All Posts By Angela Mastrogiacomo



This week’s feature sees post hardcore performers Tzarina and NY band RODERIK quiz each other on their influences, how they have found working during a pandemic and the all-important topic of new music. 

Tzarina: Congrats on the release of “Save Me.” Can you tell me a bit more about the song? The writing process, production, etc.?

RODERIK: Thanks guys! Yeah, it was definitely an interesting process. The initial riffs and melodies for the song were actually started mid-late last year. We entered the studio around January to start recording this song, but due to the pandemic, we didn’t finish the song until about mid summer. It was by far the longest time I’ve ever taken to record a song, so there was a lot of tweaking and stuff throughout that long wait time. 

RODERIK: What does “Tzarina” mean and what was the main influence behind the band name?

Tzarina: Tzarina is basically just a Russian queen. So like in the old Russian empire, the royal family had a Tzar (also commonly spelled Czar), to which his bride was often referred to as Tzarina. I went down a really intense history rabbit hole on pre-WWI Russia and watched a couple documentaries where the term was thrown around. It sounded musical so I basically told the guys one day we were changing the band name.

Tzarina: How are you all getting by as a band with the current state of the world and the pandemic?

RODERIK: It’s definitely weird. RODERIK is basically a band made up of some of my best friends, so we all really get along well, but it’s really a strange situation that we can’t all get together and jam, write together, or even just hang out. Other than that, I REALLY miss playing shows. I’ve been impatiently waiting for shows to start up again, but I’m happy to stay on the cautious side until they can safely do so. 

RODERIK: I know we’re all pulling for shows to come back, but when they do what’s the first venue you have in mind for your first performance back? 

Tzarina: Somewhere in Bowery. A bunch of the local clubs on the LES. Outside of that, my hometown of New Haven in CT has some pretty legendary venues like Toad’s Place and The Acoustic.

Tzarina:  What are some of the musical influences that inspired you to piece together this band?

RODERIK: Oh man, way too many to list. We went into writing songs for this band with an open mind. I feel like a lot of artists try to focus on one primary genre, but for us, there’s no limit on what influences go into our songs. Some of the biggest ones are probably My Chemical Romance, Too Close to Touch, Point North, Lauv, Ruel, Dance Gavin Dance, and even Mac Miller.

RODERIK: I know for us, the pandemic has really changed how we function as a band. We’re so used to getting together and hashing out new songs, or just jamming for the fun of it. How has the pandemic impacted your band in general? 

Tzarina: To be honest, outside of affecting how we were going to record the album not much else has changed. We have been having regular rehearsals to make sure that our live show is on point and ready to go as soon as it’s okay to do so. We’ve also just been trying to hammer out the content to round people up and keep them interested in what we’ve got going. I’ve been toying with the idea of our first show being a live stream but I’d want to do it right. Lights, good audio and video, etc.  

Tzarina: Can we expect any more new material in the near future?

RODERIK: Yes, absolutely you can. We’re constantly writing and working on new material. You might even see a new release as early as November. 😉 

RODERIK: Now that ‘Deadsong’ is out, what do you guys have planned for next?

Tzarina: Hopefully playing a show sooner rather than later, but just like everyone else, we’re playing it safe and waiting. It’s kind of ridiculous, I’ve been seeing bands on DIY touring forums actually asking for other bands to come on and support shows that are happening in states where the COVID numbers are through the roof. For early 2021, we’ll be releasing the second single with a video and then hopefully we’ll have a better idea on timing of the things opening across different states (in a safe way). We’d like to finalize the album dropping around that time.  

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(Right) Tzarina. Photo credit: Kelli J Bartlett.(Left) Roderik. Photo credit: Photolitsina

BANDS INTERVIEWING BANDS: Shayna Adler & Brittany Bexton


Our latest edition sees a meeting of minds between Folk/Rock singer Shayna Adler and Nashville singer/songwriter Brittany Bexton. Their in depth conversation touches on topics such as faith and the challenges faced in the industry by female performers.

Shayna Adler: As a woman, what’s it been like to navigate the music industry and build a career for yourself? Do you feel like you’ve encountered any obstacles or difficulties? 

Brittany Bexton: It’s definitely been difficult as a woman, especially when I was marketing my music primarily country. The industry still has a pretty big good ol’ boy mentality that is not very inclusive of women. I’ve definitely had booking agents and managers turn down working with me over time either “Because I was a woman, and they couldn’t make any money off a woman.” Even after multiple people personally recommended me to them. And I’ve had managers tell me they loved everything about me but my age. I was in my mid twenties when the comment was made. There is a huge double standard with that for men. but I also think it’s character building. The way I see it is there is a market for my music, and I will get to the people that want it, regardless of obstacles. That’s part of why I just started touring. I wanted to do something to get out there that didn’t require the gate-keepers so to speak. I booked my own shows with a fill in gig here and there that a booking agent friend would throw my way. I played 50-100 shows every year booking myself, so that was pretty crazy. But the experience was great. The way I see it, as long as you make music that means something and matters there will be a market, and regardless of still running into challenges, I know I’m where I need to be and my music will somehow get to the people that need it. 

Brittany Bexton: What was the first song you wrote? How would you say you’ve grown most as a songwriter over the years? How has your style morphed? 

Shayna Adler: I wrote this song called “Turn the Page” in 2008(?) that’s literally just one chord throughout LOL. Not many pages to turn there…But hey! You have to start somewhere. I think my songwriting has become more intentional, and has evolved into full stories with characters. If I know exactly what I’m trying to say, what the message is, etc., the songs come really easily. I spend more time determining that over a notebook or “notes” on my iPhone before I even pick up a guitar. The music, sound, and chords follows the moods, settings, and meanings of the stories. It definitely wasn’t that way when I started. 

Shayna Adler: Tell me more about your connection of music and faith. How did you begin to bring the two together? How has that influenced your songwriting?

Brittany Bexton: I grew up singing worship and hymns in church, but I have always written songs more about my own personal experiences, struggles and growth. I have written some worship tunes over the years too, but have always felt like my job as an artist is to talk about the human condition and point people back to God. The new album’s theme being Christian wasn’t really planned ahead. But, the couple of years that I wrote most of the songs on the new project, I was going through a lot of personal growth and healing. A huge part of that healing was rebuilding my faith after trauma. When I started to listen back to the songs I had been writing, they all had an inspirational tone, of empowerment, and faith. It’s still a bit of a journey for me figuring out next steps, and what that means as far as my touring goes for the next couple years. Lately I’ve been writing a lot more worship, mainly for comfort through the times. I’m not exactly sure what the next project will hold. But I think this one came out when it was needed most in the world. 

Brittany Bexton: What is your favorite song to sing off of your new “Wander” Album? What song on the album is the most personal for you? 

Shayna Adler: I can answer both questions in one song—it’s definitely “Dear Capricorn.” It’s immensely personal. It’s quite fun to sing, too! That song sums up a plethora of experiences meeting new potential “love interests,” but especially the ones that didn’t go anywhere…and all you remember is the intense feeling of hope, and butterflies in your stomach. It’s a subject I always wanted to write about, but the catalyst was experiencing that unrequited rush of blood to the head again with someone. It’s so bittersweet. That song was written after a lifetime of experiences and one 5-minute conversation.

Shayna Adler: What band or artist is your biggest musical hero?

Brittany Bexton That’s so hard! I’m not good at picking one! The truth is I don’t have a musical hero so much as a number of artists and writers I really respect who have shaped my music over time. Singers like Aretha Franklin, Carol King, Patsy Cline, and Bonnie Raitt. And writers like Jewel and John Prine. I can tell you that two of my all time favorite songs as a writer are, “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine, and “To Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan. Both of those songs are so rich; I feel like I get something more out of them every time I hear them, and soak up the lyrics.

