered any major negativity,” she says. Although she has had to deal with the inevitable sexist comments at bigger shows where the crowd isn’t made up entirely of punks and locals, the good has far outweighed the bad. The band has also undergone some stylistic changes in the past two years. What started as a straight-forward punk/metal powerhouse has evolved into a far more complex musical project, with the guitarists focusing a lot more on melody and strong riff-writing. “There has always been a focus on musicianship, although admittedly the songwriting has definitely gravitated more towards the visceral and primitive aspects of punk and metal that Kerry’s vocal approach lends perfectly to,” says Reed. The group usually combines to write songs, and then presents the material to Zylstra, who listens to them until lyrical inspiration strikes her. Her lyrics are often dark and dystopian, with lines like: “Deaf to our cries, revenge ensues/ The cost of convenience: humanity dies/ A tortured planet turns on itself/ We writhe in despair” (“Gamma Tomb”). While this is usual fodder for punk bands, it is a far cry from darkly happy GWAR tunes or Municipal Waste party anthems,. Occultist have been busy this past year in the studio and on tour, making moves to ensure their greatness in the annals of metal. Their latest EP, Hell By Our Hands, was recently-self released on tape, to the delight of many a classic format-snob. “We’ve always liked the mystique and sound of the old metal or punk demo tapes,” says Reed. “Since all of us have traded or collected tapes
ourselves, it only made sense to have our first ‘official’ release in this classic format.” The slightly fuzzy feel of the recording does lend a very distinct credibility to a crusty metal release like theirs, but the good quality and actual attention to detail in the recording and producing of the EP, often purposely overlooked by punk bands trying to sound “raw,” keeps it far from the realm of novelty item. The band also went on tour with splatter-thrash legends Ghoul, no small feat for a three-year-old local band. “I met the Ghoul guys while working for GWAR,” says Reed, “gave them a copy of my demo, [and] months later Scott [Bryan] from Ghoul called me and said that they really enjoyed it and that the band they were taking along on tour broke up. I mentioned that we were available, and away we went.” The band was received well on the tour, and returned to a barrage of local bookings, including one at this year’s GWAR-B-Q--their second appearance at this local event. While the group has yet to get signed or achieve huge national status, they have made a great showing for themselves as a strong, up-andcoming local band. “I am flattered that there are those who feel that there should be a wider beam cast on our efforts, says Reed. “A lot of our friends’ bands garner interest nationally, but we don’t really focus on that. It would be great to hit Europe, Japan or Australia, but in the meantime, I think we’ll continue to handle things one day at a time and see where that will take us.” Maybe it’s the combination of rumbling bass, pounding drums, and double-guitar riffing onslaught that makes the band irresistible to punk and metalheads alike. Or maybe it’s Zylstra’s uncompromising stage presence and unique voice. But whatever it is, Occultist have already established themselves as the emerging face of Richmond’s grimy underbelly, to the delight of headbangers everywhere.
“ THE BAND HAS ALSO UNDERGONE SOME STYLISTIC CHANGES IN THE PAST TWO YEARS. WHAT STARTED AS A STRAIGHT-FORWARD PUNK/METAL POWERHOUSE HAS EVOLVED INTO A FAR MORE COMPLEX MUSICAL PROJECT, WITH THE GUITARISTS FOCUSING A LOT MORE ON MELODY AND STRONG RIFF-WRITING.“
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SEVEN HILLS CREW 50
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BY SEAN SCHULTZ
WAR’s shadow is long.
Scan the show calendars of Kingdom or Strange Matter and you’re likely to find a litany of grimly named hardcore/metal acts. At some point in the late ‘80s when most cities wanly eyed the dregs of punk and shunted the bottle aside, Richmond flagged the bartender down for a harder cocktail with a keener edge. Blast beats and sub-120 second nihilism put down their roots in the former Confederate capital and found rich soil. Why exactly RVA musicians dove headfirst into hardcore punk is an open question, but to me the disconnect between our homegrown scene and the national soundscape stands out like a boil-red zit.
