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Artist of the Week: Hanni El Khatib
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

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Just around this time two years ago I was coming back from Canada’s Emerging Music Festival which I covered for Billboard. The festival was in a small town in the middle of nowhere about three hours north of Montreal and as the title explains, featured numerous emerging talent. While most of the artists spoke French and addressed the crowd in French I was grateful to stumble upon Hanni El Khatib’s set. A fellow American, at one point he joked that he doesn’t know any words in the language so he wasn’t even going to try. What a relief! I spent much of the festival wondering what exactly each artist was saying on stage as they introduced the next song.

One of the tracks I loved from El Khatib’s performance was “You Rascal You.” The gritty guitar and his raspy vocals really struck a chord and I’ve been following his music ever since. Listen below.

 

 

We recently started a new feature at CBS called New Music to Know and I pitched him as one of the artists to cover. Having just recently released his sophomore album, which was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Hanni El Khatib filled me in on the recording process and how his job as an Art Director influences his music.

“Often times I’m thinking of the cover of the record before I’m even writing songs for the album,” he explained. “Just because I need to put it in some sort of visual context which is why I think music videos are so important. It helps further explain your overall concept for the music. I think of the song as a percentage of the overall vision of what I’m trying to do.”

Watch the interview below and for my complete writeup, visit Radio.com.

 

September 2, 2013 | | (0) comment comment
Artist to Watch: Passenger
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

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This past weekend I heard a familiar voice on the radio: Mike Rosenberg of UK-based band Passenger. I chatted with the singer-songwriter five years ago about the band’s upcoming album and U.S. tour dates and hadn’t heard much from them since until their current single, “Let Her Go” was being played on the radio.

 

 

Passenger’s music is catchy, but the stories within each song are much deeper and even more intriguing. Take “Night Vision Binoculars,” a song about a guy who has a stalker-like crush on his co-worker. “If you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it. It’s quite tongue-in-cheek,” Mike said.

Below is my interview with Mike from 2008, right before Passenger released their debut EP, Night Vision Binoculars. For more on the band, visit their website and catch them on tour in the U.S. later this summer.

Tell me a little about Passenger. Did you grow up always wanting to be in a band?
Yeah. I’ve always played guitar since I was little really. It was just one of the things that I felt I was good at. Well, one of the only things I felt I was good at. It’s always been a dream really. I started writing songs when I was about 15 and they were really terrible and I hope they got a bit better. I met Andrew, my songwriting partner, about five years ago and we just hit it off and we started writing together and that’s about it. Then we recorded the album and got the band up and running.

I just got a chance to listen to your debut album, Wicked Man’s Rest and it deals a lot with heartbreak and unrequited love. Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for it or was there an overlying theme to the album?
I don’t know really. What I try to do in my songs is just to tell stories, stories from all sorts of different walks of life. Whether it’s an old man in a pub or a guy who can’t get a girl, or a stray dog or whoever it is. There wasn’t really a concept behind the album, it’s just trying to be as honest as possible about everyday situations and they can be really heartbreaking.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Oh, I hate them all now [laughs]. Favorite song, I like “For You” it’s the little quiet one. It just takes me back. I was in Mexico when I wrote it. It’s a really lovely time in my life. It takes me back there a little bit.

I wanted to ask you about the title track. There are clips of Allen Ginsberg talking throughout the song, how did you come up with that idea?
That song took a long time to write, and sort of get right. There were a couple of different versions; it’s such a complicated track. The other songs are much more natural really and they seem to just fall out. I don’t know really. I always explain it as, you know when you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep, and you’ve got billions of things running around in your head and the later it gets the worse you feel? It kind of reminds me of that really. That part of you that grows with anxiety. I think Ginsberg, there’s just something about the tone of his voice and what he is saying it’s so massive, it’s so poetic and it works in the song.

