All Posts By Angela Mastrogiacomo

Bands Interviewing Bands: Shadow of Whales & Vaeda Black


With a passion for creating music and spreading hope through friendships comes Austin five-piece, Shadow of Whales. They are all songwriters, they all love music, and more importantly, they all love people. The band made their debut appearance at the Austin Convention Center in front of thousands of people for DellWorld; this act brought them to appear on TV only weeks later on KTBC – FOX 7. Less than a year later, SoW released their debut self-titled EP and saw an explosion of support from their quickly growing fan base and the web. The debut EP charted on CMJ’s Top 200 and has seen regular rotation at Starbucks Coffee and Hollister stores across the United States and Canada.


We decided to pair up these experienced bandmates with emerging alt-pop artist, Vaeda Black, who has just released her debut single, “Face Down.” Just 16-years-old, this native New Yorker has a powerful stirring voice, reminiscent of early soul, with comparisons to Lorde and Lana Del Rey, with lyrics that are profound and poignant beyond her years. The best songs are a mirror image allowing the listeners to reveal themselves in the music. Her music accomplishes this and much more. Vaeda Black’s songwriting and delivery is the wizardry that conjures the soul.

Check out the interview below.

Shadow of Whales: I imagine being surrounded by thousands of talented and ambitious people in New York would be a surreal experience for any young musician. Do you think living in New York has done more to hinder or foster your creativity?

Vaeda Black: Though New York is so big, and can be even overwhelming at times, I feel like it’s inspired me musically. New York is filled with opportunities to get out there and share your art.

Vaeda Black: What is your writing process?

Shadow of Whales: Very collaborative. None of our songs are made by just one person. Even if someone has a major hand in a large portion of the song, every one of the band members usually has their take and revisions that may or may not get made. One of our favorite things we do every year is rent out a cabin on AirBnB (or find a friend with property) for a weekend where we go through all the demos and partially written songs that each of us has made and just start writing and collaborating together.

Shadow of Whales: What inspired you to make your music the way it is? And where do you see yourself going from here as a musician?

Vaeda Black: My music is something that has been, and always will be, a part of who I am. Music is a feeling and that’s what’s driven me to make my music honest and a reflection of myself. So I guess you could say the experiences I’ve had, the music I listen to, and everything in between has inspired my music. As a musician, I know I’m going to be constantly growing, and since I’ve begun writing, I’ve already seen growth in myself and growth in the passion behind everything I do. I just see my music evolving into something beautiful and relatable.

Vaeda Black: For each of you, what is your favorite song you’ve created?

Shadow of Whales:

Josh: “Forever” off of our first EP because of the rhythm line and verse progression. I was proud of our use of standard tuning for that song. [Laughs] Lyrically, my favorite song we’ve created would be “Pretenders.” Collaboratively, I’d pick “Runaway.”

Jeremy: Musically, “Roots” is the most fun for me to play as the bass player, but lyrically, “Runaway” for sure. It’s hard to not be affected by the emotions put in and expressed by that song.

JD: “Runaway.” I remember driving up to the rehearsal space two years ago and hearing the seeds of that song for the first time. I rushed in and knew it was something special. It’s one of those songs where the personal meaning continues to evolve and grow with the band as we grow.

Shadow of Whales: We’re told you have a background in Musical Theater. How do you feel this affects your performance on stage?

Vaeda Black: It’s definitely helped me with my stage presence and performance. It helps me get my message across more clearly. Through acting, I’m able to bring myself to the emotional place I was in when I was writing the song, which I can channel into the performance. Musical theater has taught me a lot about the ins and outs of putting on a show and how to connect with an audience. I’m not always conscious of it, but I think it has helped me in that way.

Vaeda Black: I listened to the song “Animals” and I really liked it. What was the inspiration for that song?

Shadow of Whales: That’s a tough one to explain. [Laughs] The concept I think is simple enough though and could help bridge the gap. Essentially, we are of the belief that everyone has a dream, or at least what one would consider the best version of themselves. The world and society often has a lot of rules and regulations that state how each person should be. While those rules fit for some people, others lie outside the box that they are forced to fit into.

Much in the same way that animals have a basic instinct and personality that is inside them regardless of their training, humans have dreams, aspirations and livelihoods that reside within them. These dreams and personalities can sometimes be suppressed by the box that society tries to fit everyone into. “Animals” is a call to action to be the animal that lives inside of them and no longer allow themselves to be chained to the wall of society.

In other words, follow your dreams and live your best life. It might not fit inside society’s box and that’s not always a bad thing. The inspiration came from talking to our fans every day and reading about their dreams and who they want to be but also how they felt they would never be able to do that; be it because other people in their lives told them they couldn’t or because they had more complicated issues beyond that holding them back. So short story long, our fans inspired that song.

Shadow of Whales: What’s your take on the recent news that iTunes Music Downloads might be going away in 2019? What’s your thoughts on a potential ‘stream-only’ world?

Vaeda Black: It’s making me sad. What ever happened to downloading music or burning a CD? It almost seems like a joke now. But in all seriousness, I think a streaming is great for the listener, but a con for the artist. It makes it harder for new artists to get their music noticed. I’ve always preferred buying music because I know that there’s someone out there working their butt off to make a career out of their passion and I want to support them! But of course, the stream-only world is inevitable so we have to roll with the punches.

Vaeda Black: What has been the most memorable moment between the band and why?

Shadow of Whales: Warped Tour, definitely. Growing up listening to all the bands on Warped Tour and then actually being able to play on the Ernie Ball stage in San Antonio a year or so ago was a dream come true. South by So What is close to that. Being told that our music is streaming inside Hollister is also definitely a big one for us.

Shadow of Whales: “Face Down” is ‘hands down’ an amazing track! Could you peel the layers and explain the meaning behind the line “I’ll call for your submission and you’ll pay the price with your face down”?

Vaeda Black: Everyone wants something they know they shouldn’t or can’t have, even if they’re struggling to admit it. The message I was trying to send with “Face Down” is that it’s okay to have deep dark desires because you’re simply not alone in them. So in that particular line, it’s almost like the line of acceptance. You may hang your head lowly not wanting to admit that you want this thing, but by submitting to your desires you’re freeing yourself. When I use the word “I,” I’m not  so much referring to Vaeda Black, but to the mind and inner thoughts of the listener. “Paying the price” may be different for everyone, but it’s about admitting the desires you have to yourself.

Follow Shadow of Whales:
Website | Facebook | Twitter Youtube | Instagram

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Website | Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud | Instagram

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Bands Interviewing Bands: Shadow of Whales (top) photo credit: Fox & Florals Media. Vaeda Black (bottom) photo credit: Tracey Spero 

Bands Interviewing Bands: Jeff Michaels & Ten Two


Whether his music is being played during some of television’s most popular reality shows or inspiring people in the aftermath of Boston’s worst terrorist attack, singer-songwriter and pianist Jeff Michaels has been entertaining fans with thought-provoking lyrics examining today’s biggest social and political issues while infusing them with his unique brand of humor. Jeff’s dedication to the independent music scene has been a lifelong cause and several of his songs have been licensed to over a dozen television shows, appearing in episodes of The Real World and Teen Moms (MTV) and the T.O. Show (VH1). Jeff was also a member of pop band Luce, whose music appeared on major motion picture soundtracks for How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey) and 13 Going on 30 (Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Andy Serkis)!


I introduced him to California native and Florida resident Ten Two, former frontman of the alt-rock band Still the Sky’s Limit, who is now embarking on his debut solo journey. With so much in common, and yet so incredibly different, these two artists got to talking for our latest installment of Bands Interviewing Bands.

Jeff Michaels: I always like finding similarities with other artists who, at first glance, might seem completely different. The first thing that struck me was that a large part of your bio talks about your name, Ten Two. I love that you came up with a cool way of using your initials from Johnny B, as being the tenth and second letters in the alphabet. How long did it take you to come up this, and did know you it was going to be your new name the moment you did?