A glance at the last two years of top Billboard albums shows that, in general, Americans choose to drop coin on pop, rap, and the hybrids born thereof. Rick Ross recently celebrated his fourth chart-topping album with over 218,000 copies sold, and Nas held the number-one spot with Life Is Good two weeks earlier. Meanwhile, R&B artist Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is one of the mosttalked-about LPs of 2012. If Jay-Z and Kanye weren’t sufficiently ham-handed on Watch The Throne to get the message across, contemporary hip-hop is Big Time, Big Money, and probably cracking open the night’s first Ciroc while Mr. Indie Rock anxiously strokes his beard at the club door. Richmond might bleed punk, but that hardly means we’re immune to national trends. As you march down Main Street into Shockoe Bottom, syncopated bass booms and hi-hats marking manic 32nd notes doppler in and out. These days, hip-hop dominates the airwaves while its sensibilities leak into other genres like a breached dam. So even in a town of diehard punk rockers, it comes as no surprise that RVA natives are grinding in the studio, laying down their own raps. When I first meet Cons, we are at his apartment, located a few blocks from Kingdom in Shockoe Bottom. It’s a humid night in July and the living room is crammed full of musicians, artists, and friends stretched across couches listening to instrumentals. After expansive spitballing about the Flower of Life, attaining spiritual self-knowledge, meditation, and the veracity of life truths imparted from alleged alien abductees, I sit down with Cons to talk about his music and Richmond hip-hop. “The more you learn about the rap scene in Richmond,” he says, slouched on the couch, “there’s really not much.” He sees a lot of aspiring rappers and producers in Richmond but few who seem willing to dive in headfirst and devote every fiber to their work. “It becomes an essential part of your life when you do it for real,” Cons says with evident conviction. Cons can speak with some authority on dedication. He tried his hand at production during high school by fooling around on GarageBand like other enterprising teens, and found early inspiration in Kanye West’s samples. Over years of tinkering and tweaking, he began to perceive music as a serious endeavor. A bright student, Cons gained acceptance to William & Mary but decided after MUSIC SOULPOWER
his freshman year to make bold moves and drop out in order to focus on music. To be clear, Cons is a young artist still cutting his teeth. Loops feature prominently in his productions, especially earlier material, but check the progression of his work on SoundCloud from past to present and you get the feeling of a flower gradually unfurling. Over time, songs incorporate lush samples with increasing fluidity. They blossom from basic loops on “Ponderings” to greater structural sophistication on “Thru The Window” and “Where I Am,” a Charles Diamond track that flips a contemplative Postal Service sample to great effect. Even the instrumentation visibly expands. Though Cons was trained on piano as a kid and the instrument pops up often in his melodies, lately he’s toyed with sampling a croaking frog. Moreover, he’s drawing on musical influences far beyond those of Kanye. Cons calls Richmond rapper Lil Ugly Mane, whose overlooked 2012 horrorcore masterpiece Mista Thug Isolation should not be slept on, a musical revelation. Talking with him, I feel I’m getting a snapshot of a musician in the process of finding himself. Not yet beholden to ingrained habits, he’s feeling out his sound with each fresh experiment.
“I CAN’T REALLY SAY WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN, BUT I’M LOOKING TO MAKE MOVES, AND MAKE THE RIGHT ONES.” Fortunately, Cons has more than enough outlets to cultivate further skills. His production and mixing know-how are in demand among local rappers. A week after our introduction, Cons sits cross-legged on his bed and plays me a few tracks off of a new mixtape, KVRMA, he’s mixing by RVA rappers The Terrorist Posse. “You get an ear for putting the vocals in a space, for creating the right space for the voice inside of the instruments,” he explains. There’s a pause as he queues the next track, and then “Laidback Remix” begins. I can see Cons’ tongue move, silently tracing the contours of each rhyme as he mouths Lex The Pharaoh’s verse. Cons didn’t produce this EP, but mixing is itself a laborious process that requires countless attentive hours of fine-tuning. I’m certain he’s replayed “Laidback” a thousand times over, yet any observer can see he’s still enamored from the way his head nods. The track pops, and I’m impressed. Terrorist Posse is a mix of rappers and producers with a decidedly dark signature sound who run in the same circle as Cons. Three members--Nova, Lex, and Karmah--are part of the lounging crowd on that first steamy July visit. So is reedlike Jo Casino, another up-and-coming RVA rapper you may recognize from his “16 Bars” video series and Gritty Gully, released earlier this year. On my second visit, Avance of heavy-hitters Mix Breed
