T Y S O N R I T T E R + T H E H E A D A N D T H E H E A R T + S T. L U C I A + T O M O D E L L + C U LT S
VARIANCE THE SIGHTS
N I B O R
E K C I TH F T H E K I N GD OL I N E S BLURRE HINGS UP CLEARS T
F THE RISE O
S R E B E I L E B
SOUNDS YOU LOVE
ARCTICS Y E K N O M LUNT
B S E M A J AVICII
C C A L B E O L A
E H T E G CA ANT ELEOPUHRHOOD
B H G I E N E H T
VOL. 4, ISSUE 4
good music makes good times.
Sweaty Dance Party
Relaxing at Home
Playlists by Music Experts.
listen now at Songza.com
Staying Up All Night
No Audio Ads.
Welcome to the neighborhood
ARCADE FIRE “Reflektor” by @rchrd_w
DRAKE FEAT. MAJID JORDAN “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by @IvorRomeo
LORDE “Team” by @SamWadsy
GHOST LOFT “So High” by @ Necrophagistx
BANKS “This Is What It Feels Like” by @mahzXO
ARCTIC MONKEYS “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” by @victoria3winter
MIGUEL “Can’t Sleep Together” by @TheTaylorFirm
ST. LUCIA “Elevate” by @JoweeeB
DALLAS “Weatherford” by @davidpham
NONONO “Pumpin Blood” by @jeyoung
EMINEM “Berzerk” by @JasonPoncio
4 4 MIXTAPES
YOU CREATE THE PLAYLIST
ICONA POP "All Night"
The Swedish pop duo's new single is pleasantly repeat-worthy
x AS THE END OF 2013 approaches—are we seriously that far into the year already?—it’s hard to imagine topping what has already been an incredible nine months. From historic festival lineups to some of the most memorable onscreen events, this has been one for the books. But we’re hardly done yet. As fall gets into full swing, the last quarter of the year promises to give us quite the ride, and in this issue, we’ve tried to capture some of the Sights and Sounds that will be everything this season—and beyond. Starting with the new Mixtape, a playlist created by you, we’re highlighting some
of the best Sounds of right now. Peeking at what’s ahead, we look to our FutureSounds, those you need to hear and the ones who will be making an impact in the months to come. In this issue, we talk to two of the most acclaimed music acts of the past decade, both back with new albums. Amos Lee, who has toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and Adele, is preparing to release Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, the followup to his No. 1 album, 2011’s Mission Bell. And rock outfit Cage the Elephant returns this month with Melophobia. Also included are the brilliant British rockers Arctic
Monkeys, who have returned for quite possibly the biggest and best chapter of their career, as well as The Head and the Heart and James Blunt, all back with brand new records. In the spotlight are rising stars Banks, St. Lucia, The Neighbourhood, Tom Odell, Cults and more, in addition to Avicii and Aloe Blacc, whose hit collaboration, “Wake Me Up,” has stormed the charts to No. 1 in more than 60 countries around the world. We also talk with with two of this season of television’s brand new faces: Chris Smith, who’s starring in his first major role on CBS’s We Are Men, and All-American Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter, making a big leap to TV in a new role on NBC’s Parenthood. And then there’s our cover artist. Robin Thicke stunned the music world earlier this year with his not-so-quiet return. After years of noteworthy success and acclaim, the R&B star is experiencing his biggest year yet, following the release of his record-breaking “Blurred Lines,” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, which spent a staggering 12 consecutive weeks at No. 1 and has sold more than 10 million downloads across the globe. Despite an outpouring of praise, he’s also been the subject of an onslaught of criticism, but he hopes to clear some of that up. As the year marches on and your eyes and ears turn to new Sights and Sounds, we’ll still strive to cover the stories that mean the most to you. So stay tuned. And keep the feedback coming.n
THE SOUNDS YOU NEED TO HEAR
THE RISE OF THE BELIEBERS JUSTIN BIEBER'S RABID FANS ARE SIMPLY OUT OF CONTROL
VARIANCE Fall_2013, Vol. 4, Issue 4 Editorial Director Jonathan Robles Managing Editors Rachel Faylene & Weston Shepherd Editor-at-Large Amanda Morad Features Editors Merlyn Hamilton & Emily Hulseberg Editorial Assistants Laurie Tomlinson & Justin Wendland Contributing Writers Noel Abas Chas Guy Katie Herald Aaron Lachman John Mouser Eli Provenzano Edwin Wilson
FA L L M I X TA P E ( P L AY L I S T ) THE NEIGHBOURHOOD ALOE BLACC C U LT S TOM ODELL PHOTO DIARIES LISSIE
04 10 13 1 4 16 18 24
S T. L U C I A THE HEAD + THE HEART BANKS CHRIS SMITH MAX AMINI YOKAS B
48 52 56 58 60 63
Contributing Photographers & Artists Chloe Aftel Dustin Cohen William Cole Abi Dainton Dan DeSlover John Michael Fulton Shervin Lainez Colin Lane Harper Lee Olivia Malone Zackery Michael Curtis Waye Millard Scarlet Page Chris Phelps Claire Reynolds Alexander Richter Cara Robbins David Roemer Mark Runyon George Salisbury Michael Schwartz Robert Trachtenberg Alex Wessely Andrew Whitton Laura Wilson Debby Wong Derek Wood Amy Young
Web Production & Design Nicholas Clayton JP Jones Jonathan Robles Project Development Bryan Norris
THE SIGHTS + SOUNDS YOU LOVE
w w w. v a r i a n c e m a g a z i n e . c o m
The All-American Rejects frontman talks acting and his “comfortable” new life.
The British rockers have just released their latest album, and this is clearly their biggest year yet. The GRAMMY-nominated singer discusses the journey to the most honest record of his career. He's had one of the biggest summer songs on the planet with "Wake Me Up," but that's just the start.
CAGE THE ELEPHANT
Kicking off the new season right, the folk singer’s brilliant new album is the perfect soundtrack for fall. The acclaimed rock group takes us inside the making of their most unpredictable new album.
B Y J O N AT H A N R O B L E S
very year like clockwork, the blogosphere explodes with a slew of bands that are supposed to be everything, bands everyone is going to be obsessed with. Many of these acts usually rise and fall with the seasons, but some of them end up proving they’re actually much more than just some so-called “buzz band.” With a mysterious, uncredited track titled “Female Robbery,” which surfaced last year online, The Neighbourhood seemingly came out of nowhere. Fueled by the extensive hype, the Jesse Rutherford-fronted quintet began dropping additional samples until the release of its debut album, I Love You., which arrived earlier this year. Despite all the acclaim, this California-born outfit hasn’t escaped some rather harsh criticisms, even being taken to task over miniscule details such as the “British” spelling of its name. “It’s funny but also kind of strange,” Rutherford says of the naysayers. “They’re going to say what they want to say. I can’t change that. The fact is, we’re trying to do something different.” One review last fall took aim specifically at Rutherford, calling him a
Thom Yorke-, indie-wannabe who’s instead more like the very commercialized-pop Chris Martin or Adam Levine, whose band mates are largely in the background. Rutherford, however, takes issue with that. “For one thing, we’re not trying to be Coldplay or Maroon,” he says. “I don’t keep tabs on what Chris Martin or Adam Levine are doing. I really don’t even like their music.” Instead of being brought down by what others have said, the young musician is motivated by it. “So many bands are doing the same tired shit and not enough people are pushing boundaries,” explains Rutherford, offering his own take on the criticism. “Many of the critics don’t know enough about me or the band. I don’t think they see who I am yet, and that’s OK. And I can’t complain about being compared to [Martin and Levine], and maybe they don’t realize it, but they’re saying, ‘This guy is about to be really successful.’ So I’ll take it.” Having acquired such a great amount of press in such a short amount of time, one would assume this group of friends might be feeling a heightened level of pressure right about now. Not so, says Rutherford. “It’s great to know that me and my
friends got together and started making music that has people’s attention,” he admits. “But I don’t believe there’s pressure to perform or anything. I think we just came together at the perfect time and released this music. We feel we have something special to offer and that’s the reason we’re doing this. We want to make pop music. That’s it.” While many of his musical peers might shudder at that three-letter word, Rutherford is very straightforward about his intentions: “We’re a pop band,” he says confidently. “We make music for pop culture. It’s pop, it’s catchy, it’s melodic, it’s current. But when you think about pop radio, Michael Jackson has been on pop radio, and Dr. Dre. I see pop music as being current, relevant—not the candy-coated shit.” Rutherford’s dreams of overtaking mainstream music may not be that far off in the horizon, but in the meantime, The Neighbourhood has actually received a huge boost from alternative radio. Although it’s the same format that has successfully launched acts like The Lumineers and Imagine Dragons into the stratosphere, Rutherford jokingly admits having a lovehate relationship with it. “I can’t say I don’t like alternative
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
"THE WHOLE ONE DIRECTION FORMAT, WITH THAT OVERDONE PRODUCTION, IS OUTDATED. THAT ENTIRE CONCEPT IS LAME. BUT I THINK THE NEIGHBOURHOOD IS THE MODERN-DAY BOY BAND." radio, because look what they’ve done for me and my friends, our band,” he explains. “They helped us get noticed by a lot of people. If I’m being honest, though, I don’t really like a lot of the stuff on alternative radio. When we first signed, I wouldn’t have said, ‘Yeah, put us on the rock stations!’ But I think the definition is different now. It’s kind of like the term ‘indie.’ Back when it was first used, you could assume it was independent music. Then it sort of morphed into a thousand things to where no one even knows what ‘indie’ means anymore. What does an alternative band even sound like? I think it’s
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
very much the same situation.” For someone whose band formed only a couple of years ago, Rutherford is clearly ambitious and remarkably candid. Sure, that may not help him win over some of those early critics, but it’s hard to imagine Chris Martin or Adam Levine losing much sleep over what some pundit said 15 years ago. Besides, The Neighbourhood has its sights set on a much different prize. “We want to reinvent the word ‘band,’” Rutherford confesses, with a firm resoluteness, as if he’s thought about it a million times. “It’s the same thing all the
time. You think of five dudes in a rock band. Same story, same formula. Or now you have One Direction, which—they can do whatever they want, of course, but whose idea was it to put these kids in a 2003 production? The whole One Direction format, with that overdone production, is outdated. That entire concept is lame. But I think The Neighbourhood is the modern-day boy band. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.” The Neighbourhood is currently on tour, with plans to add more live dates through early next year.
Aloe Blacc BY EDWIN WILSON
n 2010, Aloe Blacc released his second studio album, Good Things, appropriately titled considering the events following its debut. The lead single, “I Need a Dollar,” became an international hit; it was selected as the opening theme for HBO’s Mark Wahlberg-produced series, How to Make It in America. And Blacc’s performance on shows like Jimmy Fallon and Conan opened his music to the nation. “It’s always a good feeling when someone connects with your music, but I was surprised,” says Blacc, recalling the album’s success. Although “I Need a Dollar” certainly was a hot seller, no one could have predicted the kind of year 2013 would be for the voice behind Avicii’s mammoth, worldwide hit, “Wake Me Up,” which has reached No. 1 in more than 60 countries and has sold millions internationally even though it only released in mid-June. But, as Blacc himself admits, the track is somewhat new territory for him. “Coming from a hip-hop and R&B background, was it different for me to do this song? Sure,” he says, acknowledging fans’ surprise at his involvement with such a folksy-EDM track. “My job is to write songs, though. That’s what I love, and as you can tell from my history, I don’t like to find myself limited by this genre or that genre. I just can’t do that. And I’m a firm believer that as long as I do my job and what I came to do, that’s what matters.”