Ten Two: You know, I can’t remember the exact moment I came up with the moniker Ten Two, but what I do remember thinking is that I want this project to be as personal as possible, and I also didn’t want a long band name. I knew it was going to only be me and my acoustic guitar (at least to begin with). When it did hit me, I knew it was the name I was going to go with. My previous band, Still The Sky’s Limit, had actually begun as a solo project as well, but I expected that to grow into a full band, so it was a bit of a different mindset going in.

Ten Two: I’m very intrigued by how the relationship with your songwriting partner, Chris Teffner, came about. Being that you two are almost completely across the country from one another, how did that collaborative effort begin?

Jeff Michaels: Completely across country, and nearly complete opposites in musical styles when we first met, it truly is a wonder! Chris is a native of Vermont and we met when I was looking for a guitarist for my band in Boston. He grew up on heavy metal cover bands and I had my doubts he would like my mild piano rock, but he stepped into rehearsal and the moment we met him, we knew he was something special. I was bummed when he moved away, but we’ve actually done more working back and forth than we managed to accomplish when he lived nearby!

Jeff Michaels: Similar to myself, you’ve moved from California to the East Coast. Have you been in the music scene down in Florida long enough to say how it compares to the scene in Orange County, CA?

Ten Two: For me, growing up in Orange County, California, there was absolutely zero music scene in terms of my style of music. I grew up adoring the sounds of New Jersey and New York for the most part, centered really in the feel of bands like Taking Back Sunday and The Early November. Sprinkle in Dashboard Confessional and that about sums up my adolescent music enlightenment.

Orange County is (or at least was) extremely centered in the Hardcore scene; which just isn’t my go-to style of music. We’d have to drive to San Diego, which is about an hour and a half south from where we grew up, to find a scene somewhat conducive to our tastes. But what happened is we were given the opportunity to tour across the country, and when we arrived in Orlando we found that there were quite a few bands similar in style to us, and a ton of producers that specialized in the very same. So, when I was offered the opportunity to move to Orlando, my immediate thought was it would be a perfect location to finally have a true shot at jumping into a music scene that is what I’ve grown up enjoying. Definitely two drastically different focuses in Orlando, Florida and Orange County, California.

Ten Two: You make a new holiday single every year. Was that a conscious effort, did you know you would continue releasing one each subsequent year from the start, or did it just happen organically and built upon itself?

Jeff Michaels: Not at all. This was actually an idea my dad had years ago, and I struggled for many years to write a holiday song. They aren’t easy, if you’ve ever tried! There is so much clichéd holiday music, and I wanted to try and write something really cool, like “Father Christmas” by the Kinks. The first holiday song I released was “Too Cold for Santa,” in 2012, which I thought was great, yet my wife told me was far too depressing for the holidays. I managed to write a new one each of the last few years, and think I’ve finally gotten the one I wanted in this year’s release, “It’s Been a Long Time, Christmas.”

Jeff Michaels: In deciding to start your new project, Ten Two, you mention the decision involved an “end of days in the realm of performing music.” Why is this? Did you not think you would ever front a band with your new project?

Ten Two: The decision was really to either put music behind me or continue moving forward. I had played a very long time in bands that never had any sort of traction, granted Still The Sky’s Limit was by far the best and closest to gaining traction. The decision to continue on was a very easy choice to make, because I just love writing, performing, recording, sharing, and experiencing everything there is within the realm of music and creative expression. I just knew it would once again be a great challenge, but I also knew I was more than ready for it.

Ten Two: I can see the Dave Matthews influence in your former pop band Luce. What was the catalyst that saw you branch off from the band?

Jeff Michaels: Man, that’s a great question for many reasons! Luce was my first professional gig as a keyboardist, and I always thought they could’ve gone into even more of a DMB sound. They ended up replacing me after our very first cross-country tour with a trumpet player who also played keyboards, so it was really an economy of scale. I was also working on my own material at the time, so it was a natural progression which lead to forming my own band.

Jeff Michaels: Your new album Forth is coming out January 5th. Can we expect a tour and more from Ten Two in 2018?

Ten Two: There will be at least four different music videos to accompany the album. One is ready so far, just waiting for a proper release of it, and the three others will be filmed at the end of December. I would love to tour; it’s my favorite thing to do in the world. I just have to figure out the logistics of it, but definitely will be playing shows locally until I can figure out the touring.

Ten Two: it’s been a great pleasure learning about your musical journey, Jeff. I’m definitely going to be keeping up with all that comes from your neck of the woods going forward! What’s next for you?

Jeff Michaels: I’ve written a new album that I am just starting production on shortly that will hopefully be out next spring. As mentioned, I’m getting away from my band sound and really peeling back the layers to see what I can accomplish with songwriting when it’s naked and raw and right there in front of you. I’m hoping this album leads to some new performing opportunities. I’d love to tour Europe and play house concerts, so if anyone is reading this and interested, hit us up!

Follow Jeff Michaels:

Twitter | Website | FacebookYouTube | “It’s Been a Long Time, Christmas” on iTUNES

 Follow Ten Two

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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Bands Interviewing Bands: Jeff Michaels (left) photo credit: Julie Young. Ten Two (right) photo credit: Ramses Ochoa

Jeff Michaels Releases New Holiday Single “It’s Been A Long Time, Christmas”


For the past five years, Boston-based singer-songwriter Jeff Michaels has released a holiday single and accompanying video. Each has been a unique look at Christmas, from “Too Cold for Santa” in 2012 to “Hey Santa (Bring Me Some Lovin’),” an effort to do no more than spread holiday cheer. This year, Michaels has released “It’s Been a Long Time, Christmas,” a simple call for the return of Christmas and the brighter days we all need.


“This song was a gift,” says Michaels. “I was working on several ideas, but nothing was grabbing me. I scrapped everything, closed my eyes, and hit record. This flowed out, start to finish.”

In a year filled with tragedies and natural disasters that have devastated so many, Michaels knew he had something special. He immediately sent his guitar and vocal demo off to his producer and songwriting partner, Chris Teffner, mentioning that he felt the song had a bit of a retro, John Lennon feel. Teffner immediately grasped the concept, and the next day Michaels dashed off to purchase a special microphone to capture the Lennonesq sound. Two days later the song—and self-produced video, was done.

“The thing that always amazes me is how fast these come about,” says Michaels. “I have to believe that projects like this are simply meant to be.”

Michaels and Teffner are no strangers to working quickly. Time and again they have produced complete songs in just a few days’ time, sending tracks back and forth between their home studios in Boston, MA and Scottsdale, AZ. Along with co-writing Michaels’s last record, Townie Paradise, the pair has built up a substantial catalog and are actively working on writing for film and TV projects. Past placements for Michaels have included songs on The Real World and Teen Mom (MTV), The T.O. Show (VH1), and CBS Sports Spectacular.

Find Jeff Michaels new Holiday Single “It’s Been a Long Time, Christmas” at iTUNES:

Follow on Twitter: @jmichaelsrocks
Official Website:

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Jeff Michaels Releases New Holiday Single “It’s Been A Long Time, Christmas”

Bands Interviewing Bands: K-Bust and Lindsay Katt


Every now and again you find someone you hit it off with in the most magical way. Someone whose work, soul, and being you can find inspiration in—a kindred spirit. When I introduced Montreal electro-pop sensation K-Bust and award-winning filmmaker and solo artist (in every sense of the word) Lindsay Katt, it was clear that there was a blossoming friendship almost immediately—and it made for a compelling interview. These two powerful women interviewed one another for our Bands Interviewing Bands series, uncovering what drives them, what makes them tick, and how they’ve transformed their careers in this industry.


Lindsay Katt: Name one thing that you want to do more than win any major award or accolade?
K-Bust: I think that would be to jump out of a plane with a parachute. I’ve always dreamt of flying, like doing it with my own wings, like a bird. I’d like to find a way that would allow me to fly free, like some sort of a cloak for instance.

K-Bust: Besides music, what’s that one thing you can’t go a day without?
Lindsay Katt: Engaging with love, both towards myself, and towards others.