Brittany Bexton: What has been the hardest part for you about being an artist? What’s the part of it that brings you the most joy? 

Shayna Adler: The part that brings me the most joy is connecting with people, and feeling some pride in that my music is offering them something fun to escape with. I really miss that about live shows: looking out into the audience and making eye contact or even talking to them from stage, and meeting everyone afterwards. It definitely soothes the soul to sit here and write or play songs by myself, but I think getting to share it all with other people is what makes it special.

Over the course of this year, I’m increasingly finding less time to enjoy the creative side of being an artist, because of the general management of everything. It’s really challenging to keep that balance. I find myself spending 8+ hours a day on my laptop between social media, managing my website, editing videos, emails, marketing, etc. I really miss just sitting and playing my guitar and being able to just focus on that alone, rather than squeeze it in when I’m either not awake in the morning or dead tired at night.

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(Right) Shayna Adler. Photo credit: Anna Azarov (Left) Brittany Bexton. Photo credit: Photo credit: Brandon Oursler

BANDS INTERVIEWING BANDS: Wesley David + Tom McGeoch (From, Tom)


Things take a different approach for this edition of Bands Interviewing Bands. First we have singer/songwriter Wesley David, who recently released his debut album Never Late Than Better. The musician has had a love of Rock and Roll since a young age and counts Oasis, Rush and Nirvana as some of his early influences.

Wes is joined by friend & drummer/singer/songwriter Tom McGeoh (stage name: From, Tom). Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, his music comes from direct experiences and he aims to create ‘emotional connections’ in his art.

In this interview the pair reminisce on their friendship and discuss topical subjects such as social media and the stigma around the mental health of men. 

Tom: This is crazy to learn about how you grew up in a religious cult. How did that experience specifically affect your music and lyrics? 

Wes: I did, my life’s journey since then has been one of recovery from trauma and rediscovering who I am. I think it’s forced me to focus on writing as a way to redefine my identity and what I believe about the world. This was the first record where I made a conscious attempt to capture the story of what I went through.


Wes: So tell me about your single ‘Good Enough’ – the lyrics hint at going through self-doubt I think when we try to live up to someone else’s expectations. What was the impetus behind that ? 

Tom: ‘Good Enough’ was inspired by a pretty heavy therapy session that I had. I went through a long period of time where I constantly doubted myself, and this song is all about challenging those thoughts. I was so concerned about what other people thought of me. I hit rock bottom mentally and it got to a point where I had to change.


Tom: I get such a 90s vibe when I listen to your music!  Do you listen to a lot of that stuff?

Wes: Is the Pope catholic!  Yeah, I definitely came of age with music via the 90s, a lot of post-grunge and alternative rock was my musical foundation as a kid. I still just think it was the most iconic decade for music in a lot of ways.  And culturally, I mean, you had Madonna dating Dennis Rodman while Radiohead would be played after OMC or Hanson on Top 40 radio.  You’d top it off with TRL with Carson Daly and then go watch Jerry Springer!  Just staggering zaniness and variety.

Wes: It’s 2020 and even with everything we know, there is still a stigma around mental health, and admitting anxiety/depression, I think for men especially. What’s important about that for you?

Tom: It’s important to me because I know our culture is capable of positive change. I think the tide is changing a little bit when it comes to mental health awareness but there’s still a lot of work to do. We need to get rid of the shame around going to therapy, taking medication, practicing meditation, whatever it is that helps us. We’re all human and we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Mental health resources also need to be easily accessible for everyone. 

Wes: We met almost 7 years ago after we’d both moved to LA – and I’m sparing readers our Arizona tour story where you nearly died on me (!) – What’s changed about the music scene here to you in that time ?

Tom: I still can’t believe that you told the crowd that I had Ebola. I don’t know if the music scene in LA changed a ton but I definitely evolved as a musician. I was caught up in the “Jam” scene on Sunset Boulevard for the first couple years I lived out here and I just wasn’t happy. I started going to School Night (a live music showcase) in Hollywood and it was energizing. I also love what Grant Owens is doing with WFNM (We Found New Music). As musicians and artists, we’re all in this together and it’s awesome to see people lift each other up. 

Tom: Social media has practically taken over the role that reviewers once had What do you consider challenging about that?

Wes: I would argue passionately that reviewers, blogs, and ‘zines matter as much as ever, but unfortunately, I think our attention spans have shortened to the point where social media is a faster entry point for most casual music fans.

The difficulty in this is when you want to do something innovative you end up working with influencers and others who are largely beholden to whatever their audience wants to hear – or thinks they want to hear.

I see social media as both good and bad, I think it’s almost comparable to old school record labels.

Wes: You’ve got some more singles coming out soon; the lyrics tell me this is not just business-as-usual playlist pop, there’s thoughtful wordplay. Is there a message you’re hoping to share and what else can you tell fans about your music?

Tom: I’m just trying to be real with people. I want people to connect with that authenticity and know that it’s okay to be yourself. I spent a big part of my life trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be and I’m done with that. I’m a really deep feeling, emotional person and I think that definitely comes through in these new songs.


Tom: Your album is called Never Late Than Better.  What’s the meaning behind the title ?

Wes: The meaning is live now.  It’s a play on words and reversal of the title track (Better Late Than Never); you have to live your best life now, because why not? I think if there’s a critique of how I was raised in the religion, it’s that extreme groups are just focused on an idea of the afterlife – they are obsessed with a belief about the future. I don’t have that belief anymore. I think ‘now’ is where there’s joy and excitement.  I wish I would’ve discovered all this and done the record years ago, but – I’m thrilled to do it now – even during a freaking Pandemic. If you’re breathing, then it’s not too late to be who you want to be and make your life worth living in the now, because in reality that’s all we really have.

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(Right) Wesley David. Photo credit: Cherish Rider Photography (Left) From, Tom. Photo credit: Zury Rose


Wesley David

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From, Tom

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Today, atmospheric rock band TREASVRE and reggae powerhouse Roots of Creation (#1 on the Billboard Reggae charts) come together for a fun edition of Bands Interviewing Bands.

More info on these guys below but for now, let’s dive straight into this interview!

Roots of Creation: Where did you come up with the description on your IG page “Atmospheric Rock from San Francisco?” It immediately hooks me in and makes me want to listen. 

TREASVRE: It took us such a long time to land on this description! We honestly can’t remember when it finally clicked. We like to use the term “atmospheric” to embody the cinematic feel we create with all the synth tones we use, without people thinking we are a shoegaze or post rock band. While we borrow elements from many different genres, we never felt like we fit nicely in any of them as a category. One day we just thought to ourselves, “we’re just like a rock band, but with more atmosphere!” and the genre Atmospheric Rock stuck.

TREASVRE: How long did it take to come up with the arrangements for the Grateful Dub covers? Did a lot of the arrangements come quick after jamming them out, or was it a long labor of love trying to balance the styles of reggae with The Dead?

Roots of Creation: For our Grateful dub album, most of the songs had been worked out live, but once we got into the studio we spent a lot of time figuring out what we could add to those arrangements to make them more lush and full. we’ve started playing around with arrangements for Volume 2 – Tal (Keyboards)


Roots of Creation: What kind of influence does the city of SF have on your music and lifestyle? There is so much (counter)cultural and musical history to delve into.

TREASVRE: We all grew up in the bay area, so it has so many inspirations for each of us individually. Walking down Haight Street or passing by Hippie Hill, it’s hard not to think about Jefferson Airplane, Sly, Janice Joplin, Santana and all the amazing rock artists that used to call San Francisco home. But honestly, a huge influence on us has always been the DIY Hardcore and Metal scene throughout Redwood City and Berkeley. These were the first local shows that were all ages when we were growing up, and so we’ve always held these musical influences and DIY sensibilities close to our heart.