The 34-year-old has indeed developed quite the eclectic resumé. Having gotten his start in hip-hop during his high school years, he remembers “writing rap lyrics even at 9 and 10 years old.” He later formed the hip-hop duo Emanon, which led to collaborations with French jazz outfit Jazz Liberatorz and Japanese producer Cradle, eventually earning acclaim for his efforts in soul music, including Good Things. While “Wake Me Up” has mostly been celebrated by mainstream audiences—but still racking up airplay on alternative and country radio stations—another small but noticeable fact pointed out by fans and critics alike upon the song’s release was the lack of an official vocal credit for Blacc. Various media outlets and radio programmers credited him anyway, but he is technically listed only as a songwriter on the track, which appears on True, the newly released debut album from Avicii (aka Tim Bergling). The fact is, Blacc and other True collaborators (Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds, Adam Lambert and others) “knew what we signed up for,” Blacc explains. “From day one, we were told that was the route they wanted to go and we needed to be OK with that, which I am. Ultimately, how many thousands—or millions—of people are suddenly discovering Aloe Blacc because of that song? It ends up being a win for everyone involved.” Credit logistics aside, Blacc is right. The
song, no matter the details, is a brilliant collaboration that is likely to propel both artists’ careers to new heights as they evolve their respective sounds. “I’ve been writing a lot of new stuff,” says Blacc, whose third album, Lift Your Spirit, is due early next year. “The album is complete, but now I’m writing for the next five albums. I guess you could say I’m in a good place ... The new music is definitely still me, but it’s different from Good Things. It’s new, but it’s old-school inspired. I can’t hide the fact that I’m influenced by guys like Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. My first cassette was LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer (BAD). And I admire people like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Even if I wanted to, I can’t help that all of that helps shape me as an artist.” As a new chapter unfolds for Blacc and he expands his musical horizons, he admits that he simply wants to “make music that touches the world. If you look at someone like Bob Marley, his music still lives on, much of it being bigger than it was ever supposed to be according to critics. That’s what I want to do; I want to make music that outlives me and meets people where they are and makes them feel good.” Aloe Blacc’s new Wake Me Up EP is out now via XIX/Interscope, while his fulllength is expected next year. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
PHOTO BY OLIVIA MALONE
C U LT S
T H E N E W Y O R K B A N D M O V E S F O RWA R D
WITH ROUSING, ELECTRIC NEW RECORD B Y R A C H E L F AY L E N E Static, the new album from Cults, sees the New York band furthering their sound after touring for their debut. Brian Oblivion, the production half of the duo opposite vocalist Madeline Follin, explains their ongoing creative process: “Most of the album was written on tour. A lot of bands say ‘I can’t write on tour,’ but whenever I see an artist that thinks like that, I get really angry. You kind of just have to do it. “I’ll try to create about three or four loops a day, and then we get home from tour and we’ll listen to everything and we’ll go, ‘that’s cool’ or ‘we’ll work on that.’” When it came time to record the tracks, the band took a more conventional approach the second time around. “Last time we did this, we made the record almost completely in our apartment on a laptop and then brought in the files to our producer in the studio, and that was about it. “This record is a completely live record; a bunch of demos that we made at home, and then recorded from the ground up in the studio. It was a crazy process this time instead of, ‘Oh, here’s this keyboard hooked up to my laptop.’ Now it’s, how do we find a real thing? “We wanted the record to have that feeling of being a ‘real players’ record, even though it was just me playing and Madeline singing. So that was a huge challenge to try to capture the feel of an organic band without actually having an organic band.” Despite reaching for a more natural sound, Oblivion never let his ideas and means of ex-
ecution get away from him. “I would love to record live, but I’m just too much of a control freak to do it,” he reveals. “Because then I have to have all these people come in and I have to run them all through everything, and that’s just too stressful for me. I’d rather just do it myself. Plus, if you have a bunch of people come in, you have to pay them.” This desire to see his ideas to their calculated fruition can also manifest in an obsessive manner, as Oblivion can attest: “There was one song that I realized right before we were about to send it out that there was one guitar that was missing from the mix. “I hoarded the song for a month, and I just kind of sat in my apartment and I wouldn’t turn it in. I wouldn’t answer any phone calls and I just sat in a weird corner and would tinker with it for like 20 minutes a day and just hide out in my apartment. I couldn’t deal with letting it go. It’s like watching your child go to college or something.” Static was created with a very singular vision, Oblivion explains. “For me, it was just the idea and the look of static. We’ve always been a more artwork-first band. This time around we knew that the album was going to be called Static before we even wrote it. “In the studio we would have five or six TVs just burning electricity, sitting around in different spots, and whenever we would hit a real wall, or listen back to a mix, we would turn off the lights and just watch the TVs burn and listen to the song, and see if the song could
live in that world, if it felt like something that could be created by weird TVs sitting off in a corner somewhere.” Listing photography and an obsession with films as general influences, Oblivion explains their impact on the band’s live performances.
"I HOARDED THE SONG FOR A MONTH, AND I JUST KIND OF SAT IN MY APARTMENT AND I WOULDN’T TURN IT IN. I WOULDN’T ANSWER ANY PHONE CALLS AND I JUST SAT IN A WEIRD CORNER AND WOULD TINKER WITH IT FOR LIKE 20 MINUTES A DAY AND JUST HIDE OUT IN MY APARTMENT. I COULDN’T DEAL WITH LETTING IT GO. "
“Stage design is a huge thing for us, the way that we craft our projections and our setup,” he says. “That’s the fun thing about being a band, is that you get to try to be a curator. You get to work on videos, you get to work on stage design, and you get to work on artwork and express yourself in a lot of different ways.” With the release of Static, the question of ‘success’ is met with a focused enthusiasm for simply sharing what you create, says Oblivion. “I think we’re living it right now. We’re getting to travel the world and play music for people, and every night we get to talk to people who relate to it, and it becomes part of their life and their experience, and I don’t really dream for much more than that.” Static arrives on Oct. 15 via Columbia Records.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
TOM ODELL HIS NOT-SO-LONG WAY U P
BY EMILY HULSEBERG
ritish singer-songwriter Tom Odell has been taking over the U.K. this year and now has his sights set on success in the United States. This past month, Odell released his debut album, Long Way Down, in the States and spoke with Variance about his upcoming tour, the new album, and what he considers success in the always-changing music industry. Long Way Down is a thorough introduction to Odell. His lyrics are romantic and heartbreaking, his voice haunting, and his piano skills exquisite. A truly unique voice, Odell admits that it took a while before he shared his singing talent with anyone. “It’s funny, I started writing songs when I was about 12 or 13, but it took me a long time to build confidence to sing in front of people,” Odell confesses. “I would only sing when no one was within 20 reaches of me. I remember my family [would leave] the house and that’s the only time I would sing. It took me many years just to get the confidence.” For many musicians, their story begins as children, always entertaining and getting a laugh or putting on a show, but that wasn’t the case for the reclusive Odell. “I wasn’t one of those precocious children that loved performing in front of people. I hated it.” When a teacher accidentally heard Odell singing, he gently began to raise Odell’s confidence to perform. “It was around 16 or 17 when I started getting the confidence to sing in front of people.” With this new self-assurance and just six years, give or take, Odell is performing worldwide, at huge festivals, and even has a BRIT Award to his name. This past February, Odell was named Critics’ Choice 2013. Odell was the first male winner, following previous recipients and Variance-featured artists, Emeli Sande and Ellie Goulding, as well as Jessie J, Adele and Florence & the Machine.
It’s safe to say past winners have a track record of coming away from the award with incredible success. This past month, Odell has started the U.S. leg of his tour. “I have to say, I do love touring America. It’s quite nice. I guess because America is so big, it’s just nice to have those kind of days when you’re on the bus and you’re a bit away from it all. You get to go to a city, it’s just very enjoyable and I get to do a lot of writing as well, which is cool—when I’m not doing interviews.” (Sorry, Tom!) It’s always been a huge right of passage for British artists to be able to come to America and release their music. And it seems to have become a familiar pattern, with artists from the U.K. taking over the States. But let’s be honest: It’s wonderful. Odell now follows what Mumford & Sons, Adele and many others have already accomplished. “It’s every musician’s dream to come over here,” reveals Odell. One performance that catapulted Odell to more global recognition was his cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” in which he takes the pop star’s upbeat, bass-dropping ballad and turns it into a truly dark and haunting tune. “I wanted to take a song that was so popular and in everyone’s consciousness and was a huge hit, and just bring out a little more of a darkness in it,” Odell explains. “Until you take the lyrics away from that poppy music, you don’t notice it is incredibly dark.” While Odell did completely change the song’s melody, he is quick to recognize what a great songwriter Swift is: “She’s a brilliant lyric writer,” he says of the pop songstress, although admitting he doesn’t listen to a lot of mainstream music. He does, however, admit to being influenced by other pop sounds. “There are bands like Beach House and Cat Power who inspired me hugely when I was making the record.”
The making of the album was more about the feeling it portrays than the actual music behind it. “I spent about two years writing songs. To me, the most important thing about the record was the songs. However you record them, it’s the songs. I wrote about 100 songs for the album and then from there, I put them down and we recorded [the album] in London with my band ... in about a month. We recorded it in a very live way,” says Odell. Songs like “Grow Old With Me,” “Can’t Pretend” and “Another Love” are stand-outs for the raw emotion that Odell delivers in his songs. “I wanted feeling to lead the songs instead of trying to do an amazing production,” he reveals. “It was fine if the vocals were out of tune or drums are out of time. The emotion is the most important thing.” Odell doesn’t take for granted the time he’s been able to do what he loves. “It’s just so cool,” he says. “It’s such a privilege to do it. I have a lot of friends who are musicians who don’t get this. They spend a lot of time making music and don’t get to come on tour, playing so many different places around the world. It’s a real honor.” He reiterates the fact that he’s all about the songs and not the commercial achievements or critical response. “You’ve just got to put out the best music you can, music that you genuinely feel satisfied by yourself, as an artist. That’s all you can do really, I think the rest lies in the hands of the gods. “I think the most important thing is to make an album that you feel has emotion and can move you,” he says, before suggesting he already feels some level of personal success: “To make something that I’m genuinely proud of is what I define as success.” Though Odell wraps his U.S. tour this week, his debut album, Long Way Down, is available on iTunes. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
VARIANCE PHOTO DIARIES
3 1 * l l Fa
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
LEFT TO RIGHT (THIS PAGE): ALEX CLARE PERFORMS AT LOLLAPOLLA; JESSIE WARE PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; ALICE GLASS OF CRYSTAL CASTLES SURROUNDED BY A SEA OF FANS; VAMPIRE WEEKEND’S EZRA KOENIG PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE’S JOSH HOMME PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; ANGEL HAZE GREETS FANS BEFORE HEADING ON STAGE; ALL BY DAN DESLOVER // (NEXT PAGE, L TO R): ICONA POP MAKES LOLLAPALOOZA DEBUT; KENDRICK LAMAR PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; PHOENIX VOCALIST THOMAS MARS LOOKS INTO THE CROWD AT LOLLAPALOOZA; IMAGINE DRAGONS FRONTMAN DAN REYNOLDS PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; BEN HOWARD PERFORMS AT LOLLAPALOOZA; MARCUS MUMFORD STRUMS HIS GUITAR WHILE HEADLINING LOLLAPALOOZA; EMELI SANDE PERFORMS HER FIRST LOLLAPALOOZA; ALL BY DAN DESLOVER.
x VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
PHOTO BY MICHAEL SCHWARTZ
THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS FRONTMAN IS MAKING BIG LEAPS IN LIFE—AND NOW IN ACTING B Y R A C H E L FAY L E N E
was always the kid who just wanted to be on stage. It only took me a guitar and a couple good songs to get me up there,” says The All-American Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter, who’s tackling a new recurring role this season on NBC’s Parenthood. After performing for more than a decade, the veteran singer has redirected his energy to an alternate creative outlet. Appearing on the comedy-drama television series, Parenthood, Ritter plays a similar role to the one he’s been living since the start of his band in 1999. His character goes by the name Oliver Rome and is also the lead singer of a rock band. “I said, ‘Look, Monday through Friday, I can only stay in my basement so long, writing songs,’” admits Ritter. “‘It would be nice to kind of stretch another part of my left brain here.’” The acting world is becoming a second home to Ritter, and while he admits that the competition is stiff, his performance history gives him an advantage. Being in front of thousands of people helped prepare him for an audition atmosphere, leaving nerves out of the picture. “Everybody that goes on auditions here, they want it more than anything in the world. And me, when I go out on [auditions], of course I want it, but I’m having fun. People can have a really good sense of somebody who’s giving an audition, and they’re giving a hint of desperation in the back of their performance,” he explains. “You put out good energy, and good things come to you.” Not only does Ritter have the opportunity to test out his acting abilities with Parenthood, but he is also given the chance to show his fans a side of him they couldn’t fully comprehend previously. “I want to show people that I’m not just some crazy asshole on a stage,” he states. “I really think I’ve been pretending to be somebody I am not on stage for the last 12 years. Everybody that has ever come to a show thinks, ‘Man, what’s he on? He’s crazy.’” This rock star persona, however, is channeled into his character’s role as Ritter is
able to take into account his own experiences with the music industry and convey that in his work. Oliver Rome and Tyson Ritter begin to blend on camera. “Maybe it’s a reincarnation of myself when I feel like I’m taking pieces of my experience. It reminds me a lot of when we were first starting, but this kid Oliver, he’s kind of got a big ego,” he says, pointing out the distinction between the two. “That’s the only difference: I think this kid is way too big for his britches.” The acting world has been good to Ritter both on- and off-screen. Adding another new chapter to his life is actress and bride-to-be, Elena Satine. The two are engaged to be married and Ritter has no problem admitting that he’s “settling down.” He expresses that he is more creative than ever, but with a newfound perspective on life outside of unrequited love. The broken-hearted boy in his 20s is now a ghost. He has found more substance in life and is ready to let go of the past. “Six months ago I crashed my touring van, which I’ve toured with since I was 16,” Ritter recalls. “It’s funny how much symbolism I wrapped up into that van that finally died.” Ritter had no choice but to move on to a new perspective—and a new vehicle. He explains the process: “I think now it’s just ‘what’s next?’ It’s not like I’m at that adult stage. It’s just like outgrowing a pair of shoes, a pair of really tight shoes, and putting a pair of really comfortable shoes on.” He’s experienced a lot of personal
growth on the path he took to get to the present. And while his reputation has had its highs and lows, it’s clear that he’s found a context for his experiences. “I didn’t learn as much about life as I did after I had graduated high school. You know, they teach you everything in school about how to get ready for life, but I learned so much more from 17 to 25 than I could have in my entire life [before that]. I was just going through the music business, watching every carnation of social media explode, and having a little bit of fun in my mid-20s,” he explains. “Everybody has a different up-andcoming. … I guess there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, half the people that I know in their mid-30s out here in L.A. party harder than I ever did in when I was 20.” Ritter is comfortable with himself in the best way imaginable. The AllAmerican Rejects can tour at will, he is embarking on a new career journey and is ready to be a husband. His priorities are lined up with his new lifestyle, and he is living for more than just the music. Ultimately, his longtime music fans have nothing to fear, as Ritter hints at future music endeavors. “I’m completely invigorated and re-inspired in every facet of life. It’s been about a year-and-a-half since I put my last record out. So I guess it’s about time to start fishing for hooks.” Parenthood airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
VA R I A N C EM A G AZINE.COM
THE ‘70S MAKE A COMEBACK IN FOLK ROCKER LISSIE... BUT WITH SOME MAJOR 21ST CENTURY ATTITUDE BY AMANDA MORAD
don’t want to be famous if I got to be shameless,” folk rocker Lissie belts out on the “Shameless” track of her forthcoming Oct. 18 release, Back to Forever. It’s a statement electrified with cultural relevance, yet Lissie’s main concern isn’t the headlining news. It’s keeping her own identity in tact with both confidence and humility as her powerhouse voice and blunt songwriting surge her to the forefront of indie music. She’s gone platinum in the U.K., has played every major festival at home and in Europe, and she got to open for (and meet!) Bruce Springsteen this summer. Still, her response to oncoming fame is refreshing: “I’ve seen some of my contemporaries come up, but the way they do it is so calculated and it just
seems like it’s not about their actual talent, it’s about their ability to be like a politician. “It’s like the more shocking you are, the more you’re rewarded in our society for that, whether it’s hits on YouTube or press coverage … and it ends up overshadowing the music, which I think music was really supposed to help people process their emotions and become better people, but it seems like a lot of music today is just about being irresponsible and having a good time.” She’s been compared to Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, but her rebel streak adds a bit of fierceness that’s intriguing music fans the world over. “I was voted most outspoken in my yearbook,” the artist confesses. “When I was
PHOTO BY ANDREW WHITTON
younger I would get in trouble because you’re not supposed to talk back to adults. Now, I would say I’m still sort of a rebel. I don’t worry about fitting into what society expects, but I don’t go around starting fires or anything. My rebel vices don’t hurt anyone but myself.” From the outside looking in, those vices only seem to be helping her making incredible music. Lissie’s debut album, Catching a Tiger, released in 2010 to rave reviews, a collection of lyrically and musically varied folk, blues, and indie rock songs that were a thorough introduction to the vast talent this up-and-comer doesn’t seem to realize she has. While Back to Forever isn’t a radical change, it’s more focused, even more lyrically direct, and packs an even tougher vocal punch. “There might be some moments where more of the rock side of what I do is coming out, and also my ability to write a pop song has improved,” Lissie self-diagnoses. “Some of the folky elements that people know of me are still there but weren’t as highlighted on this album. There’s a little more toughness this time around.” Lissie seasoned this latest offering with time, attitude and Mezcal. “I’m not really one who can write on the road—I need to sort of get bored first,” Lissie explains. Af-
ter two years on the road for Catching a Tiger, she took time to get bored. When she started writing, she didn’t stop for a year and a half. “I tried to be as prolific as possible.” Written from London to Los Angeles to Nashville, Back to Forever’s 12 tracks are barely the tip of the iceberg, but she knows they’re the right tracks at the right time. “There’s a difference between being in the middle of a feeling and then having enough distance from that feeling,” Lissie says. Catching a Tiger’s lyrics were deeply personal, centering on the moment-to-moment heartache of relationships. Back to Forever is more of a look back—a little wiser, a little clearer. “I think I’m able to tell a better story now because I’m able to step outside the situation and see things from a different perspective.” The album, produced by Jacknife Lee (Regina Spektor, REM), could make NPR an interesting soundtrack. The songs touch on topics that reflect just how in-tune Lissie is with the world around her. “I’m a person with opinions and it’s nice that I get to express those opinions through music,” she notes. Case in point: Variance spoke with Lissie about the Back to Forever track “I Don’t Want to Go to Work” on the very day that thousands of fast food workers were protesting unlivable minimum wages and closing down franchises across the country. “You can be in your early 20s, and you look at the future like there’s endless amounts of time to fulfill all your dreams, but sometimes the reality is that you have a family and you have to go and just do the thing that’s going to let you survive,” Lissie bemoans. “I think people probably feel underappreciated and undervalued. “It’s like I just pictured this person at two in the morning having this belligerent moment almost as a rant, but then still going to work the next day,” she explains. “And then they find themselves one day when they’re old thinking, ‘I didn’t want to do that for my whole life, but I didn’t have another option.’” It’s a poignant image that many young people identify with. All of Back to Forever’s tracks draw up something just as meaningful.
Lissie’s also gaining popularity from her cover songs. In particular, her version of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” rocked YouTube in 2010 and remains her top track on Spotify. “I love singing that song because of its defiance,” Lissie says. “It speaks to the rebellious side of me because it’s that ‘You don’t know about me’ thing. I have that in me a bit.” It started in the U.K. when she was asked to do a cover for a radio interview. “People really liked it and were talking about it,” she recalls of her “Bad Romance” rendition. “It was fun for us to take a song and break it down, because if the songwriting’s good, then you can take any song and make it any genre you want.” Her covers became so popular while she was on tour for Catching a Tiger that in 2011, she put out a six-track EP of them called Covered Up With Flowers. “I never realized how much life they would have,” she says. “‘Pursuit of Happiness’ has been responsible for a lot of the success we’ve had so far.” Fans appreciated that Lissie took her own spin on the song, even to the point of adding a bridge that hadn’t existed originally. It then became the hook sampled on ScHoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel.” Lissie’s only real deal breaker for Back to Forever was that her band play on it. The band, she says, helps give off that ‘70s rock vibe fans have come to love. And in the “Pursuit of Happiness” video, it’s all there: the bearded, long-haired band rocking in rhythm with the song; Lissie’s loose, wavy blonde locks flinging from side to side; the steady groove of guitars; the bottle of tequila; the sweat, the crowd, the whole nine yards. According to Lissie, none of it’s put on; it’s just her. “My look has always been just T-shirts, jeans, hair down,” she insists. “I think it just comes out.” Well, good for you, Lissie. Excuse the rest of us while we attempt to perfect the natural, carefree modelof-the-’70s look you pull off so effortlessly. Be sure to check out Lissie’s new single, “Further Away,”off Back to Forever, due out Oct. 18. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
Arctic Monkeys THEIR BIGGEST MOMENT YET
P H O T O S B Y Z A C K E RY M I C H A E L
BY LAUREN MORANOR
Arctic Monkeys are coming off the biggest moment of their careers. In 2012, the band was part of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, alongside acts like George Michael, Fatboy Slim and Emeli Sande, a who’s who of British music through the ages. The band played a cover of the hit Beatles song, “Yesterday,” as Sir Paul McCartney watched from backstage. “It was the craziest moment we’ve ever had. It’s like playing on the lunar surface. So you’re on the moon already and you’ve got to go into a Beatles song and Paul McCartney is sitting behind you waiting to play. It’s some weird, crazy dream,” front man Alex Turner says. For some, that would simply be the top of the mountain. How does a band follow up a moment that felt like cloud nine? For Arctic Monkeys, it was just the start of something much bigger to come. The band is already a household name in the U.K., but stateside they are merely a small venue act known for hit singles like “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor” and “Fluorescent Adolescent.” Arctic Monkeys have spent over a decade becoming known for their loud rock sounds and excellent live shows. So when the band prepared to enter the studio for their fifth album, AM, they decided it was
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
PG. 28 the perfect time to completely change everything known about them. Arctic Monkey’s 2011 release, Suck It and See, displayed a more vintage sound. The record was created with the live show in mind with a more relatable set of songs. There were no fancy studio enhancements, just classic rock complete with older equipment and aged guitars to establish a truly retro sound. But that was no longer the goal with AM. “For every record, we try to make it like nothing people have heard before. We really pushed it more with this record and stretched what we were capable of,” says drummer Max Helders. The change in sound has certainly been heard on the radio before, but for Arctic Monkeys, it was brand new territory. James Ford returned to the studio with the band to help produce AM. He had worked with the band on previous albums, and that familiarity was very welcomed as the band had the mindset that “all bets were off” with this new record. Turner refers to the producer as the band’s fifth member. “There is an unspoken understanding with him. We had a telepathic thing going on where we don’t have to sit around discussing things.” Lifelong R&B fans, the band decided to blend the genre with their already established rock sound, creating what Turner refers to as a “two-way pager melody with cosmic sparks.” Inspired by the sounds of R. Kelly and Dr. Dre, it was Arctic Monkeys’ goal to blend classic aspects of the genre with the likes of Black Sabbath. It was a challenge the four members had been looking to conquer for some time. The goal throughout the recording process of AM was to become a more studio-centered band rather than a live one. With the genre-blending sound in mind, Arctic Monkeys set out to really test what the new and improved recording equipment had to offer. Helders recalls the goal was to make an album that could be heard pristinely through upgraded car stereos. So how exactly would the band successfully bring together two totally separate sounds? Turner refers to the process like packing for a trip. “You only have so much room in the suitcase, like you only have so much room in a song. So you take your key pieces like your black dress and pair of heels. We borrowed the important aspects from both areas.” The band opted to focus on the vocals and the vocal production. They wanted R&B melodies to clash with a deeper