Lindsay Katt: What made you choose to pursue your creative expression through music?
K-Bust: I’ve always felt that I didn’t choose it, that it was all the way around instead. I’ve always felt really attracted to music like it was some sort of a magnet. I discovered that I loved music at the age of 4 when I wanted to have a guitar more than a toy. Throughout my life, making music became like a vital need, like breathing; I’m definitely in love with it.

K-Bust: Being such a talented musician, how did you get into filmmaking?
Lindsay Katt: I got into film because I had an idea that I cared about, and that included learning about filmmaking. I didn’t let my lack of experience keep me from engaging in a field I knew nothing about, and I wasn’t afraid to learn, be vulnerable, or work extremely hard. When I was afraid, I focused my energy on doing my best work. I now have 3 years of experience, and a degree of confidence…and what I don’t know…is still most things (at least statistically). I do know that the love of filmmaking is a part of me now and I plan to do a lot more of it in the future. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Lindsay Katt: What lights you up more than anything and causes you to lose time?
K-Bust: I would say more than anything, music and everything revolving around it. I could spend my whole day listening to my favorite artists and watching their live music videos. I just don’t see the time pass.

K-Bust: Congrats on your new film, The Avant-Gardener. I felt really touched by your work. I’m really curious: what’s the inspiration behind it?
Lindsay Katt: Thank you so much. Coming from you that really means a lot. It was initially sparked by a thought process about soundtracks for movies, and why I haven’t seen more works of film designed around music. I wanted to make a film track to a record, similar to a soundtrack to a movie. Ten short films that could be viewed individually and still make sense as music videos…but that also interlock into a short seamless narrative film. As the project matured, it really grew into this robust film, and now it feels like a living group of multiple moving parts. I have a hard time separating the music from the film, and vice versa.

Lindsay Katt: If you could name one book that defines you as a person, which would it be?
K-Bust: Love this question by the way; my favorite one is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

K-Bust: Who’s that one artist that changed your life and inspired you to become a musician?
Lindsay Katt: David Bowie. He always felt so wholehearted in his work.

Lindsay Katt: Top 3 female artists that you feel have not received enough recognition for their work?

  • Florence + The Machine
  • Banks
  • Beyoncé

K-Bust: If you had to pick one song to portray your life or personality, which one would that be?
Lindsay Katt: “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. Or maybe “I’m lucky” by Joan Armatrading.

Lindsay Katt: Name the top 3 musicians you feel you CANNOT live without, that you are 99% sure I’ve never heard of. (Asking other humans this question is quite seriously how I find my new favorite tunes.)

    • The Naked and Famous
    • Banks
    • Chvrches

K-Bust: What’s the weirdest meal/food you have ever tried and where?
Lindsay Katt: Raw horse meat, while visiting Japan.

Lindsay Katt: What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever been and why?
K-Bust: Last year during my winter vacation I decided to visit the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. It had been on my list of places to visit for a long time. It was an amazing experience! It was like being in a different time and planet. To my own surprise, it happens to be a very cosmopolitan place as well; talking about San Pedro, an Oasis in the middle of it, as high as 4000 meters above the sea level; I could literally almost touch the sky. The red and dry landscapes made me feel like I was somehow walking on planet Mars, really hot and during the day and much chillier during the night. I’m definitely going back.

Montreal electro-pop artist K-Bust is currently working on the release of her second studio album titled Fearless, with a slew of releases to come in the next 6 months.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Bandcamp

As an artist, Lindsay Katt’s music has been featured on MTV’s The Real World, Teen Mom, ABC’s Castle, Alias, and SYFY’s Being Human. In addition, she’s poured her creative heart and soul into her newest project, the interpretive short, The Avant-Gardener, which is currently screening at select film festivals and has won the Grand Prize for “Experimental Short” at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, as well as winning the Grand Prize for “Experimental Short” and  Grand Prize for “Best Editing” at The International Indie Gathering. 

The Avant-Gardener website | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube | Bandcamp

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Bands Interviewing Bands. Top photo: K-Bust. photo credit: François Nadeau. Bottom photo: Lindsay Katt. Photo credit: film still from The Avant-Gardener

Oakland’s Trace Repeat on Breaking Down Stereotypes and Writing Damn Good Music


The following post was guest written by Wesley Woo from Trace Repeat.


Trace Repeat is an Oakland based seven-piece funk and soul band. Get down on it! We believe in reviving the aesthetics of our Motown forefathers: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the tempting Temptations. We love vintage pocket watches, postcards, and a well-tailored three-piece suit. We are also a predominantly Asian American band.

Filipino American, Chinese American, Malaysian, a little bit Jewish American, (what kind of Caucasian is Dan, again?), and so on. To be absolutely honest, it’s never really been something that we’ve talked about explicitly, until folks started asking us about it.

See, the reality is, we’re just here to make some damn good music. Zach and I originally started this band as a two-piece acoustic act. We were two solo singer-songwriters banging on their acoustic guitars as hard as we could, not quite captivating audiences in the ways that we really wanted to do. The “Asian-ness” of Trace Repeat happened purely out of circumstance. We sought each other out for a community in music simply because there aren’t that many of us doing it. By the time we had put together an “Asian funk band,” it was certainly not by intention, but really just a matter of Asian Americans scrambling for a community in music, in an industry that is truly starved for diversity.

Here in the Bay (and anywhere you look, really), there is a shortage of Asian Americans making music. Everywhere we look on TV, on the radio, and in film, we don’t see much of ourselves in mass media. As a child of Motown and basketball, I grew up with David Ruffin, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jackson. At 13 or so, I remember telling my parents that “I look Asian, but I’m really not, though.” I don’t act or feel Asian. I don’t do karate, my Mandarin tutor can’t stand me, and I like burgers and hash browns more than rice and tofu.

I was truly not much of a Chinese stereotype at 13, all things considered. So you can imagine my surprise when we started Trace Repeat, and the most frequent comment when we got on stage would be “this is an Asian funk band?” *queue the shock and awe*

Why the qualifier all of a sudden? I’m still the same bad Chinese kid who flunked out of karate class, and had more iconic black childhood heroes than Asian ones. But now suddenly I’m identified by my Asian-ness, simply because our band breaks a mold.

You can imagine my surprise when we started Trace Repeat, and the most frequent comment when we got on stage would be “this is an Asian funk band?”

I think there’s an expectation set in from the start when folks see the slant in our eyes, or the good Chinese boy getting up on stage at a rowdy Irish dive bar, screaming at the top of his lungs with his best James Brown impersonation. It’s the kind of music that’s bold and unapologetic, coming from the passive, submissive Asian kids that stereotype has told us will behave, quietly.

The truth is though, we don’t actively solicit opportunities to talk about our “Asian-ness” as a band because we don’t really have to. We don’t start every show with a monologue about Asian American empowerment and we don’t exclusively collaborate with Asian bands. We don’t want to be an Asian American band at all, really. We just want to be a funk band. We love Motown soul and R&B. We love vintage polaroids and postcards, antique thrift shops, and a well-fitting french cuff. And that’s it. No qualifying “Asian” prefixes to our name, no need to mention our race in describing our particular brand of funk. This is simply what it looks like when two Asian guys start a funk band. Get used to it.


Trace Repeat is a 6-piece Oakland based funk and soul band (think: Bruno Mars) who are not only bringing you music that’ll get you up and moving (it is seriously catchy), but that brings attention to a much larger issue—Asian American stereotypes. It’s a cause that has gained them attention on NBC News, The Huffington Post, and Mother Jones, and led to the funding (and then some) of their IndieGoGo campaign within the first week of launching, resulting in their campaign being featured on IndieGoGo’s trending page. Their new album, The Oaktown Sound, sees them reviving the aesthetics of their Motown forefathers: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the tempting Temptations, to create a throwback album packed with James Brown references, Al Green harmonies, and Prince vocal runs. It’s also an album that pays homage to their roots—Oakland. Grab The Oaktown Sound out now.