TREASVRE: If RoC could collaborate with any artist, who would you like to do a collaboration with?

Roots of Creation: So many! Buju! Damian Marley! Stick Figure! Rebelution! – Tal (Keyboards) 

Roots of Creation: Tell us more about Evan. He seems like your secret weapon with the ability to engineer, drum and synthesize! Do you do a lot of self producing, bring people into the fold or a hybrid? We have done a little of each and are super excited to be exploring self-production with various members of the band currently

TREASVRE: As time goes on, Evan’s talents are becoming less and less of a secret! He truly is a man of many talents, and really helps us craft the overall sound. Having someone in the group with such versatility really allows us the freedom to think outside the box with how we write and record. We used to do more self-producing, but it requires a lot of Evan’s time. With all our upcoming releases, we decided to go into a studio to have them produced. There is something nice about having everything set up for you, while all the band has to do is focus on playing. A lesser known secret is Evan’s graphic design abilities. He did the artwork for our latest release Devils / Echoes, and is currently working on art for future releases!

TREASVRE: RoC seems to put on an awesome, high energy, live show! Have you been doing a lot of live streams since the pandemic? If so, how have you been trying to translate the energy of your shows, into an online format? 

Roots of Creation: I was doing a “Friday Night LIVE” live stream every week for four months. It kept me sane and kept the band alive haha. It’s a completely different beast. I feel like it’s part game show, part comedy, part marketing, part performance, part therapy.  – Brett (Guitar/Vocals) 


Roots of Creation: With heavy (and important) themes of “Struggle” “Self-Doubt” and “Loneliness” Does music help you overcome these feelings? Is songwriting and performing therapeutic for you?  

TREASVRE: Yes, it’s definitely part of how we process our emotions and make sense of the world. Sam & Sabrina are our primary lyricists, and they often pull from their personal experiences when crafting the words to a song. While they’re thinking about lyrics, we also work as a band to hone in on the feelings and story we want to convey with the music. It really does force us to reflect, analyze, and come to terms with so many challenging aspects of being human. Performing is where it comes full circle. When the audience feels the music and we’re on stage feeling it resonates with them, it’s a cathartic experience. The energy in the room during a live show is something we sorely miss, and we can’t wait to get back to performing whenever that’s a possibility. 


TREASVRE is a band of five San Francisco Bay Area natives that blends elements of post-rock and shoegaze with rich synth textures, heavy guitar riffs, and electronic rhythms. Vocalists Samantha Peña and Sabrina Simonton create wistful harmonies that underscore the themes of nostalgia, melancholy, and hopefulness found in their lyrics. The drama and depth conveyed by the music creates a distinctly cinematic quality — one that captures the complex range of human emotion in beautiful and inspiring ways and begs to be experienced live.

The first of four new releases coming this year, Devils / Echoes EP wrestles with heavy themes that are especially pertinent during these times of social isolation. Through poignant and haunting imagery, these two songs examine how loneliness and self-doubt can take control, as well as the struggle to break free without losing oneself.

TREASVRE’s thoughtful take on these complex emotions are backed up by driving guitars, saturated synths, and groovy rhythms, creating a mood and energy that is hard to overlook.

For fans of:
M83, Mew, Autolux



From the #1 charting Billboard Reggae album, Grateful Dub: A Reggae-Infused Tribute To The Grateful Dead, singer/guitarist/producer Brett Wilson, and his band Roots of Creation, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original Grateful Dead release of “Casey Jones” by premiering an official music video of the song that was originally penned by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, and released by the Grateful Dead 50 years ago this month in June 1970 from the album Workingman’s Dead.

For their version of the song, Roots of Creation is joined by guest vocalist Dan Kelly of the Southern California Reggae band Fortunate Youth, while the track is complemented by the tight production of original Bob Marley engineering legend Errol “Tuff Sound” Brown. The recording has a spirited upbeat funky vibe, with explosive guitars and a unique Reggae tinge that would probably make both Bob and Jerry “smile smile smile….”


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Bands Interviewing Bands: TREASVRE (top) photo credit: Jeff Straw. Roots of Creation (bottom) photo credit



This week, we hosted a conversation between two inspiring women – both acting as genre tastemakers in their own right! Lia Menaker, a soulful vocalist with a modern twist of pop, electronic, and alternative R&B sounds, and Richitta, an up-and-coming artist in the R&B and hip-hop genres, with colorful vocals and pop rhythms steeped in her influential Chicago roots.

Richitta: One word to describe yourself as an artist? Why?

Lia Menaker: Soulful.

My music tends to come from a very honest, deep, raw place…a place of deep, passionate emotion and expression.

LM: I see you’re from the suburbs of Chicago. How has the city shaped you and your music? 

Richitta: Chicago has a history of great music, and that makes me want to continually challenge myself to create at my highest level.

Richitta: What is your favorite song from your EP ‘I Am Kyrøs’? Why?

LM: I think it keeps changing. At the moment, I think the opening track “All My Life” is my favorite. I like the tribal nature of it, and I think the chorus is the catchiest of the songs.

LM: Tell me about your latest release, “Quit Playin” – what inspired the song, and how did you go about creating it? 

Richitta: The song was inspired by frustration. I was tired of the dishonesty, cheating and selfishness. My producer Darius Holland sent the beat to me, I used my voice memo to write the song, and then went in the studio to record the song.

Richitta: Describe your songwriting process?

LM: So far, it has changed with every album (or singles, in the case of 2017) I’ve released. But right now, I usually start with a general topic (or maybe even just a feel I want), and I start playing around with a beat first. I loop it, and keep adding to the loop with ideas. I may add vocal effects for some texture and color, so I have more inspiration to create a melody to. Then I start using gibberish words (that occasionally stick!) to improv a melody too… all playing around, until something hits me in the right place. Then, I’ll add some keys and synth and such. Then I’ll put it to rest for a bit, and go back a few weeks or months later and start forming a true structure from the loop. And I’ll tweak things, add effects or change parts, write the lyrics and replace the scratch vocals with a real melody/vocal take.

LM: I love that 60’s pop feel to the groove in “Hurt” from your ‘Dreams Come True’ album. How did you come up with that instrumentation? 

Richitta: I told my producer that I wanted an old-school beat, and he came up with the instrumentation for “Hurt.”

Richitta: I love your theme streams. Can you explain what they are and how you came up with this idea?

LM: Thank you! I honestly can’t remember how I came up with it, but I’ve been live streaming music weekly on Twitch since November and after a while was struggling to find new content to play, outside of my own writing and improv looping. So I thought it would be a fun way to keep switching things up and engaging people while also challenging me.

LM: Before your latest release, you released an album in 2014. How do you feel you and your music has changed between then and now?

Richitta: I am more fearless with my music. I no longer hold myself back for fear of what others will say.

Richitta: Can you share a lesson you have learned that would be helpful to another artist?

LM: To keep moving forward. Don’t let any one song, or review, or setback, or form of rejection deter you from creating, growing, thriving, and doing what you do. Just stay focused on the music, how to keep getting better at it, and how to keep reaching people with it.

LM: Tell us – what’s your favorite guilty pleasure song? 

Richitta: Tiffany Evans – “TMI”.

Richitta: What is next for you?

LM: Lots of new music I’ll be releasing. All collaborations, which is super exciting! A rapper from Texas, JClay, is releasing a song soon that I’ll be featured singing on, plus I’m working with a jazz funk band based in Paris on a new tune. And more music as well, though these are the two closest to being done and released.