rock sound. Turner does not see it, but comparisons are already being made to the band’s touring partners, The Black Keys. While Turner notes that he loves the band, he doesn’t refer to them as an inspiration for the record. AM’s experiment started with the release of “R U Mine.” Arctic Monkeys put the song out as a seed to see how fans would react to the change. And it immediately started to grow. Turner had more groove in his voice while backed by a thick guitar riff. The teaser was an instant fan favorite and the birth of something much bigger. The remaining tracks follow suit. Helders agrees that this is certainly the band’s most modern record. Ambitious is the word Turner would use. This was the record they have been waiting to make. “We have always tried to not have a standard rock sound. It is just now that we are the masters of our ideas,” Helders says. Arctic Monkeys waste no time showing an upgrade in their overall sound. “Do I Wanna Know?” kicks the album off in big fashion. The booming percussions feed into a snarling guitar melody as Turner slows his voice down with seductive wordplay. The band continues with a “glam rock meets hip hop” theme. “Arabella” features chunky guitar bits while backed by a rhythm section. The mix is flawless, but will not allow Arctic Monkeys to escape the Black Keys comparison. Regardless, the track could be an instant classic, and it hints at the garage rock sound the band became famous for. “I Want It All” is a menacing tune that recalls the group’s early work with fuzzy guitar melodies and muffled vocals. As Turner continues to work on creating the “two-way pager” melodies he described in the record, his voice became a new kind of instrument. Steering away from his famous guitar work, Turner’s falsetto voice became a prominent feature. The singer notes that, in an effort to become more of a studio band, they experimented with vocal effects to “season the broth” of the sound already created. Turner creeps into the higher registry on the bluesy “One For The Road” and “No. 1 Party Anthem,” further adding to the R&B element. AM lyrically follows a theme of love and lust. Turner felt it was important to keep the same lyrical foundation the band has always been known for while allowing the instruments to flourish around it. The singer croons about a
mistress on “No. 1 Party Anthem,” describing the song as a one-night stand at midnight. “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust. I wanna be your Ford Cortina. I won’t ever rust,” sings Turner on the woozy “I Wanna Be Yours.” The song represents another big moment for Arctic Monkeys, a drum machine. But while the band is changing up their sound, fans should not expect for Arctic Monkeys to become the next electro-pop sensation. The boys wanted to eliminate the instrumental restrictions they had placed on themselves during previous albums, but they draw the line at a certain point. As Helders casually put it, “Synthesizers are for bands who have run out of ideas.” The song is easily the most experimental moment on the record and shows the future of Arctic Monkeys’ musicality is relatively limitless. The band is well aware that AM is their most ground-breaking record yet. They are also aware that this is the future of the band; there is no going back to their old ways. Arctic Monkeys successfully created a rock album without a standard rock sound and have plans to continue expanding the genre further. “This is the most original record that we’ve ever done. There is a real excitement about it, a real thrill about it. The people and fans have reacted well to the change. It feels like we are really getting somewhere as a band. We have raised the bar as a live band, and this is an attempt to raise the bar as studio artists,” Turner says. Raising the bar is exactly what Arctic Monkeys accomplished. After the challenge of changing their path was complete, another hurdle awaited: Video. Helders admits that the band felt pressure to present the songs in a big way. While not on board with the whole social media craze, Helders understands that a visually impressive music video is virtually essential for the success of a song. Nabil Elderkin was hired to direct the band’s first video for “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High.” Famous for his work with Kanye West, Bon Iver and Frank Ocean, Nabil was tasked with presenting Arctic Monkeys’ new sound with a big bang. Because Turner was aware of the director’s talent, he opted to let Nabil work his magic instead of interfering with his ideas. “We’ve never done a video like that be-
fore, but we also have never made a song like that before. It felt right,” Turner explains. “The videos he did for James Blake and Kanye were exactly what we wanted. I just tried not to get in the way.” The end result is Turner out on the town after receiving a text message from a girl. The viewer is taken on a series of hallucinations and visions that are as trippy as the song itself. Turner credits old hip-hop videos as the inspiration for the theme of the music video. The response has been positive, and the video has racked up over five million hits on YouTube. AM will open Arctic Monkeys to a much broader fan base. The band has been building their career brick by brick with their ambitions growing as each gig was booked. Becoming a worldwide band was never the idea, but the members of the band are hopeful that the new album allows people to see them in a different way. The future of Arctic Monkeys rests in the recording studio. The band intends
on staying focused on where they can take things from a recording standpoint. Helders is hoping to push the R&B influence in future albums and possibly slow the band’s sound down even further. “We have a lot of ideas that we have yet to truly explore, but we have a foundation now,” Helders says. “We have an established new identity. We want to keep enhancing it. Like a car, the more modern the stereo, the more modern the music needs to be.” Arctic Monkeys will take a break from conquering the studio in order to head out on a lengthy tour. The foursome will be headlining a slew of shows in the U.S. after hitting up most of the major summer festivals overseas. In addition to making stops in all major cities, they will also be taking part in Austin City Limits in October. Currently consumed with rehearsal for the tour, the band has learned that the only downfall of creating a studio album
is learning how to play it live without sacrificing any of the added enhancements. Turner describes the recording studio and the stage as two very different balances. “After being in that little room for so long, it will be nice to get into a bigger space. We were starting to go a bit crazy while recording.” According to Turner, there are still plenty of stones left unturned for the band. Ambitions are even higher after creating AM. Along with exploring the ranges of the recording studio even more, Turner wants to sell out Madison Square Garden. The first stop was the Olympics, while the next stop appears to be New York. Arctic Monkeys may have already had what is being considered the biggest moment of their career, but the band is far from peaking. AM is now out on Domino. The band is also on tour across North America. For dates, go to arcticmonkeys.com.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
JAMES BLUNT THE FAMED BRITISH MUSICIAN ON MAKING HIS MOST HONEST RECORD AND GETTING THE SPARK BACK B Y J O N AT H A N R O B L E S
After taking a break and regrouping a bit, James Blunt is returning this fall with his fourth studio album, Moon Landing. Despite the title, his latest effort is some of his most honest, grounded work to date, admittedly culled from a very personal place. But it’s also about getting back to basics for the singer who first erupted onto the music scene in 2004 with the No. 1 single “You’re Beautiful.” With a lofty 17 million albums and 20 million singles sold worldwide, Blunt returned to his roots
this time around, working once again with Tom Rothrock, the producer behind his debut record, Back to Bedlam. And together they recaptured some of that magic— that haunting genuineness—from the days before songs like “You’re Beautiful” and “Goodbye My Lover” catapulted Blunt, as he jokes, “to a dirty place called ‘mainstream.’” “The journey to this record was deeply personal, sometimes painful,” Blunt reveals to Variance. “For the last album [Some Kind of
P H O T O S B Y S C A R L E T PA G E
Trouble], I wrote it for an audience. It was great, it was wonderful. We spent time touring and performing, all that stuff. I felt like my teenage dreams had all come true, standing on stage performing as people sang back the lyrics. But at the same time, it’s not entirely rewarding when you’ve written songs about or for someone else, instead of giving of yourself. I knew this time had to be different.” And it really was different, according to Blunt, whose Back to Bedlam stands as the U.K.’s best-selling album of the 2000s decade. “This, for me, wasn’t about outperform-
ing anything or anyone. I know I could have tried all sorts of tricks, but it didn’t feel right,” he admits. “I wanted to let the vocals be heard—let the lyrics be heard. I got back in the studio with Tom again and we found that old charm. I think this album has been coming for some time, I just didn’t know it.” For an artist with multiple GRAMMY nominations and countless accolades, a man who’s performed before thousands, Blunt says Moon Landing was hardly a cakewalk. “I remember just staring at the blank walls [in the studio] and trying to con-
nect,” he recalls. “I was trying to envision the audience and I told Tom, ‘I know they’re out there, but I can’t see the whites of their eyes and I can’t connect.’ I kept waiting for that moment like when I’m onstage and I can see the audience, and I can look into their eyes. In the studio, it’s just a blank wall. It’s as if they’re on the other side of the wall and I can’t make that connection. So I looked at my producer, my friend, and I said, ‘Tom, I’ve been doing this for years. I shouldn’t be struggling like this.’” Eventually, Blunt realized he had been looking in the wrong direction. Rather VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
than looking outward, seeking his audience, he needed to look inward. And it was then that it all started to come together. “I was in the vocal booth, Tom was in the control room and I was looking through that glass between us, and it was honestly as if that glass became more like a mirror,” he remembers. “I could see myself in it. So instead of an audience, you’re speaking to yourself. And you can’t lie to yourself. There’s no posing or posturing when you look at yourself. You know what’s truth and what’s a lie and what’s honest. It was truly the most amazing experience.” Despite his success and the industry’s tendency to keep musicians constantly at the forefront of fans’ minds, as if they’ll forget about them, Blunt agrees with Phoenix’s Deck D’Arcy, who in April told Variance that the band “needed to go away for a bit” so that fans could wonder and they could have time to create a record worth releasing. “It’d have been great if I had the guys from Phoenix writing songs for me,” jests Blunt. “But when you’re writing your own music, you can’t just constantly be putting out new material. It takes time. And I want to write my own music. I want to be able to perform songs I wrote myself, songs that come from a personal place and mean something to me. And musicians, of course, are people. They need time to themselves, time with family. I have to at least take a day off to wash 32
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
my clothes.” While Blunt may kid about having Phoenix write music for him, he actually received a boost on his new single “Bonfire Heart” with the help of an old friend, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who previously co-wrote two songs on Some Kind of Trouble and has developed somewhat of a Midas touch with recent hits for the likes of Adele, Ellie Goulding, Beyoncé and Maroon 5. “We work together so well,” says Blunt of his relationship with Tedder. “So well in fact that I climbed on his tour bus through Amsterdam and Luxembourg, and I was a OneRepublic groupie. I didn’t have to put out though,” he professes with a slight chuckle. “But that’s how we created ‘Bonfire Heart,’ which I believe has a beautiful message about the human condition, that no matter who you are, where you’re from, black or white, man or woman, gay or straight, or Muslim or Christian or Jew, we’re all really the same.” Although “Bonfire Heart” carries a noteworthy message, another powerful ballad gleams with Blunt’s signature, poetic lyricism, while aching with such sorrow: “Miss America,” a track the singer says was inspired by the late Whitney Houston. “I never really meant to make such a big deal of it, but her story is not uncommon,” admits Blunt. “Nowadays, you have examples of that—Princess Diana or Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson.
These people we adore who leave far too soon. There was something about Whitney, it drew us to her. And then we got caught up in the backstory. “We read online, bought the magazines, and with every click and every penny spent, it led to more digging and more pictures being taken, until she—the human being—became smaller and her issues and flaws became magnified. And it’s tragic. But the song is about an incredible person, an incredible talent, and how we all spectated and in some ways, for many people, enjoyed spectating.” Fully aware of the commercial success any other musician might want at this stage in their career, Blunt instead hopes he has put together a record that reveals his heart and soul. “I don’t care about the charts and all that madness,” he says earnestly. “I had a guy message me and tell me, ‘I’m getting married in a month and I’m playing ‘Bonfire Heart’ for my first dance with my wife.’ And that means the world to me, to know that a song so personal to me and so close to my heart connects with someone so much that they’ve made it a part of the most important day of their life. And maybe something like that isn’t all that incredible to some people, but for me, those are truly the real career milestones.” Moon Landing arrives Nov. 5 on Atlantic Records. For more information, go to jamesblunt.com.
@SKULLCANDY / FEATURING KAI OTTON
AVAILBLE NOW AT SKULLCANDY.COM
I I C I V A
A V I C I I
I I C I V A
B Y R A C H E L FAY L E N E
im Bergling is a Swedish-born DJ and producer, now formally known as Avicii. He is among the artists considered to be powerhouses within their genres and a hidden gem outside of his music styling. With the success of his collaborative single, “Wake Me Up,” Avicii has unmasked electronic dance music to new audiences. The soulful, electronic song collides with a bluegrass sound, making it popular even with country music lovers. “Wake Me Up” includes vocals from Aloe Blacc and work from Incubus’ Mike Einziger. It comes
as no surprise that the popular song made its way to No. 1 in more than 60 countries after its June release in anticipation of his debut studio album, True. The hit single and new album incorporate different sounds and styles, appealing to a variety of new listeners. This is not just bluegrass. This is not just rock. This is not just electronic dance music. Avicii is tearing down the walls that restrict “EDM” and coloring outside the lines. “I think [the genre] will eventually change. Although electronic music has endless possibilities, more and more people are starting to recognize the subgenres within EDM,” says Bergling. EDM has been present in influencing, if not creating, many top chart singles over the years. Though this is undeniable, the talent behind these creations are not always appreciated or recognized. “Wake Me Up” was the stepping stone into True, which takes listeners deeper into territory that EDM was bound to explore. “The biggest criticism electronic music has always gotten is that it’s not real music and DJs aren’t musicians, which is completely false,” Bergling confronts. “Yes, I would like to think that ‘Wake Me Up’ and True will help break that stereotype.” But don’t think that this exploration of Avicii’s is any attempt to create something unnatural for EDM. The collaborations and sounds on True are a result of the hard work and discoveries made along the way. The creative process this time around led Avicii to new grounds. “I was just messing around with different melodies, and when I heard the sound of the acoustics, I fell in love with it; it was so natural and pure,” he admits. “I made sure to incorporate acoustic elements in my album. There is a lot of guitar.” Bergling goes on to express the importance of this album and what this means for him and his music.