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Oakland’s Trace Repeat on Breaking Down Stereotypes and Writing Damn Good Music: Photograph courtesy of Trace Repeat

Bands Interviewing Bands: Trace Repeat & Septacy


One of my personal favorite features is back—Bands Interviewing Bands! In this unique feature, we take two bands and have them interview each other about everything and anything having to do with the recording process, industry insight, touring, getting fans out to show, and other questions that only other artists would know to ask. Catch our latest interview with Septacy and Trace Repeat—two Bay Area bands with two very different sounds, and follow them and get to know their music at the links below.


Trace Repeat: Your Bandcamp says you guys recorded your last record Bookends at “Dirt Room Studios in El Cerrito, A Cabin In The Woods, and Wherever The Hell Else We Could Find.” How did you pull that off?
Septacy: The biggest logistical challenge was recording vocals. None of us live in the quietest of places, so vocal isolation was a huge hurdle to clear. Luckily, my parents were amazing and let us use their cabin in the Sierras to track demos and eventually vocals for the final record. It was really freeing being able to track vocals into the wee hours of the night with no one around. It was also great being able to get out of the Bay and away from day-to-day life for a few days at a time to focus on the record and having fun hanging out with each other. You can see the lighter side of these trips in our video for “Polaris” that we shot during one of these trips up to the cabin.

All in all, it was an incredibly lengthy process, but it allowed us a lot of room to experiment than we would have had in a traditional studio. I would also be remiss to not mention the magical work that Jon Devoto did in mastering the album.

Septacy: What’s the strangest show/venue Trace Repeat has found themselves at? In my experience, the best show stories, if not always the best shows, start with something being weird about the gig.
Trace Repeat: I think my favorite “unusual” venue that we have done is our Funky Friday residency out in Oakland at Independent Brewing. It’s the kind of spot where you see the stage and think “there’s absolutely no way a seven-piece band is gonna fit here.” We do some serious human Tetris shuffling to make it work, though (hah)! We’ve been doing the residency every last Friday for about a year and a half now, and it’s been a big exercise in restraint, really. It takes a lot of self-control to fit a seven-piece band into a really tiny room and NOT drive everyone out the door, covering their ears.

Trace Repeat:  I know you mixed the Septacy record yourself (I did a lot of the editing on our record, too), and I know it’s pretty difficult to separate the musicality from the mixing process. What did you do to keep the mixing process separate from the musicianship?
Septacy: I’ve been self-recording and releasing my own solo material for almost a decade now. I can’t say specifically that I have a process in place to put on my engineer hat. Any engineer who has ever worked on their own material, especially in a band situation, will tell you that the biggest pitfall when mixing yourself is that you will always be tempted to turn your own parts up too high in the mix. If you’re the singer or drummer, that’s not the worst problem in the world, but when you’re the bass player, that can be dangerous.

With Bookends, it helped that we had such a long production cycle (three years from demoing to finished product). This allowed me to work on mixing individual songs as we finished tracking them. Usually, I wouldn’t start working on mixing a song until months after I had tracked my parts, so it was easier to put my ego in a different room and focus in on making the songs sound right. With as varied a record as Bookends, having the time to focus on songs individually was an invaluable luxury.

Septacy: The production on every song I’ve heard from Oaktown Sound is phenomenal.  It really captures a live club feel. Other than just being fantastic players, which you guys absolutely are, was there anything special you guys did in the studio to maintain the organic, “live” feel that the songs have?
Trace Repeat: Yes! Catching the “live” feel was definitely one of the biggest challenges we had when we recorded the record. Since so much of our show is involved in the visual experience, recording the album was really about figuring out how to capture that visual experience in a 30-minute record. Zach’s epic bass faces, the sweat pouring off of my face, the acrobatic jumps David manages while playing a trombone. They were all things we aimed to capture on the record.

Trace Repeat: The drummer on Bookends is absolutely shredding it up. Same with the whole rhythm section, really. What was your process for capturing that animal energy in the studio?
D’awww. You’re making me blush. Also, how did you know that Jason was a muppet? The secret is out!

Funnily enough, “animal energy” is far from how I would describe our drummer, Jason. He’s one of the kindest, least intense people all of us have ever known. He sure does know how to hit a drum, though. I think there were three things that really helped us capture a more intense feel in the rhythm section. First off, our co-producer and tracking engineer Justin Alquist did a great job mic-ing, tracking and editing everything together.

I think there were three things that really helped us capture a more intense feel in the rhythm section. First off, our co-producer and tracking engineer Justin Alquist did a great job mic-ing, tracking, and editing everything together.

Secondly, we were able to track drums, bass, and piano live in the same room together, so we were able to communicate non-verbally with each other while tracking and actually play together instead of just playing parts to click individually.

The third thing was a lesson that Jason and I learned while recording an album for another band we’re in, Sin Silver and the Avenue, a few years ago. During pre-production, the producer of the album gave us one big note that has helped us immensely in the studio ever since. When tracking drums, the best approach is to over-emphasize your dynamics compared to playing live. If you really want a part to sound big on tape, play it even bigger in the studio and let the tracking/mixing engineers reign in the dynamics.

Septacy: What have your observations been when playing outside of the Bay as compared to the Bay Area, especially when you guys hit SxSW? Which things were better? Worse?
Trace Repeat: Austin is a whole different world out there, especially during SxSW. There’s live music on every corner and in every bar. Basically everywhere you go, there’s a freaking PHENOMENAL band playing. It’s sort of a vibe that I think we can create here in Oakland too, the way there’s this really great appreciation for live music everywhere you go. I feel like if we (Trace Repeat) just strive to put some dope funk in every bar we play at, we’ll just become “that funk band that’s in every brewery in Oakland.”

Trace Repeat: What has your experience been like as a Bay Area band based in Oakland? Do you get a lot of San Franciscans that don’t come out to Oakland cause it’s “too far” (cause we definitely do!)?
Septacy: The Bay Area is challenging as a whole because there is so much to do, and so much amazing art to explore that on any given night; you end up competing with a lot of other acts that probably deserve just as much attention as whatever you are doing. While this does make it harder to convince people to cross a bridge and come watch you play music instead of, say, binging Friends on Netflix, it also presents a unique opportunity to branch out and meet other artists who share your sensibilities and understand how important it is to give back to your scene. Some of our most avid listeners are fellow musicians we met either while sharing the stage, or showing up and introducing ourselves. One of the most important lessons we have learned as a self-promoting artist is that if you actively give to your scene, it will give back to you in ways you would never expect.

Septacy is a 5-piece progressive rock band hailing from Oakland, California that, much like fellow Bay Area natives Green Day and Metallica before them, aim to carve their own unique path through the larger music scene. Their sound can be described as both melodious and chaotic, a dichotomy they fully embrace in their songwriting and on the stage. They just released their brand new music video for “The Clouds Above The Giving Tree,” of their newly released Bookends.


Trace Repeat is a 6-piece Oakland based funk and soul band (think: Bruno Mars) who are not only bringing you music that’ll get you up and moving (it is seriously catchy), but that brings attention to a much larger issue—Asian American stereotypes. It’s a cause that has gained them attention on NBC News, The Huffington Post, and Mother Jones, and led to the funding (and then some) of their IndieGoGo campaign within the first week of launching, resulting in their campaign being featured on IndieGoGo’s trending page. Their new album, The Oaktown Sound, sees them reviving the aesthetics of their Motown forefathers: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the tempting Temptations, to create a throwback album packed with James Brown references, Al Green harmonies, and Prince vocal runs. It’s also an album that pays homage to their roots—Oakland. Grab The Oaktown Sound when it drops on September 22.


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Bands Interviewing Bands: Trace Repeat (top) photo credit: Nathan Lu. Septacy (bottom) photo credit: Ricky Marasigan

Bands Interviewing Bands: Autopilot and Frank Moyo


It’s not often we get to put together two artists from outside the US, but today’s artists are both Canadian, and both just unveiled incredible releases. Saskatoon natives, Autopilot (RIYL: War on Drugs, Broken Social Scene) just released two new singles “Hurricane” and “Crooked Lines” and are currently on a major US tour through late November. Meanwhile, Toronto singer-songwriter Frank Moyo (RIYL: John Mayer, Coldplay), just dropped his debut EP Waves. The two got together for a chat about the art of songwriting, the perils of food poisoning right before a gig, and more.