LM: What projects are you either currently working on, or gearing up to work on next? 

Richitta: I am planning to drop another single soon. Stay tuned.

Bands Interviewing Bands: Lia Meneker (bottom) photo credit: Liora Arianna. Richitta Taylor (top) photo credit: Gary Ward



We are so so excited to bring you another edition of Bands Interviewing Bands, where we bring two artists together for a dynamic interview covering everything from their creative process to their take on the music industry. 

This time we’re pairing up Wolf Rd, who tackles everything from heartbreak and toxic friendships to mortality and regret, and are heavily defined by their roots in their strong brotherhood in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with Austin based Sleeve Cannon, a rock band that blends their music with garage, psychedelic, blues, pop, & punk into a genre that can only be defined as their own.

Check out this week’s conversation as they delve into unexpected musical influences, a mutual love for live performances, and insider music industry advice.

Wolf Road: Congratulations on releasing your debut LP ‘KAPTV’! Normally, the release of a record is accompanied by lots of shows or touring, but obviously we’re living in unprecedented times. How are you guys staying busy? Have you come up with any interesting ways to promote the new record?

Sleeve Cannon: Thanks man! It was definitely weird to have our release coincide with this pandemic. We’ve really had to be more vigorous than we’ve ever been about promoting ourselves online and trying to reach new ears that way. We’re also using our online presence to talk about racial justice and inequality when we can, just because it’s something important to all of us. I’m a very silver-lining focused person though, I think this gap time will ultimately be a positive thing for our writing process.


SC: Obviously, this cursed year has ripped live music away from the world. So just to be even more sad and nostalgic, what’s the most memorable experience y’all have had while playing live?

WR: R.I.P. concerts in 2020. We’ve only done a couple shows so far, but they’ve all been really great. I think one thing that always gets us pumped up is playing “Oakton” live. Whenever we get to the end of the song people get up in our faces or get onstage to sing the refrain, the whole “I crossed my heart you broke it” part. There’s something really powerful about having people scream your own songs back at you. It’s goosebumps every time.

WR: What is the most rewarding part about being in a band for you? Some people are totally focused on playing live, others fall in love with the creative process or recording music. Maybe it’s even the influence you have on listeners or the ability to spread a message like the themes on ‘KAPTV.’

SC: Personally, the songwriting process is my favorite aspect. Taking a single lyrical phrase or melody or riff and crafting a song around that is such a cathartic experience. Even when the trial and error process of smoothing it out gets frustrating, it’s always coming from a place of love and excitement. It’s firing on all cylinders when it’s going right and it’s an incomparable feeling. 

SC: I can definitely hear and appreciate the influence of bands like Chicago’s Fall Out Boy on some of your vocal melodies on this EP! Coming from Des Plaines, how else has the music scene of Chicago shaped your sound? 

WR: Totally! We’re all huge Fall Out Boy fans. I think it’s impossible not to be influenced by the Chicago scene when you’re a band in the area. Certain bands like Rise Against, Fall Out Boy, Alkaline Trio – and now even Knuckle Puck and Real Friends – are just so pervasive in our scene that it’s impossible not to take notice. You’re either influenced by it, or you intentionally push back against those sounds. In our case, I’d say we’ve borrowed bits and pieces from all those bands I mentioned.

WR: There’s a lot of classic rock flair in Tre’s guitar solos on ‘KAPTV.’ Who are some of your guys’ influences when it comes to smoking hot solos? I feel like I’m picking up on some Jimi Hendrix in ‘Chameleon’ with the aggressive bluesy playing and grungy wah pedal shred.

SC: I was raised on a lot of classic rock, Slash, David Gilmour, and of course Hendrix was always a favorite. I studied some classical guitar in high school while also getting more into the funk/jazz world, and I try to blend a lot of those phrasings and voices while still staying true to my hard blues-rock roots.

SC: In my experience bands often have at least one huge musical influence that doesn’t really directly translate to their own band’s sound. Who’s one artist people might be surprised to learn that you admire and are inspired by?

WR: That’s a great question! I’ve never thought about that before. I think Rush is a big one for us. I think their lyrical depth has pushed us to write about things like mortality, politics, and existential topics, so that we’re not just singing about girls all of the time (but we definitely do that too).

WR: We’re gonna spin that right back at you. You guys are really upfront about wanting to incorporate a variety of influences into your sound. Who is one artist people might be surprised to learn you’re inspired by?

SC: I don’t think people would know it from my work in Sleeve Cannon, but Nile Rodgers and Chic, those disco type grooves are a heavy influence. And even more out of left field, I often think of the Tuvan group Huun Huur Tu with how I sometimes layer certain guitar parts and drone type things, and of course, I learned how to throat-sing from them.

SC: Chris & Nick, I saw you have the same last name. Are y’all related? If so, how does that affect your band dynamic, if at all?

WR: The Hoffmann boys are definitely related! We’re brothers, and I think it affects our band dynamic in a couple ways. Every band probably believes they’re a super tight group – but in our case, we have two actual brothers, two college fraternity brothers (Geoff and Devin at Indiana Tech), and three of us are also neighbors. Sometimes we can get a little heated, but I’d say the level of transparency we have always leads to better Wolf Rd songs at the end of the day.

WR: You guys formed back in 2017. Now that you’ve been playing together for a couple years, is there anything that’s surprised you about the music industry or creative process? Is there any piece of advice you’d give to yourself if you could go back in time?

SC: Practice to a metronome, invest in earplugs, self-imposed deadlines are usually more stressful than productive so let things flow and happen organically in their own time.

Follow Wolf Rd:

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Bands Interviewing Bands: Wolf Rd (top) photo credit: Alex Zarek. Sleeve Cannon (bottom) photo credit: Bethony Harnden


BANDS INTERVIEWING BANDS: Andrew Levin + Greg Owens & the Whisky Weather


Today we’re highlighting Andrew Levin and Greg Owens & the Whisky Weather in our latest edition of Bands Interviewing Bands. I love this series because it gives us the chance to highlight a little more of the behind the scenes that happens when musicians talk to other musicians—you know, talking method, lyrics, production, and all the little things in between.

To introduce our two artists today:

Andrew Levin has delighted audiences across the globe with his unique and soulful approach to music. His instantly recognizable sound is eclectic, experimental, and accessible, meticulously forged from years of working with different musicians from many walks of life and genres. Commitment to the craft shines through as Andrew is equally adept at writing a powerful song, creating evolving soundscapes, performing on a variety of instruments, and weaving this together in a way that makes sense.

Greg Owens grew up in a small rural town in West Tennessee just 80 miles North of Memphis. The youngest of four siblings, Greg often spent hours making mix tapes of their CD collections. Inspired by the songs of the nineties featuring The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Alice In Chains, Greg started playing guitar and writing songs at the age of 10. By 16, he was packing out local dive bars and felt he had found his purpose. 

Alright, alright, I won’t keep you waiting anymore. On with the interview!

Greg Owens: I know you play guitar and piano. Do you play any other instruments?

Andrew Levin: Yep! I play drums and bass as well as do a lot of sound design type of stuff. Of course I also sing vocals, which I would consider an instrument in its own way. I naturally suck at singing, so I had to work extra hard on that aspect of my musicianship.


AL: Do you usually start with the lyrics or the music? Or a little bit of both? 

GO: Usually I’m sitting with my guitar and I start playing a chord progression that inspires a melody, which then inspires lyrics.

GO: Which instrument do you find yourself writing on the most and how does that influence your songwriting? For instance, is a song you write on piano going to sound wildly different from a song written on guitar, or is it pretty much the same?