I really liked “Things You’ve Never Done,” especially that one line “The only failure is never to try.” What inspired the song or what were you thinking when you wrote it?
From personal experience I guess. I think we’ve all made decisions in our lives that we regret, and I think most of those regrets comes from not doing things rather than trying something and failing. I think it’s a very simple concept and a very simple line but it seems to really affect people and really ring true of it. There’s something sad about growing old and not fulfilling everything you wanted to do. I think everyone can relate to that.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
That’s a difficult one. To be honest, I usually try and get the storytelling aspect of it across. It gets the hat of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but also with the production and the band side of it, it’s kind of more elements of massive attack and that whole sort of thing. It’s a really difficult question and after five years I still haven’t gotten it figured out. Lots of local harmonies, lyrically-based kind of country-pop music I guess.

What can we expect from your EP being released in the U.S. later this month?
Our EP, the title is Night Vision Binoculars. You can expect a quirky song in “Night Vision Binoculars.” It’s quite tongue-in-cheek. It’s about a guy who falls in love with one of his co-workers and she doesn’t know he exists. He ends up hiding up in a tree outside of her house. The idea behind the song is people listen to it and sort of start singing along and only the third or fourth time of hearing it, if you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it.

 

 

So how many songs are going to be on the EP?
I believe, I’m not actually sure exactly, but I think four. I think there’s an acoustic version of one of our songs and possibly some live ones as well. I think its a little taste of what’s to come really.

What do you feel makes your band different from other bands?
I think the subject matter of our songs is different. A lot of modern day pop music all revolves around the person’s girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever. I’ve tried to broaden that a bit. [Going] back to Bob Dylan and country and folk music when storytelling was a common thing and now it’s not so much. We just try and be slightly different, the production is slightly different and hopefully my voice is different.

What inspires your music? Do you have a certain writing process?
When I’m walking along, I don’t know if it’s the blood flow or whatever, I get a lot of ideas when I’m out and about. I use my mobile phone, which is a picture phone, when I get ideas. It can come at any point. You can go two months without writing a song and I wrote five last week. I don’t understand it at all, but I love the process.

July 9, 2013 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: Whale Belly
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

I Was Once A Bird COVER 10042012

 

Nearly three years ago my roommate introduced me to Brooklyn-based band Whale Belly. At the time I was planning a concert and she suggested they’d make an excellent addition to my lineup and she was right. I hosted a show at the now extinct Brooklyn venue Southpaw and the band won over the crowd and booking agents.

Last year I interviewed Whale Belly for CBS New York as they were promoting their debut album …the Smile at the End of the Slope. A year later, the band are back with their sophomore follow-up I Was Once A Bird which embodies 10 excellent tracks fueled with emotions we can all relate to: heartbreak, anxiety and the uncertainty life often brings.

Frontman Todd Bogin’s vocals exude a distinct urgency throughout I Was Once A Bird while spot-on string accompaniment, quirky guitar riffs and ear-grabbing percussion captivate.

I Was Once A Bird begins with memorable guitar and intriguing violin parts on “Bubbles In My Blood.” By the track’s end, foot-stomping rhythms, soaring music and Bogin’s catchy vocals beg all to keep listening. “Bubbles In My Blood” segues seamlessly into “Mette By the Canal” with soaring violin and delicately strummed acoustic guitar.

While the music accompaniment impresses on the LP, it’s the emotion-fueled tracks that show Whale Belly’s power. For example, the standout “Nervous Breakdown” was inspired by actual events Bogin faced while shopping at IKEA.

“I’m a very anxious person and I do really bad in crowded public spaces,” he explained. “I had a freak-out in IKEA because I went there on a Saturday before Christmas and it was so insane. I got lost, I couldn’t find who I was with, I couldn’t find the exit and I literally ran home. It’s a lighthearted song but if you listen to the lyrics and the music, it’s a very stressful song. It’s hard to listen to for me because it’s so intense.”

The listener can feel the angst with aggressive violin and guitar parts throughout the song.

Meanwhile, Bogin lays it all out on the line on heart-wrenching album closer “Long Drawn.”

“I’m getting used to being the lonely guy/Now that I don’t have you by my side/Enjoy my company and my own thoughts…You didn’t love me like I loved you,” Bogin sings.

“The next album will have the aesthetic of Whale Belly itself but make a point of transitions in life and change,” Bogin told me last year.