Entertainment relaxes on a back room mattress. Cons collaborates frequently with all of the above, and, from my perspective, these Richmond rappers and producers of many flavors appear in loose orbit around some central locus. The apartment unquestionably provides a convenient space in which to congregate and work at double-time to create music in intimate back-and-forths, but the particular contribution of Cons’ production plays no small part in their collective bond. Mix Breed, Jo Casino, The Terrorist Posse, BLACK KRVY, Creeper Da Reaper – this is far from an exhaustive list of Richmond hip-hop. It is, however, a highly visible chunk, and that’s not only an indicator of quality music and good fortune. The buzz they’ve garnered, or rather earned, also reveals willful marketing hustle. Each musician leverages technology to the hilt to pump their music out to potential listeners and engage with fans. Image and backstory often propel an artist almost as much as their art, and Cons & co. are savvy about crafting their brand in all the right ways. In the midst of thick smoke whorls and emphatic chatter, Cons’ residential pressure-cooker has inevitably generated artistic cross-pollination, in the Realm Musical and elsewhere. Cons’ roommate is graphic designer Tom Hart of NoNameNoBrain Productions, and wherever you look Hart’s stickers brighten dimly-lit surfaces: furniture, cabinets, even the iron spiral staircase. In dozens of striking styles of saturated colors, these adornments proclaim the name of Seven Hills, Hart’s brand and line of streetwear. Perhaps it was inevitable that the images would seep from their adhesivebacked prisons into the minds of the apartment’s denizens. But whether through act of inspired metonymic appropriation or heartfelt embrace of Hart’s branding, the several artists who make this their second home have found their name. These days anyone with internet access and a halfway decent USB microphone can declare themselves the next hip-hop great, but few exude the energy and work ethic that places the Seven Hills crew in the field of true contenders. Making a name for yourself in the rap game is a tough gig, a battle of tooth and nail that requires wading past a deluge of street corner lyricists. Ultimately, only the cream will rise to the top. Breaking through won’t be easy but each late night toil brings the Seven Hills one day closer. “I can’t really say what’s about to happen, but I’m looking to make moves, and make the right ones,” Cons says. In the meantime, production is ongoing for Jo Casino’s upcoming project, Spacebound, and Cons promises to showcase his own lyrical chops on a future release. Self-produced, of course. From a cozy squat on the living room floor, Jo Casino chimes in with wisdom learned from Richmond rap/R&B veteran Nickelus F: “Don’t have a Plan B.” Cons agrees. “If you only wanna do music, only do music,” the 20-year-old says. Here, enmeshed in a circle of smoking, contemplative musicians trading shop talk, the decision to renounce academic hoop-jumping and meritocratic baubles for creative immersion seems like a risk worth taking.
heir name Proverbial is an ambiguous one; the word is defined as “well known” and “stereotypical,” but commits itself to nothing in particular. However, despite the fact that the name is not one that easily indicates what genre the band belongs to, Proverbial is, in the end, a fitting moniker for this seven-piece RVA band, whose members pride themselves on their musical diversity. Phil Walker (Keys/ Vocals), Thomas Whitesell (Sax/Rhymes), Stephen Holicky (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Michael Keeter (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Scott Gerry (Bass), Ryan Harlowe (Drums), and Kevin Condrey (Percussion) come together to form this rock/funk/rap/reggae/ etc. hybrid that’s been packing venues and confusing industry professionals for the past three years. Proverbial is a well-rounded and talented group. Their business sense and work ethic has afforded
BY DAN ANDERSON PHOTO BY JOE OPYT
them the many spoils of an unconscious battle waged against knee-jerk assumptions and in favor of their broad sound spectrum and difficult-topigeonhole musical style. They pride themselves on their infectious rhythms and positive vibes, which radiate with every public performance. As a result, their many fans are dedicated to the cause. Those that know Proverbial know them well, and are willing to travel great distances to see them play. Those that don’t know them tend to discount them, possibly due to the lack of easy categorization that would be provided by a more defining name. However, more often, the opinions of the doubters tend to be shaped by those disturbed by a positive presence, who are unwilling to let go of their inhibitions and give in to Proverbial’s underlying message that everything’s gonna be alright.