AL: That’s a good question! While I do write on piano, I tend to mainly write on acoustic guitar. Reason being, I thoroughly believe that a well-written song will fit with any genre of music, arrangement type, etc, and I find that the simplicity of acoustic guitar can help me get there.

AL: Do you find that the best songs you write come to you in a short period of time, say an hour or two, or do you find yourself writing songs over a few weeks? When I mean writing songs, I am referring to the chords/melody, not necessarily the arrangement. 

GO: Most of my more popular songs seem to get written relatively quickly. The first draft anyways. I always go back and edit. I did recently finish a song that I started writing a decade ago and I really like it.

GO: What inspires you to write? Are you generally writing about more personal things that are specifically happening to you or do you normally get inspiration from an outside muse like books, other music, or perhaps other people?

AL: It completely changes day to day. I generally like to tell stories, paint a picture, etc. My favorite musicians have inspired me to be a better person, to be more empathetic, and to think of things differently. That is really my main goal with writing my own music.

AL: What instruments are you playing on “Shouldn’t Be This Hard”? What is your production process usually like, and how much rehearsing do you do with your band before going into the studio? 

GO: On my new single, “Shouldn’t Be This Hard”, I play acoustic and electric guitar. So, being a singer/songwriter in Music City, I don’t really have a band. I just have, kind of a revolving door of musicians I call on, and they work with me if they’re not busy with another project. Most every musician here is a hired gun. For this track, I cut the demo with my friend and producer/engineer, Taylor Lonardo at his home studio. We then sent that to our friend who plays drums, Matt Heller, and all three of us recorded the rhythm tracks at Matt’s home studio.

GO: In your new single, “If I Died Today”, you sing “I wanna know what you’ll say when I’m gone”. I know as I get older this question comes up more often for me. Is this something you think about a lot and ideally, what might someone say when you’re gone? 

AL: To be perfectly honest if isn’t something I think about a ton. It was more inspired by hearing what people have said about others after they pass away and whether or not what they were saying was genuine. Ideally, I’d hope people would just remember me as a kind person with a good sense of humor and a passion for music/community! 

AL: I know that you talk about there being too many choices in “Shouldn’t Be This Hard”. Do you believe love is a gamble or an investment? Or both? 

GO: I think it’s both. I’d say at first, it’s a gamble. There’s no real way to know if it’s going to work out forever with someone before you start a relationship. Then, as you become more confident in the relationship you invest your time and energy so, in that way it’s an investment.

GO: I got the chance to dig through your song catalog some and one thing that stuck out to me was how impressive the production was. Are you involved in the production side of the music or do you hire someone? Are you working out of a home studio setup or is it more of a commercial studio? 

AL: Thanks! Yes I produce the majority of my own stuff. Production is a big part of what I do. That said, I do like to work with others as well. For this past song I collaborated with my friend Will Mandell at his studio, Broken Horn Studios in San Mateo, CA. He did the final mix down, recording, played bass and we worked together to get some real cool guitar tones.

AL: I’m interested to hear about your experience in Nashville. Being a California based artist (I’ve lived in LA for several years as well as SF), Nashville always seems like this cool, parallel universe of a music scene.

GO: I can’t imagine living anywhere but Nashville. The music community is super tight-knit and very diverse. That being said, it’s really tough. There’s a ton of talent here. I’d say that’s how living here has influenced me the most. It’s really made me step up my game. Some of my favorite local bands are The Weeks (rock) and Skylar Gregg (Americana).

GO: Let’s end with a fun one. If you could assemble the perfect band with musicians alive or dead, who would be in that band?

AL: Oh man… I’m gonna get weird with it. Not sure if this would work but if it would, it’d be beautiful: Stevie Wonder, George Duke, Atticus Ross, Jaun Alderete, Jeff Beck and Tony Royster Jr.

Andrew Levin:

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Greg Owens & the Whisky Weather:

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Bands Interviewing Bands: Andrew Levin (top) photo credit: Stefan Aronsen. Greg Owens & the Whisky Weather (bottom) photo credit: Alex Crawford

BANDS INTERVIEWING BANDS: Joss Jaffe + Waiting For London


For this Bands Interviewing Bands we paired up Joss Jaffe, who combines reggae and pop to create a blend of organic and electric sounds, and Waiting For London, an alt-rock band who describes themselves as “hookier than a bass tournament”. Jaffe has appeared in numerous festivals including Beloved, Lighting in a Bottle, Lucidity, Wanderlust, and more, and his album Meditation Music even reached the top 10 Billboard New Age Chart i 2019.

Waiting For London are gearing up for their June 6th EP release, ‘Worth The Wait’, the band promises an explosion of pop, rock, and even jazz and classical influences for a fusion of influences and personalities. 

In this interview, the two collide words to discuss method, share intimate stories, and discuss life during COVID-19.

Joss: The songs are awesome and guitar-driven, but I couldn’t help noticing the bass propelling the songs as well (loved the bass breakdown in Make You Mine). Let’s give a shout out to the Rhythm Section. I’m curious what the dynamic is like when you guys compose the ‘nuts and bolts’ of your songs?

WFL:  Great question!  It’s been a mixture of strategies so far.  Some songs (like “What Are You Waiting For”) had the music written by the producers at Loud Lion Productions in CT.   Ryan and Chris started working with them in February 2019 to write some songs for the new band before finishing the lineup. Considering the producers had the music mostly created, Ryan wrote lyrics for the songs.  Other songs, such as “Make You Mine” and the rest on our upcoming EP Worth The Wait, have been from Ryan’s previous solo career.  When he brought them to the table, we worked individually to develop our parts before bringing it to practice to see if it fit.  As for new material, we like to write guitars first usually, so we tend to start with a new riff from Ryan or Casey. Then we bring it to practice for Chris and Kevin to add the low end.


Waiting For London: What made you get into music?

Joss Jaffe: My Mom forced me to play guitar when I was 9. Literally. She said, my Dad and I have decided you must play a musical instrument. You can choose but you have to do it. Of course I chose the electric guitar. I remember being incredibly frustrated. My fingers just wouldn’t do it. They’d be bruised and have grooves in them from the strings. I actually hated it. After 1 year I demanded the lessons stopped. I was completely through. OK she said. A few years later when I went to a different school that had a big outdoors program, all the cool kids at the school played guitar including the girls (rawr). So I dusted out that old guitar from the closet and never went back. (Happy Mother’s Day!)


Joss: The melodies are super sweet, even in the hard rock inspired The Calling you have a lovely, laid back pop-style vocal melody on top. I’m curious if this dynamic of light and heavy was intentional and if you like juxtaposing different elements and if so, how you came to that style?

WFL:  Yes, it’s actually intentional and we’re glad you noticed that!  We’re all influenced by numerous genres of music.  Even though our music is categorized as pop/rock alternative, you can find elements of all sorts of genres in our songs.  For instance, in our Worth The Wait EP, we have songs that infuse a jazz drum beat (due to Kevin being a jazz drummer) with swinging pop/punk rock guitar melodies from Casey.  We also have songs that have a hint of classical piano from Ryan’s love of classical music partnered with Chris’s heavy style of playing bass.  We came into this band wanting to play music we love, so we decided to combine our influences to create a unique sound.


WFL: How do you find time to balance music with life?

JJ: There is a great book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. It describes how different artists over the epochs have divvied up their day. It’s true there are only so many hours in a day so we have to make them count! The thing I thought was interesting about the book is that there really was no formula, everyone had a wildly different schedule. The only similarity I could ascertain was that everyone just kept at it. They did something every day, even in the dry spells. So that is my main goal. Do a little bit every day to move the ball forward and over time we accomplish our goals, complete the albums, compose the songs. 