“It’s really rewarding...The mix of different genres opened the door to a much broader audience. Mike Einziger from Incubus plays guitar on three songs and provides the acoustic guitar opening to ‘Wake Me Up,’ so that is cool.” Accompanying Bergling, Blacc and Einziger are collaborators including guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers, country musician Mac Davis, Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds, Alison Krauss and Union Station’s singersongwriter Dan Tyminski, and singer-songwriters Sterling Fox and Adam Lambert. Through various connections and help from his manager, Avicii has taken his music to a new height and hopes that his fans experience the growth alongside him. “I like to think that I am taking the listeners on a journey, so in that sense, it can definitely act as some sort of escape from reality. I think it’s all about the journey and being proud of what you made,” he expresses earnestly. “There was a lot of thought and heart put into this album...and I hope that my fans love the album as much as I do, but monetary success was never the goal behind making this album.” Bergling was truly left with something to be proud of after seeing the final product, despite his awareness of the risks and expectations of labels. Not only did he stay true to his music, but he also found a part of himself to express in a distinct way. There has been significant growth over the course of his youthful career, and there is much more to anticipate from Avicii with the continued support of his followers. “I hope that people see that I made this album without boundaries and I wasn’t afraid to take a chance and do something fun and different,” he says. “For this album, I produced music that I really loved and believed in.” True is out now. For more info, go to avicii.com.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I N E.COM
THERE'S A CHILL IN THE AIR
PHOTO BY HARPER LEE
BY AMANDA MORAD
olk artist Amos Lee is preparing to release his fifth studio album, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, due Oct. 8, just as the Philadelphia air begins to chill toward winter. With Lee’s vocals, touted as “honeyed, amber” by The New York Times, paired with an array of pensive folk, country and R&B arrangements, Mountains of Sorrow is the perfect autumn soundtrack. As a more third-person album than 2011’s very autobiographical Mission Bell, writing this new album gave Lee the chance to think. “I spent a lot of time alone during this writing period and wasn’t really involved with anything or anybody much, so it was a little bit more of thinking about other people this time rather than thinking about myself,” he explains. The album’s first single, “The Man Who Wants You,” seems to be one of a couple more personal songs, but the sound is somewhat curious to Lee’s usual range. He describes it as “country R&B,” and there’s not much room for argument there, but putting a finger on what deems it so is more about feeling than technicality. “I guess it’s kind of in the way you use the instruments,” Lee explains. “It was [the] guitar, bass backbeat, horns and keyboards doing some nice things. It’s just the music that we all listen to, the stuff that’s in our blood pretty deep, so it comes natural to play songs like that.” Almost as cool as the song is the music video. It follows the making of a vinyl record from raw material to end consumer, which happens to be Lee. “I have an attachment to vinyl and the experience of that particular medium,” he says. “We just thought it would be cool to show how that happens because people are down there [in Nashville] doing it and helping bring you the music you listen to. It’s kind of nice to get a behind-thescenes look at a process like that.” “The Man Who Wants You” is one of only a few tracks without a guest artist appearance. Joining Amos on the album are Alison Krauss, Patty Griffin, Jerry Doug-
las, Mickey Raphael (best known for his work with Willie Nelson) and Jeff Coffin (of Dave Matthews Band). What draws Amos to specific artists? “Love. That’s pretty much it,” he says. “When you have masters of their craft who are willing to lend their talents, their vision, their ideas to your experience, you’re just blessed,” Lee marvels. “They are all amazing.” Lee broke new ground for himself by bringing his touring band into the studio on this album. “Making records is mainly about listening together, and that’s kind of what it came down to,” Lee says. “It was like an extension of the work we did on the Mission Bell tour together, really digging into songs, working on arrangements, and working on just listening together.” Some of Lee’s “Philly pals” have a lot of history with the band. Keyboard player Freddie Berman and drummer Jaron Olevsky started with Lee in 2002 while guitarist Andy Keenan and bassist Zach Djanikian joined up in 2009. One of the benefits of having the band in the studio is that this fall’s tour won’t require the normal learning curve required to master the new album’s songs. “It won’t be like trying to figure out someone else’s language, but hopefully it will be an easier transition for everyone. Everyone will feel more invested in the process of watching and letting these songs and these arrangements grow.” At the helm of production for Mountains of Sorrow was Nashville producer Jay Joyce. “Jay brings a musicality, a different kind of ear,” Lee says. “He definitely hears things in ways that I don’t, and brings out extra dimensions in the songs.” They were the first to record at St. Charles, producer Joyce’s brand new studio, which is housed in a converted East Nashville church. Lee’s recorded in New York and L.A. before, but this was the first time he’d recorded in Nashville. “Every city has got its own character,” Lee says. “Nashville’s just less difficult to navigate and more affordable. There’s a lot more musicians. It’s comfortable.”
Lee and the band hit the road again for a jazz festival on Oct. 20 and then a November tour for the album. Those who haven’t experienced Lee in the room need to make this tour a priority. He gives fans the show he would want to see. “As a listener, I like a human element,” he says. “I like to know that the person’s actually there in the room. “I don’t really love the lock-and-load shows, where it’s all planned before. There’s nothing really happening in the room other than spectacle. I prefer for it to be more collaborative, and somewhat vulnerable if possible, but at least collaborative.” On that note, every fan who comes to a show this tour will collaborate with Lee and one of his favorite charities, Musicians on Call. Lee is donating $1 from each ticket sale to the organization, which brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. “We’re so lucky and we get to play music for a living,” Lee reflects. “So it’s good for me to be able to lend this stuff, the talent, or whatever it is I have, to people. Maybe it helps them feel better for a minute. “You get to experience music with people who really don’t care who you are: they don’t know your songs, they didn’t pay to come see you, and they don’t expect anything. You’re just going into a
room with someone who’s not doing well and you’re playing a song for them. Sometimes they’re fans, sometimes they’re not. It’s a real honest exchange and a good way to connect with people.” Lee’s Nov. 14 show at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville sold out before anyone heard anything off of Mountains of Sorrow, so confident are fans in Lee to produce more of what they love. But the artist maintains his cool, excited but unpressured by expectant fans. “I can’t worry about that kind of thing,” he confesses. “As long as I can write songs, and I can play some music for some people, I’ll be happy. Whether or not this record does X,Y, Z or this, that or the other, it’s not irrelevant to me, but it’s not the driving force behind what I’m thinking about every day.” Lee’s focus is clearly on the music, and that’s the best that any music fan could ask for. But on top of that, his perspective on life is as refreshing as that first autumnal chill after a humid summer. “I’m really a lucky human being,” Lee says. “Life’s pretty good. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m not saying we don’t all have struggles, but I’m pretty lucky.” As are we to have him in our time. Look for Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song Oct. 8 on Blue Note Records.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
future sounds y F
or Philadelphia rapper Ryshon Jones, the future begins right now. Fresh off his January mixtape, In Theory, he is equipped with undeniable momentum and the wordplay necessary to take the hip-hop scene by storm. Using Twitter as a weapon, Jones has built a following that awaits his every track. He has also made it his goal to constantly bombard the blogosphere with new material, a key ingredient in using the Internet to his advantage. The outcome is increased synergy, as Jones’ name is beginning to infiltrate
discussions about what comes next in the world of hip-hop. But the road to where he is today wasn’t easy. Jones took an interest in rap at 8 and got his start by spitting verses to a beat tape that his cousin stole out of someone else’s car. Jones then began using the tape to hone his skills, starting his pursuit of superstardom. He released his first material online at 15, and has used consistency and persistence to remain in the game. After just one listen, music lovers will fully understand the passion and conviction with which Jones creates
BY WESTON SHEPHERD
his art. Using his art to allow listeners into his mind, his brand is believable, honest and captivating, as fans of all genres can appreciate his delivery. Be on the lookout for this up-andcoming rapper and be sure to take advantage of the free music he has available for download. To download Ryshon Jones’ mixtapes, visit his website at: RyshonJones.com. He can also be found on Twitter simply as @RyshonJones.
THE SOUNDS YOU NEED TO HEAR
n Australian singer-songwriter and owner of one of the coolest sounds around, Xavier Rudd is quite possibly the next big thing to come out from the land known as Oz. His music is like a blend of Jack Johnson and Bob Marley, as his smooth voice is often accompanied by reggae tones and crafty guitar work. Since his first release in 2005, Rudd has become a seasoned artist that is no stranger to the industry. Although he
has yet to become a household name, his fans know him for his consistent releases and music that satisfies a certain inner craving. Luckily for those fans, his wealth of inspiration and creativity are seemingly endless. Rudd has made a name for himself at several large music festivals, including performances at Bonnaroo and Wakarusa. His success at these events have led to touring opportunities with the likes of Dave Matthews, Ben Harper
and many other big league acts. His popularity in his home country is well-known, and he also has had great success in Canada. With a resume like Ruddâ€™s, he remains one hit away from infiltrating American radio stations. For more information, visit XavierRudd.com. His music is also available on iTunes and Spotify. Fans of feel-good music and positive vibes wonâ€™t be disappointed. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
THE SOUNDS YOU NEED TO HEAR
ith a sound that’s easy and true, Rebecca Roubion is a Nashville singer-songwriter who is one big break away from being a household name. Her style and tone remind listeners of Norah Jones and Regina Spektor, supplying a steady stream of emotion in every track. With her foursong EP, Fields, she introduces herself in unforgettable fashion. A champion of crowdsourcing, she connected with fans to create Fields and a
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
second EP, Forests. The willingness of her fans to support her music financially reveals exactly how much her music means to those who adore it. The result of this collaboration has been magic as she never disappoints on her end of the bargain-making great music. Another point of emphasis for Roubion is giving back. A victim of a house fire this past New Year’s Eve, she is giving 70 percent of her record sales during the month of October to the American Red
Cross and Nashville’s own SoundForest, an organization committed to giving back to local victims of fire and flood. Be on the lookout for Rebecca Roubion as she heads into 2014 with a lot of momentum. To hear Roubion’s music and read more about her philanthropy, visit her website: www.rebeccaroubion. com, or follow her on Twitter as @RebeccaRoubion.
future sounds y C
onsisting of Hugo Stuart Gruzman and James Nathan Lyell, Flight Facilities is an Australian indie electronic duo with a style of their own. With a smash hit, “Crave You,” and several remixes of that song to boot, the sky’s the limit for this tandem. As electronic music continues to grow in popularity with no signs of slowing down anytime soon, groups such as Flight Facilities will continue to find their way to the limelight. Ever popular in Australia, it has
taken some time for their sound to reach the States, but it has found the perfect crowd in Americans ready to dance. As a follow-up to the popular “Crave You,” Flight Facilities released “I Didn’t Believe” earlier this year to show listeners they are far more than a one-hit wonder. Both songs perfectly blend an electronic beat with accompanying female vocals, a mixture that creates an experience for listeners that cannot be duplicated. Each track released is worthy of the
finest dance moves in the club, yet would also be acceptable to jam to while sitting in traffic. Such versatility is what makes this music so special. As 2013 comes to a close, keep an eye out for this group from Down Under that is already beginning to take America by storm. Be sure to visit Flight Facilities’ website at flightfacilities.com, or find the songs and remixes on both iTunes and Spotify.
ROBIN THICKE The King of Blurred Lines is Clearing Some Things Up
BY JONATHAN ROBLES
PHOTO COURTESY MTV
It’s a late summer afternoon. Robin Thicke is surrounded by his manager and various other individuals jolting him from one publicity stop to another.