Proverbial’s resumé boasts top honors from every competition and battle they’ve entered. They’ve signed a record deal with Spectra, while managing to book their own tours, traveling regularly out of state and performing at rock venues up and down the East Coast, all while facilitating an enthusiastic audience in what is arguably one of the most difficult cities in which to do so. While other local acts pick and choose their venues based on their fans’ willingness to cross rivers and enter into counties that lie outside the Richmond city limits, Proverbial transcends barriers and borders successfully. Against all odds, they’ve been league leaders in developing an organic sense of community in a music scene previously known for it’s cannibal tendencies. Richmond has embraced them as it would a cover band, but unlike cover bands, Proverbial has a catalogue of well written original tunes that win crowds over every time they play. RVA MAGAZINE #10
“ WE’RE A LIVE BAND THAT PLAYS SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN MOVE TO. THAT’S STRENGTH, AND IF YOU PUT US IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, THEY FIND SOMETHING THEY CAN LATCH ONTO.” For their fans, Proverbial represents brotherhood and prosperity. But for Richmond, Proverbial represents the future. I sat down with Mike, Harlowe, and Scott to shed some light on the past, present, and future of Proverbial. You all come from different musical backgrounds. How would you specifically classify Proverbial? Scott: That’s a tough one. How do other people classify Proverbial? Scott: A lot of times, [as a] jam band. Mike: Jam band, reggae/rock.
Do you guys think you’re a jam band? Scott: We can jam. Mike: I mean, there are different elements to us. Yes, we get considered a jam band, but I don’t think we’re in that classification. One thing that we try to do is make sure we fit in to every classification. That’s why we do the hip hop, rock, reggae... we take it all and mash it together like a bag of assholes. I don’t think we’re at all a jam band. I don’t know what other people think a jam band is, I guess. Unless they mean a band that puts a lot into their musicianship and can improvise. Which we do. Harlowe: We do a little bit. Mike: The music represents how the person feels about it when they listen to it. It doesn’t really matter what we meant when we wrote it. It doesn’t really matter what we were going for. It matters what each individual person feels, and what they take away from it. I don’t think we’re really a jam band, but I don’t think [being a jam band] is necessarily a bad thing, either. What do guys think is the strongest element of Proverbial? Scott: Harlowe’s right hand. Harlowe: It’s all the different styles that we [represent]. Mike: It might be cliché but I definitely think it’s our chemistry. We get up [onstage] and we feed off each other. Every practice, there’s a new song, a new something. I feel like that’s our biggest strength. When we get onstage, you should be able to see it. How does Proverbial stand out from other bands? Harlowe: Different styles. Scott: We don’t sound like other bands. If we do, it’s for a song, or a part of a song. Harlowe: Two lead singers and a rapper. Scott: Four part harmonies. You guys have been doing your thing for over three years now. You’ve built a solid foundation underneath yourselves by amassing quite a following. Is there any advice you can give other bands that have had a problem doing this? MUSIC PROVERBIAL
Scott: Make friends and support other bands. Mike: Go see other bands. We were very fortunate, at first, to have seven guys who brought out a lot of friends. Put yourself out there, and go meet other people who enjoy live music. Meet people who enjoy playing music. Five of the seven members of Proverbial grew up in the Richmond area. Has Richmond changed for the better or worse? Harlowe: For the better, but I do miss the old punk scene. Mike: For the better. There wasn’t a lot of diversity when it came to the music scene. It was punk and metal when it came to your main forefronts. People still [assume], when they talk about Richmond. They think there’s mainly a lot of punk and metal kids. I think that we as a city have branched out into everything.
Mike: For someone to be a full time member, I don’t think so. Before we had Kevin, I didn’t think [there was room for him]. But when Kevin came to the table, he knew all of our songs. Him and Harlowe work [well] together because he fills in Harlowe’s dead space, making each song a little more intricate. Anyone can sit in on an album or show, but for a full time member, no. What’s the most entertaining part of Proverbial? Scott: The chemistry. I can’t even tell you what’s going on stage. It’s better than sex, to me. It’s an ear-fuck. It’s like chasing the dragon. It’s the most addictive part. Harlowe: Playing and traveling. It’s going on the road. You guys drink a lot. Does Proverbial have a preferred beverage? Harlowe: They all like Jager. I fucking hate it.
Harlowe: VCU is helping. The bigger that school gets, it brings in more artistic kids.
Mike: It would be the medicine. Thomas’ dad makes this wine we call the medicine.