Frank Moyo: What was the first song you ever wrote, and what was it about? 
Autopilot: The first song I wrote I think I was 12. I had an amp with a lot of reverb and an old analog 4 track recorder. I’m not sure what the topic was, but I know I still have the tape in a box somewhere.  This was just the start of a lot of songs I’ve written in the past.
Frank Moyo: What was the latest song you wrote, and what was that about? Has your songwriting drastically changed since your first song?
Autopilot: The latest songs we have been working on have been a lot different than most of the early songs. From tones to the vocals and lyrics, I think writing is a process that you change and progress at.

Autopilot: What’s your writing process like? What influences you besides music, and how do you think that affects the outcome of your songs? 
Frank Moyo: My writing process usually starts with a lick on the guitar or piano and then lyrics will follow. My lyrics are sometimes already written and I will try to incorporate them into the notes I am playing, but sometimes the music actually commands the lyrics that I write, therefor forcing me to write lyrics that make sense with the music being played. I find a lot of influence for my writing in books and movies that I watch. I read frequently and love to draw influences from my books. I love Italian cinema as well, and as of recently, I have used many films by Fellini, Antonini, De Sica, and other neorealist directors as influences on my writing.
Frank Moyo: What are the major reasons why you began to pursue music? What influenced you most to pursue it as a career? 
Autopilot:  A big influence was when I read a book called On A Cold Road.  I was playing music already, but after reading this book, I knew that music full time was what I was going to do. Written by Dave Bidini of the Rheostatics, the book is full of stories about bands on the road and crazy tours. It’s definitely a great read and made me think of music as something I could do out in the world and not just in my basement.
Autopilot: What’s your biggest musical influence that’s not immediately obvious when listening to your music?
Frank Moyo: I would say Daft Punk and Phoenix. I love their music, but a majority of my music is down tempo with an acoustic jazz twist. Daft Punk have always been a great influence, just because of their song structure and how well it can play with my emotions. Phoenix has always been a band that I aspired to be like, but my music seems to be going in a direction a bit outside of the Phoenix alternative synth pop/rock genre.

Frank Moyo: Before a show, or before a practice, do you have any rituals or things you do to zone in and concentrate on your music?
Autopilot:  When on tour, the best part of any down time we get before a show is checking out the city, as we’ve had the opportunity to play in a lot of interesting places.  When it comes down to right before a show, we pretty much just dive right in.  It’s pretty natural when we start to play,; we just forget about everything and get lost in the songs.
Autopilot: What’s the craziest experience you have had on the road or before a show? 
Frank Moyo: The craziest experience I had before a show was when my band was performing at the Opera House. We were backstage and another band we were playing with had brought cheesecake for everyone to enjoy. Apparently, the cheesecake was expired and we ended up having to play the show with a mild case of food poisoning, which was not very fun.
Frank Moyo: Explain what would be considered a dream show for yourself. Where would it be? And what band would you dream to open for?
Autopilot: We would like to play with a lot of bands, but I think a dream tour would be with a band like War on Drugs, Modest Mouse, or Grouplove. Doing a few months on the road with one of our favorite bands would be awesome.

Autopilot: What is your favorite venue/show you have played? 
Frank Moyo: Toronto is full of great venues, some big and some tiny. The biggest venue played was most likely the Opera House and Lula Lounge. Some of the more intimate shows at smaller venues were some of the most memorable. Places like the El Mocambo and The Painted Lady were the more emotional and fun to play.
Frank Moyo: Lastly, what does music as a whole mean to you? Are there any specific reasons why you chose to pursue it? Does music represent a different side of you?
Autopilot:  To me, music is an outlet to express everything from what I think to how I feel. I live and breathe music, so I guess you could say that’s what it means to me.  Without music, I’m not sure what I would do all day – I think I’d be lost.  I don’t think that it represents a different side of me, it’s just who I am.

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Bands Interviewing Bands: Autopilot and Frank Moyo. Photo credit: Autopilot (top) by Nicole Romanoff and Frank Moyo (bottom) by Takahiro Sakamoto 

Bands Interviewing Bands: Shiffley & Ships Have Sailed


Two incredibly catchy, hardworking, infectious bands from opposite ends of the country came together for this edition of Bands Interviewing Bands. Shiffley (RIYL: The 1975, Phoenix, The Killers) hails from NYC, while Ships Have Sailed (RIYL: The Script, Dashboard Confessional) come from Los Angeles, (with an East Coast tour up their sleeves this Nov 2-10). They got together to chat influence, Craigslist ads, and their unique process for songwriting and production.

Ships Have Sailed: First of all, really digging your sound! I’m wondering where you pull influence from, and do you notice if that changes over time?
Shiffley: Thank you! Our influences have gradually shifted over time. We started off heavily looking up to The Killers and Phoenix and have recently gravitated to bands like Foster the People and MGMT.

Shiffley:  How did you guys meet?
Ships Have Sailed: Funny enough, Dan and I met thanks to Craigslist! I was playing in a band at the time (the one that eventually became 7Lions) and we were having a tough time finding a good bass player through our personal networks…  So I posted an ad on Craigslist and along came Dan and he knocked our socks off!  Once we were working together on Ships (which started in the studio), we wound up picking up some traction pretty quickly and realized we didn’t have a band.  We started working with a drummer, but that didn’t end up working out, so Dan called up Art (who he had played with in another project) and we sent him some tunes to see whether he was interested.  Our first show with Art was almost a week-long trip to Canadian Music Week, so it was literally a trial by fire on all levels…airports, logistics, passports, a music conference, and a showcase competing with a Deathcab for Cutie show. It was quite the trip!  Art rocked it, got along with everyone, and we all had a fantastic time…the rest is history!

Ships Have Sailed: Do you use outside producers, do your own production, or both?  What’s your creative process like?
Shiffley: For the time being, we self-produce, though we are always open to trying something new. Our general process is our front man, Alex Ganes, will come to the band with lyrics and melody; then the band will put their spin on it in rehearsals. So far it has worked very well!
Shiffley: Which of your songs mean the most to you and why?
Ships Have Sailed: I always say being asked to pick a favorite song is like asking a parent to pick their favorite kid…you’re not supposed to answer the question! That said, I think ‘favorite’ depends on the scenario…for example: ‘Boomerang’ is currently one of my favorites to play live, but that changes from show to show, and tour to tour.  If I’m just listening, it honestly depends on my mood. If I’m mellow, it’s something like ‘Clouds’ or ‘Insomnia.’ If I’m whimsical, ‘Imaginary Friend.’ Nostalgic, it’s ‘Summertime’ or ‘Drive’…you get the idea.  One of my hopes for this project is that there is something in the catalog that just about everyone can love,and for me, that just means channeling emotions and influences from different places, so each of those little fragments of my musical self-take me somewhere I can love in any given moment.

Ships Have Sailed: As a fellow artist, I find it can be tough sometimes to balance between live shows, creating new content (new music and videos), and interacting with people online. Do you guys have a system for managing your priorities?
Shiffley: Shiffley is a well-oiled machine! Though it wasn’t always that way… Creating great music is always our main focus, but for everything else, we typically split jobs up between different members of the group. For example, Bryan (drums) has always been in charge of socials and developing relationships with bands, venues, fans, etc. Alex (keys) is in charge of all things money-related, and Shaune (bass) is our graphics and web-design guy. Once we partnered up with our manager, we were able to put a lot of that stuff on him and focus more on our music, but we are still very involved with how our “business” is run.
Shiffley: What would you say has been the biggest asset to your band’s career? 
Ships Have Sailed: Wow, I’ve never really thought about this.  Look, I think more than anything for any artist, you have to appreciate your fans as your best asset.  The people who support you, come to your shows, buy your music, interact with you online, etc… we literally wouldn’t exist without them, so I give them that credit.  We’ve had some really cool things happen over the years (many that probably could classify in this category), but push comes to shove, if no one cared about us, we would probably be nowhere.

