CMJ Update

It’s the day before the big CMJ Music Festival and I’m finishing transcribing yet another interview for the preview as well as trying to prepare some more interview questions for a bunch of the bands I’ll be speaking with later this week. The craziness begins!

Below are my latest two posts on the CMJ blog. Feel free to read and leave comments! You can read snippets from my interview with The Duke Spirit here and for my preview on UK-based band Passenger, click here. I’m hoping to catch each of these acts throughout the week, so stay tuned for my concert reviews.

Tomorrow I’ll be celebrating the CMJ kickoff with a bunch of the UWire bloggers and heading to three (hopefully? if I make it to each) performances. We’ll see how it goes. Tomorrow is another celebration — You Sing, I Write’s one-year anniversary! But more on that tomorrow. Back to work!


CMJ Music Marathon Preview

This weekend I’ve spent trying to relax as much as I can while finalizing my CMJ schedule without feeling overwhelmed. There are just SO many great bands to see this week, (check out the line-up here) — many sets are overlapping too, so we’ll see how many performances I can make

I’ll be covering the CMJ Festival for the UWire. You can check out the UWire blog here. Two of my previews have already been posted so feel free to read my previews on Josh Charles here and Lights Resolve here. While I can’t make any promises on how much I’ll be updating my own blog this week, check out the UWire blog for the most recent posts on what’s going down at the festival!

And for all of you that have no clue what CMJ stands for (College Music Journal) or what the heck I’m talking about, check out Time Out New York‘s appropriately titled article, CMJ for dummies.

Here’s a few of the questions answered in the article that everyone has been asking me:

What the hell is CMJ?

Before there was alt rock, there was so-called college (i.e., -radio) rock, a scene that nurtured R.E.M. and countless other future stars of the postpunk, pregrunge era. The initial intent of both CMJ and the NYC fest was to clue the music industry in to the burgeoning impact of college radio. “It began purely as a business convention and accidentally turned into a very large music festival for fans,” says Haber.

Hundreds of bands and thousands of hangers-on descend upon local venues over a period of five days. Panels and a film fest add to the general mayhem.

How do I get into the shows?
You can buy a supposedly all-access badge, wait in line for hours and still get turned away. Haber looks at it this way: “As much as people want to see the big acts, go under the hood a little bit and look at the clubs that you really can get into.”

If you think that a show will be mobbed, it probably will be; it’s best to map out a few alternatives. (See “If at first you don’t succeed…,” page 143, for our suggestions.)

Do I need one of those $495 badges?

Few shows are badge-only. Each club determines its admissions ratio of badge holders and walk-up or advance-ticket customers. “We go to the clubs, try to assess the previous year’s failures and come up with a matrix which makes sense for them,” says Haber.

It’s your money.

Festivals Interviews

The Duke Spirit

Gracing Rolling Stone‘s Breaking Artists blog as well as being part of many summer festival line-ups, U.K. band the Duke Spirit is getting quite some attention as of late. With catchy choruses provided by singer Liela Moss and solid musical accompaniment backed by the rest of the band, the Duke Spirit is definitely a band to check out. Their MySpace is worth a listen and to watch two music videos from their latest album, click here. Read below for my email interview with bassist Toby Butler, who talked about their sophomore album, Neptune, their writing process and why you should give the Duke Spirit a listen.

How do you keep your songs sounding new and fun from track to track?
Our producer Chris Goss was really instrumental in helping us give each song a personality. I think it’s important not to get stuck in a regimented way of approaching things. It’s good to try new things as much as you can, to spread your wings. We’d use lots of weird instruments and sounds on each song to give them a less formal ‘rock’ sound. Guild the lily.

Did you go into the studio with a certain concept for this album?
Not really. We went into the studio with a bunch of songs, and we chose the album with Goss from them. I guess the concept was more the sound we wanted. We went to Goss because we love the way the records he makes sound. Heavy yet delicate.

Having already had the experience of recording your debut album, do you feel the process went more smoothly or was entirely different?
It was a whole lot different. We are now much more confident and open minded about making music. We were pretty inexperienced when we made that first album. I love the way it sounds, but in retrospect there are things I would have been more conscious of and things I would have done differently. Making Neptune was a much more fun and creative process, that was more a product of what is in our heads.

I love the song “Dog Roses.” Does that have timpani in the background? It just has such a deep, dark feel to the song. What was the inspiration behind the song?
We recorded that song back to front. It was probably the most fun and openly approached song to record. We laid down an acoustic guitar track and just weaved everything else into it. Just four mics on the drum kit. I don’t think it was a timpani, I think it’s a de-tuned floor tom with loads of reverb on it.

What’s the typical writing process for you like?
We demo whilst we write. If one of us has an idea for a song, then we record it in our little studio in London. Melodies and lyrics generally come after we have some kind of musical structure, or verse and chorus at least.