Scott: The Internet is helping too. There’s even more bands now because of the Internet. [Back in the day], you could be at one show, while a hundred other shows are going on, and you’d never know about it unless someone tells you. Because of the Internet, I know about at least ten shows going on every Friday/Saturday night. It used to be very competitive, but I’m seeing a lot of bands helping each other instead of trying to beat each other out.
Tell me about your last album. Scott: Fourteen tracks of deliciousness.
Do you think think that Proverbial would have a shot at being as successful in Richmond ten years ago? Harlowe: Why not? Scott: One of our weaknesses--it’s a perceived weakness, but when we talk to industry professionals, [they say things like]: “How do I market you?” We’re a live band that plays something that you can move to. That’s strength, and if you put us in front of people, they find something they can latch onto. It’s fun, and it gets people moving. So yes, in any decade, I think if you’re drawing people in with diverse music, you have a good chance of being successful. Since we’re still talking about strengths, one of your strengths that I perceive as a key to your success is that you have so many hot girls come out to your shows. How do you make that happen? Mike: You’re not the first person to say that. We’ve been blessed. Having seven guys in a band who know a lot of hot girls who have hot friends makes it easy. I love getting [onstage] and playing for a crowd of hot girls. Scott: It helps that Mike gets on stage and starts singing like a banshee. You guys have seven members. Is there any room for another member in Proverbial? Harlowe: I don’t think so. Scott: We’ll jam with anybody, anytime.
Harlowe: Fourteen tracks that were recorded in a month’s time. Recorded in the basement of the original band house at 101 S. Addison. Mike: A lot of people don’t know this but we booked our album release party before we had any details about what was going to go on the album. Being our first album, we definitely rushed it. We had some people put their ear to it and give us good feedback. Next time, we’ll definitely not book a record release party before we have an album finished. “The End is Never” is one of my favorite songs, ever. Can you tell me what inspired that song? Mike: Back in ‘07, one of my good friends passed away. One of his sayings was “Live life to the fullest.” We’d be sitting around bullshitting and he’d say, “Look, we’ve got no time. Let’s go out. Let’s do this. The end is never.” Randomly, right when Thomas and Steve moved downtown, I was at a party over off Main St. and Steve started playing the riff, on the guitar. I wrote the chorus freestyle right then and there. This was like a year and a week from when he passed away. The party was with a bunch of people who had come back from a memorial. It’s [about] always thinking that it’s never going to end; everything’s always going to keep on going. I wrote it because he always thought that. I’m not telling a story that is true in the lyrics. Its just metaphors for the different situations in people’s lives. He lived never worrying about the end. He was just doing it and being happy doing it. How far along are you on the next album? Mike: We have sixteen tracks that are contenders. We actually have plans to start recording in August. We plan on putting out an EP first. Our friends and fans have been begging us to let them learn the words to the new songs. 53
BRAIN DRAIN AT CLUB 534
LONG JAWNS BY ALEXANDER ROSE / PHOTO BY NEBIYU A MEHARI
f you’ve regularly danced in public in the Richmond or Hampton Roads areas anytime in the past few years, chances are you’ve done so at least once at Brain Drain, Audio Ammo’s legendary monthly dance party. And at that point in the evening when you fell in love with someone you’ve never seen since, chances are that the man who provided the soundtrack to which you danced (not so) casually across the room was Long Jawns. Long Phung, aka Long Jawns, has played shows in Miami and Los Angeles, but he calls Richmond home. He’s an old-fashioned DJ, in the sense that he began by spinning vinyl and prefers to do it that way. He got his start throwing parties as part of the Audio Ammo DJ crew. These days, if you find a banging dance party anywhere in Richmond, Long Jawns is probably rocking it. When he’s not DJing at venues in Richmond, he is collaborating with Washington, DC producer Billy the Gent. Together, Gent & Jawns have been making some rather large moves in the electronic music world. Their first single, “Vibrate,” took the festival season by storm last year as it was played to crowds of thousands by A-list DJs worldwide. Recently, their collaboration with megaproducer Diplo has yielded a track, “Butters Theme,” which helped place the Express Yourself EP, on which it was released, at the #1 spot on the iTunes Electronic charts. Richmond may be Long’s home, but his fame is spreading far and wide. Let’s take a peek inside the mind of Audio Ammo DJ and produer Long Jawns. It’s safe to say that you have played in nearly every possible venue throughout Richmond. What are some of the earliest memories you have of playing here? My friends and I used to have loft parties above the 1708 Gallery on Broad. Huge living rooms and stairs up to a rooftop. Those were the first shows I played outside of my bedroom. I was probably 19 at the time. How did those parties end up, compared to now? Back then, people went to the clubs and stuff, but actual crazy/anything goes parties were more along the lines of what I was doing. I’m sure there have been those types of parties since, but it honestly felt like a movie back then. Tons of people, loud music... seriously, it was anything goes. Do you remember the music you were playing back then? I actually started out playing a lot of underground hip hop. RJD2, El-P... I was playing that at prime time during those parties!