Ships Have Sailed: Do you guys take a ‘goal oriented’ approach to your project, or do you just go with the flow and let things happen?  Any specific plans or goals over the next year or so?
Shiffley: I’d say we’re definitely more of a goal-oriented group. That being said, we like to keep those goals on the short-term so that we don’t think too far ahead. Right now, our big focus is releasing our first full-length album, but we also have smaller goals like playing in a market we haven’t hit before or returning to a market and doing noticeably better than the previous time. Stuff like that. Ya dig?
Shiffley: Give us your ideal tour pairing (any one or two bands you’d love to tour with or see on tour). Then give us the most ridiculous and worst-planned combo you can think of. 
Ships Have Sailed: This is a good one, too!  Right now, I would say my top two are Walk the Moon and Train (who I hear are coming out with a new album soon).  Worst combo?  Not sure about worst, but let’s just say Ships Have Sailed with KISS is probably a combination no one would ever want to see… 😉
Ships Have Sailed: Last but not least (and I love these stories) – how did you guys form your group?
Shiffley: Alex G, Alex J, and Bryan met in high school and were always in bands (both together and not).  Shaune came along as a Craigslist success story around the beginning of college, and on the third day, God said: “Let there be Shiffley!” Though we’ve played together in different groups over the years (including a metal band… true story), Shiffley is about four years old and we feel very fortunate to have been friends prior to the band forming.
Shiffley: From touring around, we’ve encountered some interesting people and places. Do you have any humorous horror stories to share?
Ships Have Sailed: No horror stories…yet! [Laughs] Gotta knock on wood now!  Getting back to that first trip with Art to Canadian Music Week, what I didn’t mention was that Dan is from Ohio – we flew into Cleveland, then drove to Toronto.  On our way back, we stopped through a small town where Dan’s family still runs a dairy farm. We definitely had a blast living the rural life for a couple days on the way back. Art rode (and fell off of) his first 4-wheeler, we got muddy, got drunk, met a bunch of great people, and even more cows. It was such a great trip!  Honestly, one of our favorite things about being on the road is meeting new people. It’s one of the amazing privileges of being able to do what we do!

Follow Ships Have Sailed:
Tour Dates Nov 2-Nov 10th
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Shiffley & Ships Have Sailed. Photo credit: Shiffley (top) by Sarah Corey. Ships Have Sailed (bottom) by Robb Hoffman

Bands Interviewing Bands: Hydrogen Skyline and Jess Chizuk


One is the keyboardist in an electro-rock trio, and the other is a solo indie-folk songstress. One resides in Colorado Springs, and the other hails from Buffalo. Hydrogen Skyline‘s Norman Hittle and singer-songwriter Jess Chizuk may be on different ends of the genre spectrum, but as this latest edition of Bands Interviewing Bands shows, all it takes to strike up an enthralling conversation is a shared love and passion for the music. Norman and Jess discuss their starts in the industry, the recording process for their respective new albums and much more.

Hydrogen Skyline: Have you always been a solo singer/songwriter? And how did you get your start in music?
Jess Chizuk: For the most part, yep! I started writing lyrics when I was very young, maybe about age 11, and took guitar and singing lessons shortly after to turn them into real songs. I started performing as a solo artist quite literally only a few months after learning to play guitar. Since then, I’ve been in a few bands and other projects, but I always come back to playing solo whenever I can.
Jess Chizuk: How did Hydrogen Skyline get together? And did you know you wanted the Indie/Pop/Rock sound right away?
Hydrogen Skyline: We got together simply by happenstance. Asher [vocalist] and I are married, and I was having band practice pretty frequently in our downstairs studio, and one day she basically said she’d like to try out–which as you can imagine was awesome! Getting Mark [Young, guitarist] into the band was a bit more difficult. We had to be really cutthroat and sort of lure him into being interested, leaving his former band(s) to join up with us.
As far as intended genre, we didn’t really start out aiming for indie-pop/rock. In the early part of this millennium, I desired to play in a progressive rock/metal band. Something between Opeth, Type O Negative, and TOOL. What ended up happening is I got guys together that wanted to play more melodic styles of progressive music (i.e. the Mars Volta and Porcupine Tree). Anyway, each year we continued to be more “mainstream” in our style of music, and eventually we just accepted we wanted to make music we all liked and that ended up being more what we have going on today. Though, I secretly still want to have my progressive rock side band!
Hydrogen Skyline: Why did you pick Lehigh Valley Line as the title track over something like “Eyes on the Horizon” (which is my favorite track)? Is there some sort of special meaning or theme that song has that relates to the rest of the album?
Jess: There’s a number of reasons, really. Initially, both “Eyes on the Horizon” and “The Distance” were top album name contenders, but it turns out those names have been used over and over again by tons of other artists, which I didn’t like. It’s already hard enough to gain traction as a new artist without people confusing your album with someone else’s. Lehigh Valley Line is actually based on a true story; the Lehigh Valley Railroad used to run through Buffalo, NY (which is where I’m from) and had a pretty big impact on the area when trains were commonplace. A lot of the tracks have subtle references to the area in them, but this one is pretty much centered around this cool piece of history. I thought it would be neat to pay homage to the city that the album was created in, while simultaneously being able to give it an entirely unique name that had never been used before.
Jess: I think “Seize the Day” is my favorite track off Photovoltaic, but a lot of the tracks have really interesting themes and lyrics. How many band members are involved in the songwriting process, and what’s that process like?
Hydrogen Skyline: Our writing process involves all three of us. The long answer is: we typically start by sitting down with our instruments and working on some ideas or chords one or more of us have an interest in. Then we start formatting a rough structure for the progressions (usually v-ch-v-ch-b-ch). At this point, we try to make some unique adjustments in rhythm and really iron out the ranges of the instruments. When we have a solid idea for the music, I take it and work on some vocal melodies. Then Asher and I hash out those ideas and make adjustments. When the melodies are ideal, I go from there to writing some rough lyrics, usually about a concept Asher and I agreed on. After that, another round of modification, and when we feel the vocals and lyrics seem to work together to convey the emotion we want, we pull all the instruments out and rebuild the song around the vocals. And in pre-production, we do that whole process all over again!
Hydrogen Skyline: On your website’s biography, it states that you have won several awards in your area! Congratulations! What would you say is the award you were most honored to receive and why was it important to you?
Jess: Thank you! Every one of them has been a significant honor in one way or another. It’s really hard to put any of them above any other one, but I think the first one was probably the biggest deal for me. About two years ago, I sent in one of my tracks “China Plates” to a small, local songwriting competition. I honestly didn’t expect a response from it, but I ended up winning, and as a result got to record that song in one of the best studios in Buffalo with several Buffalo Music Hall of Fame musicians, which was an incredibly big deal for me at the time. I think getting that first really positive response spurred me on to work towards everything else I’ve achieved so far. I’m not sure I would be where I am today had I not won that first award!

Bands Interviewing Bands: Taylor Tucker & Kat Hamilton (Manic Pixi)


Today we’re talking to two very different, yet equally captivating NYC musicians, Taylor Tucker (singer-songwriter) and Kat Hamilton of Manic Pixi (alt-rock). Check out the two chatting about their crazy live shows, full band vs acoustic shows, perseverance in the music industry, and more.