He’s only just returned to the States after a non-stop, international promo tour, but he’s already at it again. At 36, the acclaimed singer, whose voice eerily matches that of his actor father, Alan Thicke of Growing Pains, is undoubtedly on top of the world, having the absolute best year of his musical career. In the midst of a whirlwind year, it’s almost hard to believe that just six months ago, Thicke released the title track off his latest album, “Blurred Lines,” which features T.I. and Pharrell. But in that short time, the song has shot up to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it ultimately reigned for a staggering 12 consecutive weeks, the longest run at the top so far this year. Barring a surprise, fourth-quarter sweep by Katy Perry or some other pop phenom, the battle for top song of 2013 is all but over, as Thicke in his Porsche Design sunglasses has sold more than 10 million copies of “Blurred Lines” worldwide in just 27 weeks, faster than any other song in digital history. But as Uncle Ben once told Spider-Man (in the movie, at least), “with great power comes great responsibility”—as Thicke can certainly attest. 44
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
No sooner than he rose to unfathomable heights were the critics out in droves, picking apart his song, lyric-by-lyric. Hundreds of websites—including major media outlets—ran headlines declaring Thicke’s fast-rising hit “rapey.” And then there was the music video, which was famously pulled from YouTube before being reinstated, followed by the copyright lawsuit from Marvin Gaye’s family for supposedly copying the 1977 classic “Got to Give It Up.” But then came Aug. 25 and that “jaw-dropping” MTV VMAs performance with Miley Cyrus, which seemingly sent the blogosphere into a collective panic. “The funny thing is, how many people actually saw it?” says a slightly perturbed Thicke of the performance, which saw Cyrus flutter around the stage in fleshcolored undies, surrounded by giant dancing bears, while brushing Thicke’s body with a giant foam finger. “That’s what I think is interesting. How many people actually watched the VMAs? Only a few million. But yet everyone has an opinion about it. It’s just interesting to me how that goes.” One such opinion, however, came from Thicke’s own mother, actress-singer Gloria Loring. While 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar also joined Thicke onstage for a brisk rendition of their joint collaboration, “Give It 2 U,” the media zeroed in on Cyrus and her “twerking.” And according to Loring, the 20-year-old daughter of Billy Ray outshone her son. Thicke disagrees, though, insist-
ing that “everyone knew the plan. We knew what we were getting into,” he says, continuing: “I never thought for a moment that I had been overshadowed. I just go out there and do my thing and try to have a good time—try to get the audience to have a good time. I don’t really overthink that stuff. You can’t do that in this industry.” The performance, although certainly bewildering, followed a long-standing tradition of eyebrowraising moments at the VMAs: then-18-year-old Britney Spears’ seductive “I’m a Slave 4 U” bit with a live snake, will.i.am’s so-called “blackface” performance with Nicki Minaj, Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” kiss with Spears and Christina Aguilera. And now in 2013, there’s an FCC complaint stating that “Miley touched the genitals of an older man while performing music.” Yes, there’s a definite age gap between the former Disney starlet and the suave singer, but Thicke isn’t bothered by it. “The critics or whoever they are, they have to come up with ways to explain it to themselves because they don’t understand,” he says. “But I don’t really care about that. I definitely saw Katy Perry and Mick Jagger do a duet together a few months ago. That’s rock and roll. Age has nothing to do with it—it really doesn’t when you think about it. We’re not in a business where age makes a difference. I mean, since when has age really limited those who make music? If so, someone should
WHEN YOU’RE A KID, YOU IMAGINE BEING HERE . . . YOU ALWAYS HOLD THAT DREAM CLOSE TO YOUR HEART. AT SOME POINT, MAYBE YOU JUST ACCEPT THAT IT’S IMPOSSIBLE AND DECIDE TO JUST MAKE THE BEST MUSIC YOU POSSIBLY CAN AND YOU HOPE THAT MORE PEOPLE LIKE IT THAN DON’T LIKE IT. BUT THAT SPARK FROM WHEN YOU’RE A KID, IT’S STILL THERE. YOU DON’T LET GO OF THAT SPARK.
tell Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones. They’re selling out arenas.” Ultimately, Thicke believes the criticism is just a lot of noise. “You get to the point where the opinion ends up being more important than the performance itself,” he explains. “And that might be a little frustrating, but that’s what good entertainment does though, in my opinion,” he says, with a chuckle. With his crisp, cool demeanor, even when confronted with a little controversy, one might easily assume it’s just the wisdom that comes with his lengthy resumé, that he’s got the game figured out enough by now to know when to hit pause and when to play. While there’s surely some truth to that, the singer is quick to point out that he’s still learning and taking things a day at a time. “That’s not to say I don’t know when to speak up and when to be quiet,” reveals Thicke. “You have to know when it’s not worth your time and when to just let things go. But that’s life. All I care about is the music I leave behind. After all the tabloids and the silliness is over, the only thing that will matter is the music that I’ve made. The rest of it, good and bad, will go away. To me, the albums are the most important thing. And besides, none of that other stuff, the rumors and the stories, none of that will matter in the end. Either you’re a Bob Marley or you’re not. That’s how I have to look at it.” Regardless of the latest gossip bit or criticism, Thicke’s track record backs 46
up his claims. Now six albums into his career, he is no doubt garnering more media attention than ever before. But for those who have followed him for years, record after record, it’s always been about the music, and not much has changed. The silky, soulful vocals. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics. That “how-you-doin” smile that somehow sweeps women off their feet. Perhaps overlooked in much of the post-“Blurred Lines” hysteria is that this is the same guy whose 2006 single “Lost Without U” topped four separate Billboard charts simultaneously. He’s one of the most celebrated R&B voices of the past decade, the same guy who’s collaborated with the likes of 50 Cent, R. Kelly and the Neptunes, having previously toured with Jennifer Hudson, John Legend and Beyoncé. And as of this writing, “Blurred Lines” has spent a record-breaking 16 weeks atop the Hot R&B/ Hip-Hop Songs, an honor previously held by Mary J. Blige for her 2006 single “Be Without You.” With a storied career and a deep catalog dating back to 2003, it would seem perfectly justified for Thicke, who’s been treated by some as if he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, to want to set some people straight and remind them that he didn’t just recently drop from the sky, that he’s been at this for years. But from his perspective, this is one of those “know-when-to-speak-upand-when-to-be-quiet” moments. “You’re not to supposed to try to control how people feel about you,” he opines.
VARIANCE MA G A Z I N E . C O M
“You’re just supposed to give. A performer—an artist—should really just be a giver. I’ve always felt that way. You can’t be wrapped up in how it’s received, because 10 million people might love and 50 million people might hate it. But I’d say 10 million, that’s a pretty nice fan base.” Given Thicke’s new-found global success, he has likely inspired many other musicians now looking to him and hoping to somehow replicate it for their own career. In fact, his own mother seems to have a theory of her own, suggesting over the summer that maybe the secret to getting a No. 1 hit might be to create a good song and then go for shock value in its presentation. Not necessarily so, according to her son, pointing to this his own VMAs stint. “That’s all just entertainment,” he says. “But who’s to say that’s the key to success? Sometimes the right way to entertain is to stick with your instrument and sing the song, and just let the song do the work. Sometimes you add some fireworks and some pyro because that’s what it needs. Neither one is right or wrong though. Sometimes the song needs a little fire.” And should other musicians or industry types seek to bottle up the winning, hit-song formula, Thicke says he probably wouldn’t be the one to ask. “I wish I could say, ‘it’s as simple as A plus B, and you’ve got a hit,’ but I didn’t have some grand scheme,” he explains. “I’m not really a planner at all. I just do things. That’s how I approached the album. I just set out for the experi-
ence. My life is all about the experience and joy and laughter. And all the other stuff that gets in the way of that, I try to keep to a minimum.” After such a huge year, Thicke isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, he just announced plans for a spring tour, in which he’ll be hitting the road accompanied by Jessie J and DJ Cassidy. It may seem like a bit of a wait since his album released over the summer, but according to Thicke, he’s hardly had a moment to come up for air over the past few months. “It seems we’ve just been going nonstop,” he exclaims with delight. “I had so many different promotion stops going and then we finally broke worldwide. We’re in these parts of the world I had never been, Asia and Europe, so we just didn’t have the time to actually do a proper tour this year. It made sense for us to push that into the spring. I’m looking forward to it.” In addition to the forthcoming tour and a busy schedule as it is, Thicke hasn’t been able to keep away from the studio, confessing that he’s actually found time to get back to making music—and not alone either. “I’ve actually been in the studio with Jennifer Lopez,” he reveals. “We’re old friends and she’s an amazing woman, and we got in the studio to see if we could find a record to do together. So we’re trying to find something right now. She’s a very iconic performer, so I thought it’d be fun to collaborate.” A collaboration certainly makes sense for Thicke,
whose last two singles, “Blurred Lines” and the more recent “Give It 2 U,” are both joint efforts, with the former having sold nearly 6 million copies in the States alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But even with numbers like that to his name, the singer admits it doesn’t always work. “There’s definitely a balance, and you have to think about what you’re trying to accomplish,” he cautions, before offering his take on why the “feature” is so prevalent today and why it’s good for music. “It’s always about what you give the people next, and sometimes people coming together from two completely different worlds is what’s fresh and what’s best for that moment. Music is always at the forefront of innovation, and when two worlds collide, something amazing can happen. You never want to rule something like that out simply because it may not work. I mean, if I did that, well, you just never know.” Behind all that charm and charisma,
Thicke is completely aware of the surrealism of this moment, also noting the added thrill of being able to share it with Pharrell, who produced his 2006 album, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, and has been along with him for the journey ever since. “It’s a cherry on the top,” he says of Pharrell’s involvement in this point of his career. “When you’re a kid, you imagine being here. And then things happen in your life and in your music that perhaps change your course, but your original dream is to make music, to perform it and for everyone to love it. So you always hold that dream close to your heart. “At some point, maybe you just accept that it’s impossible and decide to just make the best music you possibly can, and you hope that more people
like it than don’t like it. But that spark from when you’re a kid, it’s still there. You don’t let go of that spark.” Although he’s admittedly soaking it all in, his eyes are fixed on the future. “I’ve had some good years and some bad years,” says Thicke. “This has obviously been my best year as far as airplay and sales go, so I really want to try to take this and carry it into the next album and the next songs and keep making better music. You never want to hover on one year, the good or the bad. You have to continually be moving forward, so all I can do is take this incredible year and this energy and keep moving to the next record, which will probably be at the end of next year.” As he moves forward into his next chapter, he will be accompanied by
wife Paula Patton, whom he began dating when he was 16. Despite all types of rumors and reports to the contrary, Thicke says the best part of moving into the next phase of his life and career is having his wife, the mother of their three-year-old son, at his side. Sure, there’s the rush of having thousands of women go crazy for him. But as Thicke sees it, “the biggest rush of all” is found only with Patton. “There’s nothing better than somebody that you’ve shared your whole life with and that you’re still madly in love with, and you want to experience everything in the future together,” he says with such fervency. “As long as you have that desire and that passion, I honestly believe you can take on the world. I really do.” n
S T. LUCIA
BY EDWIN WILSON
I WENT BACK AND STARTED REDISCOVERING THE MUSIC THAT I LOVED AS A CHILD WHEN I WASN’T SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT MY MUSIC CHOICES OR WHAT I WAS MAKING. AND THAT WAS LIKE GUILTY-PLEASURE MUSIC.