After those parties started to slow down, where did you go? Those parties went on for quite a while. It was probably two years before I DJed at an actual establishment. I was usually DJing a house party at least once every weekend. This was before there was a crackdown on a lot of this style of music and partying in the city. Tell us a little about the Audio Ammo crew that you are a part of. It was just a bunch of my friends and I hanging out for a while. The name did not come about until a few years later. Doddie, Alex, some others, and I were all just playing parties and listening to music together, and [Audio Ammo] just happened once we started to throw parties. It seems like a lot of the members have moved on to other projects outside of Richmond. What is everyone up to these days? Alex Seamans (DJvsWILD) moved to NYC and helps throw parties with Trouble & Bass Records in Brooklyn. Doddie has been hosting Brain Drain parties in Virginia Beach, and Bobby LaBeat has a few residencies at places throughout Richmond. You’ve gained quite a bit of success working with Washington, DC Audio Ammo member Billy the Gent. Tell us how this all came about. We actually met in 2002. He was living in Richmond and I met him outside of a 7-11 through a mutual friend. Not sure how I remember that. [laughs] But I met him again almost two years ago. I was living in Northern Virginia and our friend Max figured that since we were getting down with the same types of music, it’d be cool to see if we could make some music together. Your first single, “Vibrate,” was released on the Diplo-run Mad Decent blog. That’s quite a feat for a first production! How’d this happen? Dave Nada is a good friend of ours and he came over one day and gave us a few suggestions for how to make “Vibrate” sound a lot better. Pretty soon a bunch of people started playing it out, and I guess it made its way to some of the bigger DJs out there. Most recently, you collaborated with Diplo on his Express Yourself EP, which went #1 on iTunes. From reading a lot of the reviews, your track with Billy, “Butters Theme,” was one of
the more acclaimed selections from the EP. How does it feel to work on something that reached so many people all over the world? Billy had actually met Diplo in Philly a while back and they started to talk. Fast forward a few months; we were talking about doing this collab, and began sending music back and forth. It’s funny to see people talk about how the song title came across. The funny part is, Diplo hit us up and told us to send him a random word and, well, we selected “Butters.” Probably a year or so ago, I remember you telling me how you disliked playing a lot of the club music that was popular and would much rather play the less-popular hip hop and trap music. Now, trap is on the rise and other genres have taken the back burner. Funny how things turn out, huh? I got locked in the mode for a while where I was so focused on house [and] dubstep, and I just wanted to play any [other] genre. People would expect me to play a certain type of music all night and it got boring. I don’t want to lock myself in any one type of genre. Think about it, people don’t like just one type of music! There’s so much music to be played, and I don’t want to play a whole set in the same BPM range like I have seen others do. Do you see yourself producing a certain sound on future releases? I’ve noticed that you’ve released productions ranging from Moomobahton to electro to trap and everything in between. We just put out a remix for Diplo’s “Express Yourself.” People are calling it trap, but it’s at like 80 BPM. It’s funny, if you look at a Juicy J track that is “trap”--people are throwing that term around without even understanding what it is. You put a Juicy J song next to ours and you will realize how far from trap [ours] is. What can we expect from Gent & Jawns in the future? We are working on an EP right now. As far as live performances go, we are figuring out our live set. [We] want to make sure we have enough material to go out there and play our own music, without falling into this generic DJ set thing that seems to saturate the market.