Taylor Tucker: You just came out with a record (YAY!)…what does this record mean to you and how is it different from your other records?
Kat Hamilton: Iron Heart is very vulnerable lyrically. Releasing it was like releasing a piece of my soul. It felt like closing a chapter–a New York heartbreak chapter that was important but is thankfully over. I also have a strong connection to the music because we wrote it as a group. I love hearing parts where I’m like, “Marshall is killin’ it!” or “This song would be nothing without Drew’s bass riff.” That is also what makes IH different from Sugar Bomb! I wrote most of SB and it’s a lot of fun, but it was limited, creatively. With everyone getting their hands dirty, the possibilities seem endless. I love that.
KH: What is your favorite song on the Leather Shoes EP and why?
TT: It depends on the day and what mood I’m in! Some days, I’m dancing around by myself or cleaning my apartment to “Leather Shoes” and “Don’t Say It.” Other days I’m walking around the city listening to “Memory.” It all depends. I do have a special connection to “Enough To Me” because it was the first song I ever wrote on an instrument and the lyrics mean very much to me. It was the first thing I had to get off my chest when I started learning instruments and could properly structure a song. So if I had to pick one, that would probably be it.
TT: You are SUPER ANIMATED on stage (it’s awesome). What inspires you to keep that energy going on and off stage?
KH: My entire thought process behind Manic Pixi was to create a stage experience that I felt was lacking in the scene around me. I was getting tired of seeing performers who didn’t care, who acted like they would rather be anywhere else. So no matter how tired/sick/or frustrated I am, I remind myself why I do this. I want the audience to feel like they are a part of the show. That they are important and acknowledged. How do you expect an audience to care if you act like you don’t? This applies to offstage too. I want people to meet me and feel excited about the band. I want them to feel like it’s not an act, but rather an extension of our passion. We all share this sentiment. Have you seen how high Drew can jump? Like HOLY WOW.
KH: I know you have been recently playing with a full band. How does that experience differ for you from your solo acoustic performances?
TT: I LOVE playing with a full band because they bring my songs to life! I love to dance around stage and really engage with the audience so having a kick-ass band allows me to do just that. A majority of my songs are upbeat so it’s very fun to run around the stage and be able to feel free. My acoustic performance is definitely more laid back and intimate, which brings a new flavor to each tune. It brings a totally different dynamic to the upbeat songs. I like acoustic performances because you’re able to hear the lyrics more and really understand what the songs are about.
TT: What was your greatest success and greatest struggle so far in your music career?
KH: Manic Pixi is both. Being a part of a band, a family really, is the hardest work and the highest payoff. When we succeed, nothing feels more empowering. But the struggle of keeping each other going is a lot more than a solo act. You can’t just replace someone when they disagree with you. There are more scheduling conflicts than doing it on your own. I’m proud that I’ve invested the last four years into this band because we have worked insanely hard to overcome obstacles and keep the dream alive.
KH: When you and I talked before our show at Goldsounds, you were very candid with me about your songwriting. What is your songwriting approach? How do you dig in?
TT: It definitely depends. Songwriting feels the best when it comes naturally and spills out of your head like water, which could happen at any point in time. Sometimes I’m walking around and a beat will pop into my head (which I then attempt to record on my phone, which sound hilarious most of the time, but at least it gets the job done). Sometimes I’ll write lyrics down first. Sometimes I’ll be playing the guitar or ukulele and strum a chord that hits me right in the gut and develop the song from there. I write and journal all the time which is very important for me to do. It helps clear my head and organize my thoughts. Even if I feel I have nothing to write about, I literally write down “I feel I have nothing to say today,” and then go from there. Weird! But the trick is to keep writing. You never know what feelings are hiding behind the ones on the surface.
TT: Describe your songwriting process. What subjects influence you the most?
KH: Mine comes in pieces. A verse will pop into my head in the shower or when I’m laying down for bed. But then the chorus will come months later. It’s really rare that I pump out an entire song in one sitting. With Manic Pixi, we have a group approach to songwriting, but we don’t start a song together. Usually one person has some piece of a song that they pitch to the rest of us and we chip away at it. I write about my life. It’s pretty dramatic! There’s the usual relationship/love angle but I also write a lot about being a musician. How I feel about my career, Manic Pixi, and where I’m headed.
KH: You have been getting a ton of reviews on your EP. How do you handle criticism or praise?
TT: The fact that people are praising and/or criticizing my work is insane. People are actually interested enough to write reviews on my music. It’s really crazy and awesome. Each and every review has a little nugget of wisdom, so it’s important for me to read all of them. It’s also important to differentiate between constructive criticism and someone blabbing about their opinion. The reviews are helpful for artist growth and development and help implant ideas into my head for future projects. So, I feel I’m handling the reviews pretty well. I haven’t read anything devastating yet that’s made me want to crawl in a hole.
TT: What venue are you dying to play at in the future?
KH: I want the big show! Irving Plaza, Webster Hall, and any other huge stage I can run across. We also want Warped Tour. That’s a certain tier in our scene. It’s a badge of honor.
KH: What are the plans for the next EP?
TT: I’m so inspired by upbeat New Orleans brass band music, sexy bluesy R&B beats, and of course witty lyricism. I’m heavily focused on beats at the moment (listening to a ton of hip-hop) and honing in on how each instrument makes me feel when it’s incorporated into the song. It’ll be a super cool record with music about heartbreak, empowerment, and loving life.
TT: Developing a music career is definitely a climb. What inspires you to “keep going”? (YOUR TATTOO!)
KH: My boys! They are my family and we inspire each other to pull through. Every time I feel like I’m gonna fall apart, I look at one of them. I also have an amazing support system of talented and kind people. Even beyond that, there’s an inner confidence that what I’m doing is what I’m meant for. Sometimes I forget that there’s that part of me, but when I get on a stage, it all becomes clear.
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Taylor Tucker and Kat Hamilton (Manic Pixi). Photo Credit Earl W. Tucker IV on Taylor Tucker (top) and Laura Murray on Manic Pixi (bottom).

Bands Interviewing Bands: Bryan Howell & Almost Famous Friends


Two vibrant southern cities, with two totally different music scenes, but one incredibly common thread: a passion for the live music scene. Of course I’m talking about Austin, TX and Nashville, TN, the current home of our two latest Bands Interviewing Bands participants, Almost Famous Friends (Austin, TX) and Bryan Howell (Nashville, TN). The two got to know each other through our latest feature, which you can check out below.

Bryan Howell: First, I’d like to congratulate you for the release of I’m Not Who I Want To Be! What were you trying to say to the world with this debut album?
Almost Famous Friends:  One thing we want listeners to know when they hear our music is that they are not alone. Music has always been a huge part of our lives, and being able to share that experience with other people is really important to us.
Bryan Howell:  This album is clearly a very personal, emotional work. Are there any tracks that were particularly difficult to write/perform?
Almost Famous Friends: One track that was written during a particularly difficult time in my life is “Better Off.” I was going through a very rough time in a relationship and was feeling extremely alone, but playing music with my best friends always pulls me back up even at my worst.
Almost Famous Friends: What’s your favorite song to play live? 
Bryan Howell: Just one?! I feel as an artist, I’m doing a huge disservice if I just touch on one emotion or feeling for a whole set. There has to be a bit of an emotional gamut or rollercoaster that you ride through the show, for myself and the audience. Granted, much of my music is pretty high-energy, but I hope people get that I’m dealing with a variety of different topics inside of that, and the tempo shifts and song change-ups bring about an arc and depth to things, too. I love getting all loud and angry with the guitar, cranking up the tempo and blowing things down with songs like “Cold Little Heartbreaker” and “‘Cause I’m A Lion,” but then there’s the levity and context for me of doing a slower song that still has an edge to it, like “Tough To Say Goodbye” or “Not Like The Movies.” Then there’s a few spots where I play a song and really let loose on the guitar, like “Baby, Don’t Look Back,” and that’s a release as a songwriter and as a musician that feels really cathartic, and hopefully connects with the audience on the night I would put it in the set. I can’t choose just one moment or song–there’s a variety of things I want to touch on through the set and hopefully people will remember.

Bryan Howell: The Austin music scene is clearly a huge community. Do you have a favorite venue or event in the area that you perform at?
Almost Famous Friends: One of our favorite music venues in Austin right now is Fine Southern Gentlemen. FSG is a DIY venue in the heart of east Austin that is very popular among the local pop-punk/alternative scene right now. We always enjoy our time playing there.
Bryan Howell: You guys put out a video for “All I Can Do” and it almost looked like a live video. Was this live or a planned video?
Almost Famous Friends: This was a planned video that I (Tristan) and our drummer Aris made together, with the help of our photographer friend Abbie. We’ve always been a group that likes to get our hands dirty and do the hard work ourselves, and I think this music video shows that.