Joss: How are you staying sane in the era of Covid-19?

WFL:  A couple of us are essential employees, so we’ve been working.  Others are simply trying to stay busy and productive to stay sane!  It helps to keep in mind that there will be an end in sight for the quarantine in the North East and we’ll be able to play shows again soon.

WFL: What have you found is the best way to communicate with your fans?

JJ: Prior to Covid19 I think the best way has always been touring and performing live. That face-to-face contact is really the best way in my opinion and I really love a good live show. This unprecedented time has highlighted something that has already been here. The enormous power of social media and online tools to reach fans. I (like probably most other artists) have now done my first Zoom concert, Facebook Lives, Instagram Lives, Youtube Premiers, and various other ways to interact with fans online. Ultimately at the end of the day what you are looking for is making a connection, whether it’s face-to-face or millions of miles away through the online portal, you have to make that personal connection count and feel real. 

Joss: Where is Waiting For London going Next?

WFL:  Chris says, “To the top!”  Haha, actually we have plans of performing more once the quarantine lifts and working on more original songs to add to our set.  In the near future, we’ll be promoting our EP, doing some Livestreams, and launching all sorts of contests for our fans.  Regarding long term, we’d like to tour eventually and continue doing what we love.


Waiting for London

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Joss Jaffe

Bands Interviewing Bands: Joss Jaffe (top) Photo Credit: Kim Jae Yoon. Waiting For London (bottom) photo credit: Photo Credit: Maeve Imagery




Mohawk Bends and Lee Penn Sky couldn’t be more different—and yet, their passion for music brings them together. In this brand new Bands Interviewing Bands the two chat about their dream lineups, inspiration, and collaboration. Check it out!

Mohawk Bends: When writing and creating songs where do you typically draw inspiration from?

Lee Penn Sky: If you look at all the music I have produced, you will find some themes.  My songs are filled with landscapes… water, mountains, desert vistas etc.  I also use lots of biblical references which I find odd as I am in no way religious. I would say that increasingly I am inspired to write songs that essentially protest songs.  I am often inspired to write about people that I meet that tug at my imagination.

Lee Penn Sky: What’s the story behind your killer band name? 

Mohawk Bends: The Mohawk Bend is actually a bar/restaurant Chris used to hang out at in Echo Park when he was living in LA. He suggested it when we were trying to agree upon a name and it was one that stuck the most!

Mohawk Bends: Is there a musical event in your past that you credit with inspiring you to create and perform your own music? 

Lee Penn Sky: I would say there are three performances when I was fairly young which have always stuck with me.  The first was seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform, just him and his cello.  The way he played was so moving and powerful but also gentle and delicate. Another was seeing the great Maceo Parker perform with his band. Man, that was the funkiest, ass shaking-iest concert I have ever had the privilege to attend. It was in a 2000+ capacity theater and not one person sat the whole night.  They must have played for 4 hours. Finally, I was lucky enough to be at the first Lollapalooza Festival.  When Jane’s Addiction hit the stage the place figuratively and literally caught on fire. Again, I was amazed at the power of music. Whereas my music is not similar to these artists they have inspired me to create and perform art that is evocative. 

Lee Penn Sky: Being a solo act myself, I don’t often write collaboratively with others.  Can you talk about your writing process? 

Mohawk Bends: Our writing process is largely fueled by jamming with each other. We typically get in a room and just see what happens. Colin also writes a lot of riffs on his own and will send them to us in our little group chat. He has some great production skills, so he’s typically able to record a pretty solid demo to get his vibe and idea across for the whole song. It’s usually on Chris to do the words for most of the songs, but Colin also wrote some lyrics for our first record! Fortunately, we all tend to know the direction we want to take a new idea, so it’s rare that we disagree with the direction a song should go in!

Mohawk Bends: Have you performed with a band in the past? If not, do you ever think that having people to share songwriting responsibilities with would be enjoyable, or do you prefer having full creative control?

Lee Penn Sky: I started as a bass player and one of the primary songwriters in the band Mr. Picassohead out of Ann Arbor.  After moving to Idaho, I played for a number of years as a solo act. About 8 years ago I formed the band The Oliphants, a jam band which I write the material for.  We tour regionally and have a great time.  That band is often whom I turn to when I need a band for my solo material. Playing solo and being responsible for the entire show is both intense and very intimate.  Whether you are performing at a house concert or a large festival you are solely responsible for the audience feeling connected to you and to what you’re doing lyrically and musically.  I feel less freedom in that as the music is very directed as opposed to when I play with The Oliphants.  That band is all about the joy of the musical moment, we enjoy playing with each other so much that on stage we tend to turn in and face each other more than we turn out and face the audience.  The audience seems to connect with that energy and the band’s delight in each other. I couldn’t say which I enjoy more, my solo act or my band as they fulfill different artistic needs and couldn’t imagine one without the other.  

Lee Penn Sky: Has your writing process changed since your first single Plaster Cast to your latest See What You Do to Me?

Mohawk Bends: See What You Do to Me was definitely a more collaborative writing process. I think at this point, we’ve just become more comfortable with each other and know each other’s capabilities better, so we can take that into consideration when writing new songs.

Mohawk Bends: If you could create your dream line up for a touring band, who would you pick to back you up?

Lee Penn Sky: My current band is pretty choice! I play with some heavy lifters right now (David Gluck-drums, Troy” Rosie” Ferguson -bass, and Dan Costello-electric guitar/electric mandolin). But if you are asking me to choose a fantasy band, I would have to go with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or the famed LA Wrecking Crew with the addition of the Tower of Power horn section for good measure!

Lee Penn Sky: What bands have influenced your sound the most?

Mohawk Bends: Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Foals and Last Shadow Puppets.

Mohawk Bends: If you could choose one record to take to a desert island what would you take with you?  

Lee Penn Sky: I think it would be a toss-up between Steve Earle’s Just an American Boy and The Band’s The Last Waltz.  Both of these are live albums from artists that I never tire of listening to and always inspire me to be creative.

Mohawk Bends: What’s next for you now that the record has released? Any plans to tour? 

Lee Penn Sky: I’m going to start working towards my next release. I’ve been writing metaphorical songs relating to our current domestic political conflicts. 

I have a few festivals lined up for the summer and will be doing some regional touring. Likely I’ll find myself in California for a loop and also back home to Michigan.


Mohawk Bends:

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Lee Penn Sky:

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Bands Interviewing Bands:Lee Penn Sky (top) Photo Credit: Silly the Kid. Mohawk Bends (bottom) photo credit: Rachel Hunter

A Simple Morning Routine To Manifest Your Best Day


[Editor’s note: This post was written by D Grant Smith]

What are you doing today to live your best life?  Is that something you’ve thought about or are you going about your day in a routine that includes just doing things like you always have? Maybe that’s getting up after hitting snooze 5 times, feeling like you’re running out of time to get ready and get the kids to school and get to work on time. 

And oh crap! You have a staff meeting you’re supposed to be leading that you completely forgot about. Today is going to be rough…..

Suddenly you’re struggling to get things done, and you find yourself unmotivated to press through the day. By the time you get home you’re exhausted. You don’t want to do anything except veg out….

Yoga Meditation Vipassana

李磊瑜伽 / Pixabay

Until you go to sleep and wake up and live a version of that experience again tomorrow.

Sound familiar?

If so, here’s a simple routine that I do every morning gives me a fantastic day consistently. It’s so good, that I wouldn’t recognize my old self 4 years ago.

In 2016 I was just starting my growth journey and beginning to make some new choices about my regular mindset. I didn’t have a routine in the morning other than waking up and making coffee for my (then) wife. 