“ MY FRIENDS AND I USED TO HAVE LOFT PARTIES ABOVE THE 1708 GALLERY ON BROAD. HUGE LIVING ROOMS AND STAIRS UP TO A ROOFTOP. THOSE WERE THE FIRST SHOWS I PLAYED OUTSIDE OF MY BEDROOM.” 54
RVA MAGAZINE #10
MUSIC LONG JAWNS
RECORD REVIEWS By Dan Anderson (DA) & Andrew Necci (AN)
THE ALBUM LEAF Forward Return (self-released) Some lovely, mostly instrumental post-rock here from James Lavalle (formerly of Tristeza and, um, The Locust), which mixes gorgeous, heartwarming guitar melodies with somewhat glitchy programmed beats to excellent effect. Reminds me of a cross between The Mercury Program and Pinback. This album makes me happy. (AN)
THE CASUALTIES Resistance (Season of Mist) Happy, pleasant, uplifting, and mellow are words I would never use to describe Resistance. I would, however, call the ninth studio album from street/thrash punk legends The Casualties awesome and intense. Littered with the sociopolitical references and four letter words you’d expect from this type of record, The Casualties inspire me to incite a riot. (DA)
ELeMINT Brain Food (brainfood.bandcamp.com) Last fall, Elemint flew out from LA to work with unsung local producer Octopus Drummer on this album, and still, a year after its release, Brain Food has yet to receive the respect it deserves. Elemint is an exceptional MC with profound lyrical potential that meshes well with the intellectual production provided here. Don’t sleep! (DA)
GIFTS FROM ENOLA A Healthy Fear (The Mylene Sheath) A Healthy Fear is the fourth record from this Harrisonburg, VA instrumental four-piece, whose music is heavy, technically tight post-rock/ metal. This album a solid addition to any record collection, and should fit comfortably somewhere between Isis and Explosions In The Sky. (DA)
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE Centipede Hz (Domino) As Animal Collective albums go, their latest is pretty accessible. Underneath a thin layer of quirky bleeps and incidental noises lie some very solid psychedelic pop songs. Synths are still a strong presence, but this album feels less programmed than their last, which is a step in the right direction. (AN)
CIRCA SURVIVE Violent Waves (Self Released) This is the fourth album from this Doylestown, PA five-piece screamo band, and the first to be self-released. Anthony Green exhibits his shriekingly powerful vocal ability as these eleven songs cover a variety of topics one would expect to find on their records - including a veiled shot at their previous record label, Atlantic. (DA)
ENSLAVED RIITIIR (Nuclear Blast) Another excellent release from this veteran Norwegian Viking metal band, who add to their history of progressive innovation in fine fashion here. Melody and instrumental prowess are their focus on RIITIIR, but they’re still capable of getting brutal on occasion, and their epic songcraft hasn’t diminished one iota. (AN)
HELVETIA Nothing in Rambling (Joyful Noise Recordings) Short, boring, and predictable was what came to mind after the first song, but beyond that, the delightfully monotonous instrumentation coalesced with the distortion heavy, lo-fi garage-band vocals and make this album more engaging than cumbersome. It’s easy to compare Jason Albertini’s work on this album to that of Julian Casablancas. (DA)
CARDINAL COMPASS Born Homesick (cardinalcompass.bandcamp.com) I am a sucker for female songwriters, and often an easy sell when it comes to talented women who sing well, putting together words and concepts that enchant each listener. Hannah Standiford of Cardinal Compass is exactly one of those musicians. Born Homesick is fourteen tracks of solid folk/Americana that’s easy on the ears. (DA)
CONS, THE CHILD Fruits (consthechild.bandcamp.com) Fruits is an 11-track drugless trip of an instrumental album from up-andcoming Richmond producer Cons. A lyricist might find spitting rhymes over the entirety of these songs to be a difficult task, but doing so would just ruin the sanctity of a very pleasant experience anyway. Fruits is ambient, enjoyable, and free to download. (DA)
FARAH LOUX Flaws (farahloux.bandcamp.com) Flaws is the debut album from this virtually unheard six-member Auckland, New Zealand indie/altrock band, who are well outside the confines of what I normally review. Though there’s nothing particularly spectacular about this record, it’s exceptional for what it is. A well crafted, self-contained fourteen track work of love. (DA)
HEX MACHINE Fixator (Learning Curve) On their second LP, this RVA band resurrects the mid-90s era when noise-rock and math-rock were vital subgenres of the post-hardcore scene. They layer off-kilter scree overtop of solid heavy-rock riffing in a manner that holds up next to the work of The Melvins, Jesus Lizard, and other heavyweights from last decade. (AN)