Almost Famous Friends: Do you have a pre-show ritual or habit? 
Bryan Howell: Yeah, kind of a few actually. My mindset is in fifth gear going into the red line before a show, so I want to make sure to stay focused. I was once told that not listening to the act that went on before me would help, and it does when the night’s lineup order is like that. I feel kind of shallow for doing it, but stepping out of the venue after hearing some of their set really keeps me focused, while allowing me to know what they were doing onstage and being able to talk to them after. It’s finding a balance of being supportive of other musicians, while keeping to myself and making sure my performance is my focus, too. Then I often go for a walk to warm up my legs and meditate a bit during that, and then I do some stretches, because I’m a pretty physical performer and I need to be ready to go when I hit the stage, and the performance and singing aspect is going to take a lot of energy and exertion. After that, it’s a matter of making sure things are ready to go–Gatorade and water ready to go onstage to stay hydrated, setlists as needed, and so on. Once I’m all tuned in and in focus like that, the show is still never predictable for a lot of reasons, but it is pretty easy for me to segue into and roll with.
Almost Famous Friends: What city would you play if you could choose only one? 
Bryan Howell: That’s a tough one. I hope in the near future to get to play London–I would love to get the chance to go to England and play there. They love American rock n’ roll and are really passionate and informed about music from all I can tell, and from talking to some fans I’ve heard from online. I’m also a Clash fanatic through and through. So it would be great to get to play there and see the city and the country where so much of this great music came from. That said, I’m having the time of my life right now playing in Nashville, and every venue so far has had its own flavor to it, so I could probably be happy just playing here too.
Almost Famous Friends: What’s a goal you have for the next year? 
Bryan Howell: I kind of have more than one. I’d like to get my first full-length album coming out, Take The Risk, in the hands of some kind of distributor or independent label. To get it out there, for one, and also because I want to have a proper vinyl release for it. That has been a goal of mine with this album from the get-go when I started pre-production. I would love to be able to hold my album in a vinyl format, and I’ll probably get that done one way or the other. And knowing people could put it on their turntable….wow. But this all ties in to putting together a new band in Nashville that can play and expand off of these songs, and that I can go on the road with and play them and other ones I’m writing or will have written. That’s another big one. I feel like I’m only beginning to tap in to my potential as a songwriter and live performer now, and I want to be able to harness and channel all that creative energy with the right people and get it out there this next year.
Follow Bryan Howell:
Website | Facebook | TwitterYouTube | Instagram | Bandcamp
Follow Almost Famous Friends: 
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Bandcamp
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Bryan Howell & Almost Famous Friends. Photo credit: Bryan Howell (top) by Mark DiOrio. Almost Famous Friends (bottom) by Abbie Bosworth

Bands Interviewing Bands: Constant Coogan & Mike Rufo


The greatest thing about music is its ability to bring people from all walks of life together. While pop-rock band Constant Coogan and folk artist Mike Rufo might find themselves classified under quite different genres, it’s clear they’re both very passionate about issues in our world today. This passion is what makes today’s Bands Interviewing Bands so special as these seemingly dissimilar artists pick each others brains about their influences, advice and social issues.

Mike Rufo: You have a very strong, passionate history with show tunes and music in theater. To what extent does that influence the Constant Coogan sound?
Constant Coogan: Musical theatre is a pretty strong influence for us. I (Jen) have always been a fan of classical musical theatre, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, while Matt was influenced by more modern musical theatre like Andrew Lloyd Webber. So put together, it’s quite a broad inspiration. Not to mention we have been in several musicals together too.  But we are also constantly surrounded by so many other styles and influences from rock to rap to classical, so it’s hard not to mash them all together.

CC: As someone who is both a soloist and in a band, how do you determine what material works for each project?
MR: So far that has actually been fairly easy because of two pretty distinct differences between my solo project and the rock band, No Exit, that I co-front with David Johnson. No Exit is a very eclectic mix of original rock with classic influences. While it’s not all hard rock, that is certainly part of No Exit’s core. In contrast, my solo stuff is more mellow, reflective, and acoustically focused, so stylistically I can usually tell right away whether a new song is a Mike Rufo tune or a No Exit song.  All that said, the line can get blurred in that I sometimes try to nudge a Mike Rufo-ish song into the No Exit repertoire to see how it flies in the rock band environment. No Exit has been super flexible and cool in being willing to try different material and continue to stretch into an even wider range of styles. For me the two really feed on each other in a positive way.
MR: Your music covers a lot of rich, emotional themes, and can also take some humorous turns. Are there particular underlying themes that you would say are at the core of your songwriting?
CC: Although life certainly has its ups and its downs,  we feel incredibly blessed. So, it’s hard not to have hope and happiness woven throughout our music. We believe that happiness and gratefulness directly relate to having a better life. Optimism is not just a theme in our lives and our music,  it’s what we hope our audiences take away as well.
CC: As an activist for economic and social equality, what causes are most important to you, and how do you hope to affect them with your songwriting?
MR: Ah, where to start! On the one hand, there are so many individual causes that I am passionate about; on the other hand, I try to come back to what are, for me, the most foundational, structurally significant ones, like peace, economic/social justice, the environment, and civil liberties. Peace is both internal and external; we can’t have world peace without personal peace and a consciousness transformation that sets the intention. Of course, an integral part of peace is social and economic justice. Environment is so basic that it’s typically invisible to humans and utterly taken for granted despite its fragility and the fact that we are literally nothing without it. As for civil liberties, without the right to dissent, to associate, to express, people cannot collaborate, innovate, and mobilize to make manifest that better world that we know is possible. Songwriters all over the world have always been at the forefront of these kinds of movements for social change. For myself, music and activism have always been connected. Some of my songs, especially earlier ones, have an awareness building element, peppered with action-oriented doses of outrage. Lately, though, I’ve shifted to a more subtle approach that focuses more on the personal, metaphorical, and, hopefully, inspirational.

MR: Bury Me Alive, your new single and EP, is about to be released. What does this EP represent for you, both the material itself, and for your trajectory as artists?
CC: Bury Me Alive was a very personal project for me. The single “Bury Me Alive” is about battling shyness and social anxiety which has been something I have struggled with for most of my life. That feeling can almost feel like you are being buried alive. You feel so much pressure and literally watch your life flash before your eyes. So having that on the forefront of this piece of work has allowed me to not only help spread a message of hope to others who are struggling with it,  but heal myself a little as well. In fact, every song on this EP has pieces of our hearts, our hopes, and our love for each other, but we also had a great time getting a little edgier and rockin’ out.
CC: What is the most important advice you could give to someone who wants to be a songwriter in today’s day and age?
MR: Probably the same advice that has been given to me, more than once, by some very successful, hard working, and super talented songwriters: “Be yourself and stay clear about why you are doing what you do.” Sounds basic, and it is, but it’s sort of like meditation and mindfulness. It’s easy to get caught up in a bunch of goals that are coming from the external world, to be “successful” I should “do this” or “do that.” Fill in the blanks; there are tons of these and they go on and on, as most independent artists know only too well. But which, if any, of those things are really essential to your art and mission? Maybe all of them, maybe none, maybe a few. For me, coming back to the music itself is always the key to re-grounding and clarifying what’s important right now.
Follow Constant Coogan: (For fans of: Evanescence, Alanis Morissette)
Facebook | Twitter  | Instagram | Full bio | Pre-order ‘Bury Me Alive’
Follow Mike Rufo: (For fans of: Leonard Cohen, Nick Lowe, Steve Poltz)
Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Constant Coogan and Mike Rufo. Photo credit: Constant Coogan by Kevin Lane Photography (left) Photo credit:Tamarind Free Jones for Mike Rufo.