My work day was sporadic and uncertain. I wasn’t empowered to live my best life, and I didn’t bring my best self to every conversation and interaction I had. I wasn’t my best for my partner/wife because I wasn’t my best for myself.

Fast-forward to present day.  My morning consists of: 

  • Waking up early (5:30-6A usually) 
  • Journaling 
  • Prayer/meditation 
  • Work out 
  • Eat breakfast
  • Hit the office by 8:20 am 

I empower myself with a few mental, spiritual and emotional exercises that ensure my full day is richly blessed.

Here’s my sequence for having my best day every day:

Write down 2-3 goals for the next day before you go to bed.

Write what you’re going to do and tell yourself you’re going to do them well. They’re going to be amazing experiences. You’re planting seeds of success the night before.

Go to bed before midnight.

Some people say go to bed by 10:30pm. If you’re a business owner that’s not always feasible (right?). Or if you’re a parent. I don’t have kids but I understand how kids can keep you up unless you mandate a certain bedtime.

Either way, go to bed before midnight and calm your mind before you turn out the lights to sleep. Meditation helps.

Beach Australia Sea Ocean Nature

TWN / Pixabay

Wake up early.

I wake up between 5:30 and 6am (the alarm is set for 6 but I regularly wake up earlier). Waking up early super-charges your day. You have more energy, enthusiasm, and power to make your full day awesome.

Spend the very first part of your day in gratitude.

You can lay in bed and just be thankful for everything and everyone in your life that you are grateful for. Be grateful for your closest relationships and the people you love most. 

Tell God thank you for your job and the blessings it gives you. If you want a new job or new opportunities, thank Him for giving you that. Gratitude opens every door in heaven and earth.

Spend time writing in a journal 3 things:

A). 2 things you’re thankful for (you started the day in gratitude, now write it down)

B). A short list of affirmations. Plant seeds of love for yourself in your mind and heart. Journaling this transforms how you see yourself, how you feel about yourself, and it attracts more of what you want into your life. Some of my daily affirmations are: I Am Love. I Am Peace. I Am Solid. I Am Whole. I Am Serving More People & Making A Massive Impact On The World Today.

C). Write out what you’re doing today and say that it is blessed and successful. Abraham Hicks calls this “scripting.” I read about this in her book Ask And It Is Given (part of my 2019 reading list).

Essentially, you write out what your day is going to look like, what you’re going to do and you state that whatever it is will be a blessing to you and to those in your life. I write down business opportunities suddenly showing up, people I’m going to meet and get to serve, success with selling my book, etc.

This is faith put into action. It’s powerful. It’s how you create the life you dream about. 

I’ve connected with influential business leaders, mentors, and clients doing this one exercise. As my relationships and success builds, my business grows too. It’s a massive win and easy to make happen.

Adult Diary Journal Notebook Book

Pexels / Pixabay

After you’ve written this in your journal, read it out-loud to yourself.

Or whisper it if you don’t want to wake your spouse or roommates. Either way, speak what you’ve written.

There are 2 reasons for this: 

  • First, you’re making a commitment to yourself and choosing yourself by doing this routine. You’re fighting for your life and fighting for your best self. 
  • Second, you’re making a contract with yourself that’s both verbal and written. I live in Texas and in this state a verbal and written contract is binding. As you love yourself you honor yourself and the commitments you make to yourself. And you also attract people into your life who honor the commitments they make to you. 

That’s it. I also encourage you to eat breakfast and exercise if working out in the morning works for you. Some people prefer to exercise in the afternoon around lunch time. Others like to exercise after work. 

To each their own. But do exercise. Your physical health is as important as your mental, emotional and spiritual health. Diet plays a role here too.

Commit to doing this every day for 30 days. Then keep it going. Let me know what you experience after the first week. I promise you’ll love the results.

I believe in you. You’re worth fighting for!

D Grant Smith is known as the Growth Farmer, which means he has an old-fashioned approach to living a whole & healthy life. His new book Be Solid: How To Go Through Hell & Come Out Whole is about the journey into self-love and self-care after heartbreak and personal loss. He’s an empowerment superhero who would love to give you encouragement so feel free to reach out!




This week we’re chatting with California reggae-rock artist Sunny State and Austin’s synth-babes Moonray, for an insightful interview on the songwriting process, touring, and their personal heroes and inspiration (among tons of other things like their favorite food and albums!) 

Sunny State: Please explain your songwriting process. Does one of you bring the other an idea fully or partially formed? Do you compose music/chord progressions first or Lyrics or Melody? What instrument(s) do you usually write on?

Moonray: We have many ways we come up with songs. Sometimes a melody will pop into our head and has a snowball effect into completion quite quickly. Other times, we will come up with a beat we like on a specific drum machine and work on it over time. Other times we let our instruments guide us. We may take a travel-size setup while traveling or camping and the destination may inspire us. We typically start with a drum machine and a synthesizer. 

Moonray : Is there a certain state, city, country that inspires your music more than others? 

Sunny State: When writing new songs, my biggest inspiration has always come from traveling to new places. There is something liberating and freeing about being in a new place. Inspired by different surroundings, sounds, smells, tastes, cultures.  

Sunny State is based out of  San Jose, CA A.K.A. The Silicon Valley. Here in the Bay Area, we are surrounded by various cultures and ways of life, but the majority of people here also have a lot in common. There’s an energy here since the cost of living is so high that you can’t work hard enough and there is always something more you can do. I think, in Sunny State, we try to combat that heavy energy radiating with positive laid back vibes. As a way to remind people to stop and smell the roses. “Relax, it’s all going to be ok and it’s ok to feel good and be happy.” So, in one way or another, our environment certainly inspires what we create. 

Sunny State: What is your favorite thing about being in a musical project as a couple?

Moonray: We challenge each other and we eat, breathe and sleep it! It’s nice being able to keep each other accountable for not just the music aspect but our health and our lifestyle. We try to take care of our vessels so we can travel through the stars. Our musical project would not be where it is if we hadn’t both committed to our health first. It’s great when you have a partner that you can rely on during the tough times and we love being able to make music together. 

Moonray: If there is one thing in the world you could change what would it be? 

Sunny State: Just one thing? Hmm… That’s a really tough question. 

As I sit here debating what the ONE thing would be, looking at environmental, ethical, sociological, political. 

Any way I look at it, there is no ONE RIGHT ANSWER… 


If I, truly,  had the power to change ONE thing, I don’t think I could, in good conscious, change a thing. In my humble opinion, everything, ultimately, works out for the best, despite how long it may take to get there or the horrific sacrifices made. The turmoil is what helps us all to grow and makes us stronger. It is what determines and molds us into who we are. 


Sunny State: What do you look forward to most before one of your shows?

Moonray: The thrill of getting to connect with our fans and share our music. 

Moonray: Who are your top five heroes? 

Sunny State:

  1. My Brother Frane
  2. My Wife
  3. AOC
  4. My Mother
  5. The spider living in our room—ya never know where he’ll end up

Sunny State: Describe what your perfect, most fantastic day, would look like. 

Moonray: It’s such a hard question to answer but I think every day is perfect in its own way, living in the moment is what keeps us going. But if there is no limit to this perfect day, we’d both be super heroes flying over the world saving those from danger and curing diseases. 

Moonray: If you could take one CD or Album on a deserted island which one would it be and why? 

Sunny State: WHAT!?! One!?! Another JUST ONE question!?! Hahahahah Just kidding… But seriously, how could you choose just one? Ok, ok… I would probably take one of the Buddha Bar Albums because they’re so epic. That way, I would never get tired of someone’s voice or lyrics and could continuously reimagine the song for the rest of my life on this deserted island. 