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THE HONORABLE SLEAZE Broad Street Boogie (Blocsonic) The most recent release from The Honorable Sleaze may be his best one yet. Anyone familiar with Sleaze’s vast collection of albums and beat tapes will know that’s a hefty compliment. Even with collaborations from wellknown RVA MCs like BCMusic1st, Joey Ripps, and Emphasys, it’s the production that truly takes this to the next level. (DA)
JUST PLAIN ANT What Did You Expect (Just Plain Sounds) A fitting title for this LP from one of RVA’s hardest working producers. Ant does what he does best with this joint, digging deep for choice samples, and finding the best Richmond rappers to collaborate with. The album flows seamlessly from one track to the next, painting a picture that feels like a soundtrack. (DA)
OREO JONES Betty (Red Summer) Titled in homage to his grandmother, Oreo Jones has created an excellent, intriguing synth-heavy hip hop record. Anyone who has respect for the lyrical craft should instantly see the value of this album. Oreo kills it, from “House Nigga” down to “Cordon Bleu.” Laced with art and literary references, Betty is something special. (DA)
TITLE FIGHT Floral Green (Side One Dummy) This Cali-based emo/hc/punk band has been taking quantum leaps on each new release, and Floral Green is just the latest of these. Passion, energy, distorted guitar roar, screamed vocals that retain a healthy dose of melody and strong feeling, songs that will stick in your head for days--this album has everything. (AN)
JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD Hypnotic Nights (Infinity Cat/Warner Bros) The brothers Orrall built their rep on heavy, grinding, no-frills rock n’ roll, but their 7th LP sees them adding layers to their sound through the use of additional instruments (keyboards, vibraphone, etc). The result is still heavy, but catchier than before--think early Weezer as a garage-rock band. Good stuff. (AN)
MATTHEW E. WHITE Big Inner (Spacebomb) This is the debut solo album by the Fight The Big Bull ringleader, who steps into the spotlight with help from his many friends in the RVA music scene to present us with a supremely laid-back collection of lush, soulful, vaguely psychedelic R&B ballads. Listen late at night with the lights down low. (AN)
PLASTIC PLATES Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (Kitsune) This 3-song electropop EP from Mr. Felix Bloxsom, AKA Plastic Plates, is exactly like having everything that sucked about the seventies and eighties vomiting while it fornicates in your iPod. Don’t get me wrong, Felix is very talented, but in my opinion, his taste in music is incredibly dated. He offers nothing new to the genre. (DA)
WITCHCRAFT Legend (Nuclear Blast) This Swedish metal band is considered doom, but it’s more accurate to call them retro--Legend is not particularly slow, just epic in a post-Zeppelin sense, with midtempo song structures based around mournful melodies and lengthy guitar solos. The perfect Christmas gift for your Judas Priestloving uncle. (AN)
JOHN CALE Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood (Double Six) New solo joint from the other Velvet Underground guy. Its 80s-as-hell overproduced rock sound comes across like a muscular version of Leonard Cohen’s erudite sleaziness, and the title makes me think the vibe is created on purpose. But whether the sleaze is conscious or not, this album still isn’t a particularly enjoyable listen. (AN)
the mountain goats Transcendental Youth (Merge) To some extent you know what you’re getting with The Mountain Goats--heartfelt indie-folk with idiosyncratic, brilliant lyrics. But this one adds a horn section (arranged by RVA’s own Matthew E. White) and a previously-unheard rock/soul flavor, keeping things interesting even for fans who already own 12 other TMG albums. (AN)
SILVER JEWS Early Times (Drag City) This collection of the early EPs by this Pavement-affiliated indie crew has the same ramshackle lo-fi noisiness of the earliest Pavement work, but leans more toward folk than Pavement’s rock n’ roll. David Berman was always a great songwriter, and if you can get past the tape hiss, there are some classic tunes here. (AN)
YOKOKIMTHURSTON YokoKimThurston (Chimera Music) I expected this historic collaboration between avant-garde pioneers to be weird. What surprised me was how calm it turned out to be--though don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty bizarre. Yoko caterwauls, Sonic Youth’s Gordon & Moore wring bizarre sounds from guitars. You know whether you want this. (AN)
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
1621 W Broad Street LIVE MUSIC EVERY NIGHT
visit www.thecamel.org for more information 58
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10
BLOOMING SELF PORTRAIT
RVA MAGAZINE #10