When I first heard “I Do Believe” the intro to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” came to mind. Did that occur to you at all when you were recording the song?
Ha ha. Well we’re all fans of Queen! It wasn’t the inspiration for it, no. It was something Liela came up with that we thought would be great as an intro for the album.

Do you have a favorite track on the album? If so, why that track?
This Ship Was Built to Last” is a favourite. I love the big rolling sound it has. I wanted it to have sound like a huge ship pounding through massive waves. That’s how it makes me feel. I love playing it live.

What makes the Duke Spirit stand out as a band? Why should people check you out as opposed to other bands out there?
We make interesting, intelligent, psychedelic, heavy, delicate, rock and roll music that makes you wanna bang your head and shake your ass!

If that wasn’t enough of the Duke Spirit for you, be sure to check out Rolling Stone‘s feature on them, with two live performances and a brief interview and if you like what you hear, catch a show when they’re in town!


SXSW Recap

No, unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to attend the festivities in Austin, Texas, this past week, but hopefully one of these years I’ll cover South by Southwest! Anyway, below is a list of some bands that a bunch of music mags/websites have been covering as well as some of my picks. I’ve been lucky enough to have covered quite a few of the bands that attended this year’s festival for my blog, and at least one band on this list is bound to impress you. Be sure to check out where hundreds of songs are available to listen to from many of the bands that performed at the festival.

Who the music mags and websites are telling you to check out:

I was covering a show at the Knitting Factory a month or so ago and met some guys from her record label, raving about her, telling me that “my homework” was to go home and MySpace Duffy. Well, I slacked a bit on my homework assignment and a few weeks passed, but her name kept coming up all over the summer festival lists so I finally checked out Duffy’s website and was quite impressed with her vocals. She’s been compared to Amy Winehouse, but to me sounds a bit more sophisticated with an old school ’60’s vibe. Check out her catchy song, “Mercy.”

My Morning Jacket
I’ve read that they play incredibly live. A blend of rock and folk music, one of their songs, “Gideon,” featured on their MySpace vaguely reminds me of U2.

Be Your Own Pet
South by Southwest seems to be the preview of their international tour promoting latest album, Get Awkward, available in the U.S. March 18th. The female-fronted punk rock band definitely has lots of energy and plenty guitar riffs to satisfy any guitar-fiend.

Vampire Weekend
Their MySpace groups their music as punk/new wave/classical, an eclectic combination of genres for sure. Interestingly enough, by listening to them, you can see a bit of each genre resembled in their music. Could there be a flute in their song, “APunk”? Take a listen for yourself.

Liam Finn
This New Zealander was named a Rolling Stone “Artist to Watch” in 2007 and I can see why. His mix of folk rock is intriguing to listen to. Check out “Second Chance” on his MySpace, the song starts off with a soft drum beat that blends well with his voice, later slowing down for an instrumental feature mid-song before picking back up again.

My picks:

Sparky’s Flaw
From the beginning chord in their song, “Under Control” I was hooked. I also love the back story on the band – four friends from high school + 1 college roommate = Sparky’s Flaw. Not to mention, three of the guys are in their last semester of college and are recording their debut full-length album (due out this summer) during winter and spring breaks. It’s a pop/rock mix comparable to Maroon 5 and The Fray with a soulful blend of saxophone, keyboard and guitars.

Hello Tokyo
This Brooklyn-based female-fronted band has been building up a strong fan base over the years, playing gigs throughout NYC and D.C. while their debut full-length album is due out this April. While some songs are a bit down-tempo, “Radio” is one of their most upbeat, energetic songs and definitely showcases the strength of the band.

Happy Anarchy
When I caught up with them at a recent show of theirs and asked how they would describe their music, they couldn’t. Which I think is a good thing. They compared it to many different genre’s, not wanting to put it into one certain category. “Its classic American rock music,” guitarist Yuhei explained. “It has a little bit of everything. We take influence from the Chili Peppers to Radiohead to older bands like The Who. I think the cool part is just whatever anyone thinks it is. I’ve learned to like the fact that you can’t be like, ‘Yeah, they’re like this.’ There’s potential for a lot of people to like our band.”

Jon Foreman
The Switchfoot frontman has been getting much praise for his recent solo EP’s from both critics and fans alike. Two of the four EP’s released, titled “Fall” and “Winter,” have that stripped down acoustic feel of being in his living room while watching him play.

Sia’s live performance showcases her incredible vocals and her stage presence is impeccable. Constantly interacting with the audience, taking song requests and nailing high-powered crescendos in many of her songs had the audience erupt in applause and screams at a recent NYC show. This Australian singer definitely is making her name known in America.

There were well over 1,000 bands featured at this year’s SXSW so there’s no possible way any music magazine or blogger could have it all covered. Check out to listen to some of the featured artists and for more SXSW coverage from people who were actually there, check out as well as MTV’s concert blog.