Sunny State: Tell us about your favorite performance ever.

Moonray: Our favorite performance has been opening for Alice Merton on her first No Roots tour at Stubbs in Austin, TX.

Moonray: What is your favorite part about creating music ? 

Sunny State:  Watching a song go from the seed of the idea and evolve through the studio and, eventually on stage, is a powerful process for me. It takes so much time and passion that it is a wonder songs get finished hahaha. That is a very satisfying process. 

The other side is that music is food for my soul. 

I recently took a step back from music and didn’t even realize until I had stepped back into it, how much my soul was longing for the outlet of writing lyrics and melody and singing at the top of my lungs. Talk about liberating! Creating music makes me feel like I am flying from mountain top to mountain top, stopping for little picnics along the way with my favorite people and family, only to leap off the next peak and do it all again. 

Moonray: What’s your favorite thing to put on toast ? 

Sunny State:  Ummm, Duh! Avocado with Everything-but-the-bagel seasoning. 

Sunny State: What is one thing you often feel others would understand you better if they knew?

Moonray: We both come from a past history of dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and have overcome a lot of obstacles to create our music and our business and stay on a healthier path of light. 

Sunny State captures a fresh modern reggae vibe through their energetic and positive songs of love and empowerment. With powerful vocals, ukulele and guitar, Sunny State brings island vibes to each and every gig. Their diverse line up of songs tantalizes the ears in English, French, Spanish and even Croatian, using the island heritage of their frontman “Cristo”, Chris Reed, whose family originates from an island in the Adriatic Sea.


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Influenced by the genius of legends including Prince, Madonna, Jimi Hendrix, and more, Moonray’s music glimmers and shines with the brilliance of ‘80s synths, dynamic electric guitar, free-spirited ‘70s vibes, and lots of positive energy.

In addition to forming a working partnership, the duo is also a real-life couple and draws on their individual experiences and strengths to speak to their listeners in an uplifting, relatable way. Jonray, a fifth generation Texan and multi-instrumentalist, and Barbara, a business-savvy lover of theater who grew up between Mexico and Austin, create freely and without limits, using their worldly melodies and lyrics to shine a restorative, hopeful light for those who need it.


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Bands Interviewing Bands: Sunny State (top) Photo Credit: Arabella Espinoza. Moonray (bottom) photo credit:Taylor Prinsen Photography

Bands Interviewing Bands: The Retinas and Dog Drive Mantis


The Retinas: Your music has an eclectic style to it, who would you say your influences are? Do you have shared influences or does everyone in the band bring a different background element in that regard?

Dog Drive Mantis: We all share a little bit of common ground in terms of influences but overall, we come from very different places. Neil (Drums) and Derek (Jazz) have their roots in jazz and music theory, whereas Carmen (bass) and I (Mike, Guitar) generally started out interested in Alternative rock and learning/writing songs by ear. A few bands that come to mind would be Tool, Broken Social Scene, Streetlight Manifesto, Toe.


Dog Drive Mantis: I like the deep bass synth at the beginning of ‘Fix That Up’. What is it exactly, and do you plan to use more synths in the future?

The Retinas: That’s a synth bass we have. And yes, we definitely are looking to expand and
broaden our instrument footprint on future recordings. Part of the fun for us is finding new
sounds and experimenting with something completely new.


The Retinas: A lot of the songs feel like you’re building a landscape to me, how has your hometown Mississauga influenced your writing?

Dog Drive Mantis: Mississauga itself actually hasn’t been a huge driver in our sound, but the beauty of living here is that we’re right in the middle of various music scenes that we can participate in. Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener, etc. Our “landscape building” likely comes from our writing process (more detail on that below, stay tuned)

Dog Drive Mantis: How long have you all been writing and performing together?

The Retinas: Anthony (drums) and I (Thomas – vox, guitar) have been playing together for about 8 years. But as this unit with Andy (bass) we’ve been playing for about 3 years.

The Retinas: What does the writing process look like for Dog Drive Mantis? Does one person have an idea that everyone comes together on? Do you all sit down to write at the same time? Is it improv or more hard writing?

Dog Drive Mantis: Most of our songs start from the first few minutes of our practice sessions where we’d improvise a jam (usually initiated by Carmen) and one of us would be wise enough to pull out the phone to record the audio. A lot of those improvisation jams end up in an endless archive of cacophonic eternity, but a few of them have snuck through the cracks and turned out to be songs we decided to keep. From the recorded audio of improvisation, we pick pieces that we like and then build on them from there. Constantly refining our structure and nuances, it can often take months to complete a song.

Dog Drive Mantis: Favourite venue to play in Philly? Why?

The Retinas: Ortliebs. We love Ortliebs, because they’re the best venue for the actual scene of Philadelphia. They book all different types of acts, support local and touring artists in every way they can and I’ve seen some of the coolest shows I’ve been too there.

The Retinas: If you could play with any musician/band from any time period, who would it be and why?

Dog Drive Mantis: I’ll tell you mine and then I’ll give you my best-educated guess of the other guys:

● Mike: Toe around the time of “For Long Tomorrow”; I’m always in awe watching their live videos. As a group, their live performance is a beautiful display of synergy and passion.
It inspires me.
● Carmen: The Beatles, Revolver
● Derek: Chris Potter, now
● Neil: Tool, now

Dog Drive Mantis: Which artist would you tour with if you could pick anyone in any time period?

The Retinas: The Replacements. We all share a love for them, and from what I’ve read they
were crazy to tour with and always having a blast. They didn’t take themselves to seriously and genuinely put everything they have into what they were playing.

The Retinas: If you could’ve written any song by any musician/band, what would it be
and why?
Dog Drive Mantis: The entire album “Sketches of Brunswick East” by King Gizzard and the
Lizard Wizard ft. Mild High Club is really just one long song split up into multiple tracks, and each one is so unique and hard to classify. I’ve always wondered how they were able to connect them in such a creative fashion.

Dog Drive Mantis: Explain your songwriting process.

The Retinas: Typically I’ll have an idea that I’ll bring to the band. We’ll start to expand on it and work on it as a unit and everyone develops their part. We have our own studio so we’ll demo it a million times to hear back what it sounds like before we finally record it.


The Retinas: What’s on the horizon for Dog Drive Mantis?

Dog Drive Mantis: We’re back to the writing phase, holding off for shows for the time being while we being full-length album #2. It will take some time, but we’re excited for how the final product will turn out.

Dog Drive Mantis: What is different about your upcoming self titled release vs. your older tunes? 

The Retinas: The older tunes we’re a lot of piled up songs from over the years that we re-
recorded to get a clearer sound for release. We love those songs, and we’ve had them for
years. The album is an almost completely new set of songs, written together on tour and
in-between. We specifically tried to get out of writing patterns and styles and put something completely out of our element that still had the trace signature style of us. We also wanted every song to be completely different from the rest which I think we accomplished.

The Retinas

Inspired by iconic artists such as The Pixies, The Strokes, and The Replacements, the Philly power trio of Thomas McHugh (vocals/guitar), Anthony Fulginitti (drums), and Andy Silverman (bass), who are best known as The Retinas, effortlessly couple nostalgia with the thrills and pains of being alive. 


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Dog Drive Mantis

Dog Drive Mantis is the Toronto (Mississauga)-based sonic brew of Derek Serbin, Mike Papaloni, Carmen Haines and Neilroy Miranda. Since their formation in October of 2015, the band has blended progressive indie post-rock with jazz fusion, always exploring new ways to add to the experiential mix that is their music.






Bands Interviewing Bands: The Retinas (top) photo credit: Ashley Cordoba. Dog Drive Mantis (bottom) photo credit:  Zarrar Salik

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