PHOTO: SHERVIN LAINEZ
oments into his 2012 selftitled EP, it’s clear that JeanPhilip Grobler (known by his stage name, St. Lucia) grew up in the ‘80s. Overflowing with savory dance beats and brilliantly jubilant lyrics, the six-song set offered a glimpse of what’s to come on his debut full-length, When the Night, which arrives on Oct. 8. “I grew up listening to Phil Collins, Foreigner, Duran Duran and Lionel Richie,” says Grobler, who was born and raised in South Africa before moving to Brooklyn after college. “When it came to making my own music, I went back and started rediscovering the music that I loved as a child when I wasn’t self-conscious about my music choices or what I was making. And that was like guilty-pleasure music, kind of. It always has sort of an inherent conflict in it—sort of melancholy but happy at the same time.” Fortunately for St. Lucia, ‘80s culture is once again en vogue, and Grobler acknowledges that. But while he may share musical influences with some of his peers, he’s not pulling the same antics and gimmicks many of them have opted for. There are no missing letters or obscure spellings to his band name. There’s nothing controversial about his lyrics, nothing head-scratching about his videos and nothing contrived about his music or stage presence. “There’s a lot of weird stuff out there,” says Grobler. “I think a lot of music is naturally born out of anger or frustration and a lot of emotion, but sometimes it just seems forced. And maybe there is pressure for some artists to make music that isn’t true to them or only as a means of getting attention, but I can’t imagine doing that. It just seems fake to me.” On the other hand, Grobler says he believes When the Night is an honest record. “It wasn’t made in a week,” he reveals. “It takes a long time to make a record and while I was making it, I definitely went through some periods of selfconsciousness, where I was like, ‘Is everything I’m making complete bullshit?’ I think it’s natural for any artist to be self-conscious at some point. In the end, it was about doing what’s honest for me, not because that’s what’s popular
now. I have to release something that is true to who I am.” While Grobler strives to portray a genuine representation of himself, he’s also had the chance to learn from rising stars that have already made quite the impression lately, having shared the stage with Haim, fun. and Ellie Goulding, the latter of whom he credits for displaying a tremendous work ethic. “She works extremely hard,” Grobler says of Goulding. “On tour, we only got to actually hang out with her maybe twice over like a month-long period. She was either doing an interview or working on a video or something related to work, and then she would arrive just in time for the show. And even if she was struggling vocally from talking all day, you would never know it. She would just bring it, 100 percent, every time.” Unlike Goulding, however, Grobler says he is personally more cautious of collaborations in music, although he admits he’d definitely throw all caution completely to the wind to work with Daft Punk. “It would be a no-brainier for me,” he confesses. “There are other collaborations I would do if it felt right, but Daft Punk would be a dream. So if the music gods ever presented that to me, I’d go with it.” Despite being admittedly methodical about his music choices, Grobler is not as reserved when it comes to his clothing options, something he says began in the U.K. “The first time I bought a crazy shirt was in Brighton,” he recalls. “We were playing for Great Escape [Festival]. We’re at the thrift store and we played an acoustic set there. And they’re like, ‘Take two items of clothing from the racks and you can have that.’ So I just found this amazing Hawaiian shirt. “A few months later we were in Australia and I found some more shirts, and it just became a thing for me. I guess it’s a way for me to show that, even though I take my music seriously, I don’t intend to be that serious. I guess it’s my own guilty pleasure.” When the Night arrives Oct. 8 on Neon Gold/ Columbia. He is current on tour supporting Two Door Cinema Club. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I N E .COM
BY WESTON SHEPHERD
P H O T O O F J U S T I N B I E B E R B Y E R I N PA R K S
a Twitter addict and fan of all things music, I often find myself paying attention to the musicrelated trending topics that pop up on any given day. As you know, Twitter is a place that allows likeminded people to gather and discuss their favorite topics, but sometimes this power is abused to its fullest potential. Case in point? Justin Bieber and his “Beliebers.” On most days, Bieber will have a couple different trending topics all to himself—a fact that is fueled by his millions of Kool-Aid drinking “Beliebers.” As of this writing, he has more than 45 million Twitter followers, the most of anyone on Twitter by a longshot. I challenge you to visit his profile, see the number of followers and simply refresh your browser. I guarantee when the page returns, that follower count will be higher than it was before. It’s the damndest thing. (I did this more times than I care to reveal.) But the problem isn’t Bieber or the fact that he’s got a substantial following; the problem is the manner in which these individuals follow him. They pursue him in a way that makes you believe they may literally be following him— camped out somewhere outside of a hotel with a pair of binoculars in tow. They wait on his every move and discuss “His Holiness” among themselves in the meantime, changing their display names to “Justin Bieber” and set their avi picture to the same photo he uses. They speak in a weird, Bieberinduced code that the untrained mind can’t quite decipher. What I’m talking about here is a sub-
culture that is growing, and thriving, in complete lunacy. To better understand a point I can’t fully describe, I offer you a couple of tweets that perfectly illustrate what I’m trying to say: “Sometimes I just bust into tears because Justin Bieber” “1 name, 1 inspiration, 1 role model, 1 soul, 1 heart, 1 smile, 1 singer. One boy who changed our lives. JUSTIN DREW BIEBER <3” Scary, right? You get the feeling young fans have confused Justin Bieber with the second coming of Jesus Christ, and there appears to be a major parenting discon-
nect in clarifying the difference. Bieber is 19 years old, still figuring out who he is in this life and has no business being the apple of your son or daughter’s eye. Kids idolizing kids is like the blind leading the blind. It just doesn’t work. Before I’m written off as just another one of Bieber’s many haters, let me clarify: I do not hate Justin Bieber. In actuality, I think he’s multitalented, sometimes charming and doing an OK job of growing up in the public eye. If my every move was broadcasted to the entire world, I’d have plenty of TMZ moments myself—I cannot pass judgment for his indiscretions. That would be foolish and unfair of me to do. What I am saying is this:
When I was younger, I idolized my parents. Instead of a massive celebrity crush, I had a crush on a girl in my class. And if there was someone on TV with arms full of tattoos and peeing into mop buckets? My mom probably wouldn’t let me watch it. I guess that is just the difference in generations. So next time you see that adolescent on Twitter announcing their undying allegiance to the almighty Bieber, maybe let them know there is more to life than that. Let them know in 15 years, they will look back with a smile and laugh about how silly they were. But more than anything, let them know about this place called “outside.” I hear it’s nice this time of year. n
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
THE HEAD +++ THE HEART
aving formed just four years ago, The Head and the Heart has gone from touring the Seattle area to now playing sold-out shows and performing around the world. This fall, the band is set to release Let’s Be Still, the follow-up to its self-titled debut record. Variance got to chat with vocalist Josiah Johnson about the upcoming release and what’s in store for the future. The band’s debut album was a great introduction to The Head and the Heart, but with the second album, they wanted to show some of
the growth they’ve experienced in the past two years. “There was a little more intention this time, and having played so many shows, I think we’ve wanted this time to actually make an album that sounds the way that we think we sound live a little bit more,” says Johnson. Regarding their first album, Johnson reveals that it was never meant to be their actual debut. “We put it out, so obviously we loved the way it sounded, but there was a haste,” he says. “When we were recording it originally, it was meant to be a good demo recording that we ended up honing enough to put on an album, but we didn’t think we were making an album that would exist in the consciousness of people
beyond the Seattle music scene and maybe other people that we happened [to share it with].” Since that debut release, the band has grown and introduced some new depth into this record. Some of the new incorporations came from all the things they learned while on tour with bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Dr. Dog, but most of it was “just a natural growth as a musician,” Johnson reveals. The new album includes a few songs with synthesizers and electric guitar bases, but Johnson sees it as a step forward, not a change of direction. “It’s generally bigger, but it’s interesting because you say that and it’s like, ‘Wow, that sounds like an entirely different band,’ but there are songs that sound like ‘classic us,’
BY EMILY HULSEBERG doing what we do as well and I think the way we incorporated those news things, it wasn’t like a left turn but it added to us, as opposed to changed.” When it comes to the release of the album, Johnson says there aren’t any nerves. “I think early on we identified [that] this is a big thing, this is like the second album that everyone screws up,” he explains. “I feel like a lot of that comes from trying to duplicate the success of your first album, or people try and make the same album as the first album.” With the new surprises that come with Let’s Be Still, fans can rest assured that, while there are some different sounds, the growth of the band is welcomed and evident. “This is a really great representation of where we are as a band and that
should be the goal when you record an album,” opines Johnson. As is the case with most sophomore albums, there are the unspoken expectations from current fans, hoping the new material doesn’t disappoint. But Johnson gushes that the group is “super happy” with the album. “When you’re super proud of an album in this way, you kind of go, ‘I know there’s someone who is going to connect with this, because I believe in this so, so strongly.’” One of the greatest things to happen to Johnson since the band started taking off was the opportunity to play with bands that he has grown up listening to. “You just learn musically watching them night after night, and you kind of end up studying it,” he explains.
“At first your mind is blown that you’re playing with a band you’ve always loved. But then as the tour goes on, you start studying them and getting into what they’re doing and that has been so valuable as a songwriter, as someone that’s creating music and expanding my mind about what is possible for us as a band.” The growth and experiences the band has acquired over the past two years is evident in their new album. But as Johnson explains, “it’s inspiring to know that there are no limits to what you can do on stage.” The band hopes to take all they’ve learned on the road with them this fall. The Head and the Heart’s tour kicks off this month in Asheville, N.C., and Let’s Be Still releases Oct. 15 on Sub Pop Records.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
keep things fresh and continue to create new, interesting music, many bands have to constantly reinvent themselves in order to continually find inspiration. Matt Schultz, lead vocalist of Cage the Elephant knows that firsthand. After almost five solid years of touring, the
band found itself ready to try something else. Cage the Elephant started in Bowling Green, Ky., but the quintet started living and touring in England in 2007 while crafting its self-titled debut album. After touring Europe for almost two years, they came home to Kentucky to record their second project,
Thank You, Happy Birthday. They soon signed with Jive records, which put out Cage the Elephant in the U.S. â€œWe started touring in the United States immediately after the holiday season and somewhere around a year and a half later, we released the second record without even missing a beat.â€? Schultz says.
CAGE THE ELEPHANT PHOTO BY COLIN LANE
BY AARON LACHMAN
“We only spent two weeks at home for Christmas. Then it was right back out on the road, so yeah, we were touring for five years solid.” After such a whirlwind, it was understandable that they would want a break. The first thing they did when they came home was spend some time apart, regrouping and work-
ing on their own musical ideas as individuals. Doing that actually changed up the process for Cage the Elephant’s songwriting. “In the past, being around each other all the time, there’s kind of just a collective acknowledgement for what direction the band is going to be in,” Schultz reveals. “You kind of just get a feel for what direction everyone’s moving in. This time we’re all apart and writing as individuals for the first time and so I think we all formed a pretty strong vision for what direction we wanted the record to be, but we hadn’t spent the time together, so there were all these polar opposite ideas.” With so many ideas coming from different perspectives, it was often a challenge to try to create new songs from disparate places. To do that, they rented a cabin in Tennessee, and came back together to work at building a new album. Once they reconvened to start writing for the new record, they eschewed listening to any recorded music. They would still jam with
friends and go to concerts, but the members of Cage the Elephant decided to stop listening to any recordings and focus only on their own music. Schultz says that they “didn’t want to be externally influenced, at least not directly,” while they were trying to create new songs for the record. Eventually, Cage the Elephant found a place to combine the five members’ ideas. Schultz sums it up best: “When we first started writing, I was writing a lot of inner-directed songs with kind of a subtle sound and some of the guys were really wanting to create songs that were super visceral and had vibrance and color, and so we started blending these two polar elements and then there’s this element of playfulness and swagger that was absent on our last record.” The result is Melophobia, a diverse, intense and challenging record. Melophobia—which means fear of music—is the result of conflict and sweat and a band working to create the best songs they can. Schultz believes that songs are found,
not written. “We can write three notes, and it’s a song because we can hear it in our head,” he says. “I think most other people see them as just ideas, but when you break a song down, every musical work is made of the same musical theory—there are only so many tones. So it’s kind of just finding the song within that. “Every idea that we come up with, we hold it with a preciousness. When we’re working through these songs [and] we’ve already decided that we’re going to make them work, there’s not a scenario where you write a song and you realize it can never be a good song. We try to take every single idea that we come up with to its greatest potential. Our approach when we go into the writing room is to push the song to its furthest limits.” It’s that push and pull process that describes the creation of Melophobia. An album full of conflict, and a reflection of the process Cage the Elephant lives by, Melophobia arrives Oct. 8 via RCA. n
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
HER NAME IS
AND DON'T YOU DARE FORGET IT BY EDWIN WILSON
he gives fans her phone number, but there’s still something so beautifully mysterious about Los Angeles-based Jillian Banks (known simply by her last name). Perhaps it’s her silky vocals bonded to fiery synth beats and gut-wrenching lyrics. Perhaps it’s her music videos, seductively revealing, yet somehow managing to still keep the viewer at a safe distance. Her music feels as if she’s poured out her whole heart and left it on the floor, but it still leaves one yearning. Quickly establishing herself as one of the most exciting voices in music, it’s surprising that the young singer is an entirely self-taught musician and vocalist. “I never learned the notes and all the technical stuff,” admits Banks. “I guess at some point I just decided it was something I wanted to learn. I started playing around with different instruments and eventually I picked up on the piano. I think when you really want something, you figure out a way to make it happen. That’s how it was for me.” Having been compared to the likes of Feist and Erykah Badu, Banks says it’s “overwhelming when you’re compared to people you respect
so much. Many of these artists are people I love, people I admire. And to have my name even mentioned in the same breath is just unbelievable. But it’s also very motivating.” As her star continues to rise, The Weeknd invited Banks to join him on his fall tour. Coincidentally, her London EP arrived the same day in September that his Kiss Land album released. Critics have lauded the pairing as one of the best shows to see this year, and with so much praise, it would seem likely for Banks to feel pressure to live up to certain expectations. “It’s certainly a big deal,” she says. “But I have to try not to think about expectations. I think all I can do is go out there and do the best job I can.” With her “Warm Water” track having been produced by English producer Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (aka Orlando Higginbothom), Banks has already given some thought to collaborations she’d love to do. “If I could work with Missy Elliott or Drake, I just don’t even know,” quips Banks. As more people are turned on to Banks’ music, it’s interesting that she actually doesn’t keep up her own social media sites. Her tweets and Face-
book updates, although carefully crafted with emoticons and loads of charm, are actually produced by her management. Fans can, however, call her directly. “I’ve just never been into Facebook or social media,” she explains. “It’s not my thing at all, making music is. I would rather have more personal relationships, and conversations on Twitter seem so impersonal to me.” Banks seems satisfied instead with revealing herself to fans one layer at a time, in the form of her music rather than selfies. “People ask me about the vibe I put out in my music,” she says. “There’s so much ‘fake’ in the music industry. What you get from my songs, from my videos—that’s one of my layers. Some days, I feel sexy, and I want to give off that vibe. Other days, I feel more reserved, and I’m OK with that. I think there are many layers to who I am, and hopefully that shows in the material.” +++ Banks is currently on tour across North America with The Weeknd. She will also join him on his U.K. tour later this year. Her London EP is available now.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
P H OTO:
T RA C H TEN BER G /C BS
B Y M E R LY N H A M I LT O N
C H R I S S M I T H TV'S NEW LEADING MAN ON COMEDY + SPEEDOS
ith comedy taking over network television, CBS has jumped aboard with one of the funniest shows next to Fox’s New Girl and The Mindy Project. Newly premiered We Are Men only just began its run, but it’s already showing signs of being a hit. Centered around a character named Carter (played by newcomer Chris Smith), the sitcom is about four single guys sharing their bad experiences with love. “Carter’s the central character narrator,” says Smith. “In the opening episode, you’re at his wedding, and his wife-to-be gets swept off her feet by an ex-lover who comes in and stops the wedding and reclaims her. You’re with Carter, through his journey of facing that trauma and getting through it. “And then he moves back in with his parents, and that doesn’t work, so he moves into a temporary housing complex. And that’s where he meets Frank, Stuart and Gil, and they befriend him and take him under their wing. You’re following him and watching him as he figures it out—what it’s like to be single again in your 30s.” So who are the other guys that Smith’s character befriends in his time of need? Familiar faces Tony Shalhoub (Frank), Jerry O’Connell (Stuart) and Kal Penn (Gil) round out the top bill of the show. And let’s be honest: a sitcom featuring four handsome and humorous guys, what’s not
to love about that? But if you don’t think they’re handsome, well, you must not have seen O’Connell shirtless in his speedo. And according to Smith, there’s lots of that to see. “He’s in a lot of scenes where he’s not wearing a shirt a lot of the time,” says Smith. “Which, I think [with] every show you need the reason why this audience is going to come back. A lot of shows they waste their time with a good story and an interesting plot twist. In our case, it’s Jerry’s Speedo,” he jokes. “We’re hoping people tune in on a weekly basis to see Jerry’s Speedo.” OK, so even if you’re not interested in seeing a handsome, half-naked man on screen, there’s no doubt this plot really will suck you in. “I think it’s pointed to a wide audience for a number of reasons,” Smith says of Men. “It’s playing on this idea that they form a band of brothers—the unit, people who can rely on each other. It’s a certain kind of friendship that goes one step beyond regular friendship. These guys, they see in each other different flaws, different needs, and I think they try to take care of each other because they see themselves in each other.” But handsome men and friendship aren’t the only themes that Smith believes will hit home for viewers. “I think friendship is a big theme, but I think divorce is [also] so prevalent. And
these guys are all recently divorced. It’s a sad, tough reality that these guys have to go through and I think that this [show] could provide a humorous and fun outlet for that terrible reality.” Although he’s previously been seen on The Mindy Project and 30 Rock, Smith’s Men casting is considered his first major role on a sitcom. With his history and love of comedy and sitcoms, it’s obvious that he was meant for this role. “I grew up watching television and I like the pace of it,” he reveals. “I like discovering new things about characters. What a good sitcom does is explore the characters in it. I think that’s what I like about sitcoms. As far as just comedy in general, I’ve [always] been a comedy fan. “When I was younger, I loved watching Comedy Central. I was a huge fan of SNL and The State (sketch comedy show that aired on MTV in the ‘90s), as well as [Canadian sketch comedy series] Kids in the Hall. And when I got out of college, I started a sketch comedy group called Harvard Sailing Team and we’ve been doing comedy for a long time. That’s kind of how I got my [start] in comedy, following that thread and it’s led me to this role.” +++ We Are Men airs Tuesdays at 8:30 ET on CBS. For more on Smith’s Harvard Sailing Team, go to harvardsailingteam.com.
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I N E.COM
PHOTO BY WILLIAM COLE
THE RISING COMEDY KING TALKS RACIAL STEREOTYPES AND THE POWER OF YOUTUBE BY ELI PROVENZANO
is entertainment’s cornerstone. It makes you laugh and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling. Although there are certainly comedians in every culture around the world, and what’s funny to a Polynesian might not be funny to an American, there are some topics that are universal. This allows people like Max Amini to take his talent and understanding of human nature to an international level. While Amini is becoming a master at improvisation, stand-up comedy isn’t the only trick in his bag. Landing roles on TV shows from Heroes to Beyond Paradise, Amini had no trouble adding acting to his resume as well. Although stand-up and film share their similarities, they’re not at all the same thing. So which one is better? “I love acting, but what makes stand-up incredibly enticing is the live audience,” Amini reveals. “Everything is right there. It’s an immediate gratification when you see your material work. You connect to your audience, and when you get a laugh and you see that the audience enjoys your material, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. Everything that you worked for is paying off in the moment.” But with the live audience dynamic comes a challenge, he says. “Doing stand-up shows live, the challenge, the risk, the stakes are higher. As an actor, it’s a beautiful art form, but you don’t have
that pressure of immediate response. You do a take, and if you didn’t nail it they go, ‘Okay, let’s do another one.’ You get a second and third chance. But the difference is the instantaneous response.” Born in Tucson, Ariz., to Iranian parents, Amini features cultural topics in his act. In fact, his 2010 comedy tour, “Exotic Imports,” spotlights second-generation Americans who address their cultural backgrounds. However, with an abundance of stereotypes internationally bulldozing their way through stand-up routines, the new question is whether or not comedy is enforcing those preconceived notions. “When it comes to the material that I have on YouTube and other online outlets, it’s mostly geared that way because that’s where I’m getting the most hits, the most response when I’m playing to that niche,” Amini admits. “So that’s a conscious decision that I made for now. For example, [the video] ‘Persian Guys’ in one month has gotten over 500,000 hits. Once you create something, and you know this works, it’s important to be aware of that.” While Amini’s online approach has garnered success, his comedy club routine plays to a different tune. “You’d be surprised that on a Saturday night at The Laugh Factory, my set maybe fits five percent of that,” he reveals. “I go on stage and there might be 10 or 20 Middle Easterners in the room. So, I don’t play my entire set to what you see on cyberspace. I really play
to my American audience. When I tour for my shows, I tend to draw a more Middle Eastern audience. In those shows, I do the exact opposite and cater to what my audience is really about.” Amini recognizes that comedy is universal. On the international stage, he’s had to figure out his audience, gauge what they’re reacting to and adjust accordingly. “Most of the countries I’ve been to, there have been some audiences that are more stiff and conservative than others. But it doesn’t really make that much difference. I use different material. I talk about family. I think that’s something that everybody can relate to, and that really helps.” “If your English is good, it’s gonna be OK,” Amini jokes. “Some places like Stockholm, Sweden, their English is really good, so I can have a little bit more fun with the things I’m talking about and they get it, and they laugh. But I know in Germany, their English is not that good…certain things just go over their heads, so I use material that is more universal and relatable, no matter what your background is.” While comedy is perhaps meant to be a form of escapism, Max Amini is taking a very relevant topic like cultural differences and bringing it to the forefront in a way that allows everyone to listen with an open mind. And don’t forget, he says: “What doesn’t kill you gets you more hits on YouTube.”n
VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
GO AHEAD, FOLLOW YOUR DREAM .
TAT E M U S I C G R O U P
PRODUCTION DISTRIBUTION MARKETING MEDIA T A T E M U S I C G R O U P. C O M
HIP-HOP NEWCOMER SAYS HE'S HERE 'TO SAVE MUSIC' By Edwin Wilson
ith music production becoming more accessible, an eclectic sense of style spreads with more artists becoming interested in making their own music. A self-taught individual from laptop-and-bedroom beginnings, Yokas B has been refining his poetic take on soulinfused hip-hop out of Jersey City for more than a decade. As he gains more traction in the international music scene, he describes his growth and transition as an artist: “It started from poems I wrote when I was young. I wrote tons of them. But it wasn’t long until the poems turned into lyrics and lyrics turned into songs...it grew like a flower in my life over a period of 10 years.” He goes on to describe the first time he gave his poems a voice: “I will never forget this. I remember it like it was yesterday. One day I was just writing a poem on my laptop, ‘Who is Me,’ and while I was saying it I started saying it with a style. That’s when my poems gave birth to music. I started using the laptop’s recording program because I didn’t know anything about recording studios at that time, but I
made it work and recorded a whole album right off the laptop with no recording microphone or anything. I made it work because I knew deep inside that God was calling me to do something that the world needs.” Detailing his influences as an artist, Yokas B is blunt but rather thoughtful. “Honestly, I have been asked this a million times and my answer has always left everyone shocked. I don’t have [anybody] who inspires me musically because I feel like my ‘race’ [or] ‘kind’ has not reached this point in [my] lifetime yet,” he says, with an arguable sense of arrogance. “I feel like I’m the first of my kind and I was sent here with a mission: To save music and restore it to its rightful train of flow. I am very picky as far as who I like. The artists that I like are dead.” His colorful descriptions of the inspiration behind his music also apply to his motivation for his method of expression. “Music protects you against things in life when it rains, [in the] wind or cold. It vanquishes predators and mends broken bones emotionally. And yet I have been
prized with this talent. Plus, [I’m] well beyond my own years, so I’ve learned to love it, but even in my most paleolithic times, I invested significant amounts of time and effort to create better soul music. Of course, that still leaves the question of, ‘why music?’ But for that, my new lyrics will always provide the answers.” His new album, Short Film, does, in fact, supply some explanation. Yokas describes its production as “adventurous,” revealing that it “incorporates everything from snatches of classic R&B to Broadway show tunes and ‘80s soul music.” His aim with Short Film is to “show a different kind of music” that can “push soul hiphop forward.” With bold claims and equally audacious material, Yokas B may be one to watch. But he’s certainly got his work cut out for him. +++ Short Film is out now, with plans for another record to follow soon. Follow Yokas B at twitter.com/therealyokasb. VA R I A N C EM A G A Z I NE.COM
N E W Z E A L A N D M U S I C S E N S AT I O N LORDE PERFORMS IN LONDON PHOTO: ABI DAINTON