He wasn’t lying.

Download I Was Once A Bird here and be sure to catch Whale Belly live in New York tonight at Mercury Lounge.

January 13, 2013 | | (0) comment comment
Artist of the Week: Kiernan McMullan
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week

Writing about Top 40 on a daily basis for CBS Local sometimes makes me forget why I started this blog in the first place. When I witnessed Kiernan McMullan last Sunday I instantly remembered.

What I love most about live music is the unexpected. Going to shows of artists I’m not too familiar with and being blown away by their talent is something I haven’t done in a while. It also makes me wonder about the state of the music industry and what it is that allows certain artists to make it and others to continue struggling. The moment Kiernan took the stage I had a feeling I’d be witnessing something special.

He kicked off his set at Brooklyn’s The Rock Shop looping drum rhythms on his guitar. Soon after, his soulful vocals entered with emotional lyrics like, “What is your problem? Why won’t you speak to me?” His self-deprecating onstage banter in between songs made its way into his songs which were full of brutally honest lines that hit you in the gut. One track in particular, “Company” was a new song that Kiernan prefaced as a track that dealt with love.

“People seem incredibly enamored with love and it’s kind of an issue,” he told the crowd. “This song speaks for itself.”

With lyrics like “Never loved you, I just needed the company,” he got his point across as his voice reverberated throughout the room.

“If it’s cool with you, I’m going to do a subdued set tonight because I’m feeling subdued. No metal. There will be no Pantera songs tonight,” he joked after performing a cover of Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Caroline.” “I feel like I’m work shopping songs for you tonight. I’m going into the studio soon.”

Debuting a few new tracks the honesty continued. “We both know that I’m not gonna love you forever but I like the idea all the same,” he sang with finger picked guitar parts. “We both know we could do much better so let’s cut our losses and call it a day,” he continued.

Alternating between spoken word and a raspier singing style his performance hushed the crowd. Songs like set closer “Sick of You” continued to showcase his talent and left a mark. Having opened for acts including Sheryl Crow, Colbie Callait, Ed Sheeran and Mat Kearney, Kiernan is well on his way. Here’s to hoping he’ll make it onto our airwaves soon.

December 10, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: Ivan & Alyosha
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

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On Friday Seattle-based band Ivan & Alyosha performed to a packed crowd at Mercury Lounge. Their energetic set featured the folk-rock band at their finest and included tracks off their previous two EPs as well as a preview of what’s to come from their debut full-length All The Times We Had due for release in February.

 

Each track featured sweeping harmonies from the band while showcasing frontman Tim Wilson’s captivating vocals. Alternating from a deeper register to a high falsetto, songs like “Easy To Love” impressed with wavering guitar features and Wilson’s John Lennon-esque vocals. Complete with foot-stomping rhythms, the track embodied a distinct country vibe.

 

 

“This one’s called ‘Don’t Wanna Die Anymore.’ It’s a very happy song,” Wilson joked. With steady percussion, hand claps and maracas throughout the folk based song grabbed the audience’s attention wholeheartedly.

 

 

While their plugged in set satisfied it was last track of the night “Glorify” that best showcased the band’s talent. Completely acoustic, Ivan & Alyosha wowed with spot-on harmonies, delicate strums of the guitar and eyebrow raising lyrics.

 

 

Catch Ivan & Alyosha currently on tour and be sure to pick up a copy of their album All The Times We Had February 26.

October 16, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: SafetySuit
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

 

It’s often unexplainable. You never know when a song is going to hit you or a band is going to leave a lasting impression.

Back in 2010 I headed to Bowery Ballroom with friends to see Parachute. One of the first bands I interviewed for You Sing I Write back when they were known as Sparky’s Flaw, they’re a band I try to see whenever they’re in town. I still remember when I was interviewing frontman Will Anderson during my first job out of college. I was on my lunch break and he was headed to class and he told me about the crushes he wrote songs about and whether or not they found out.

Their concert that night was how I was first introduced to Nashville act SafetySuit. Their set was full of energy and I had a hard time wondering why they weren’t the headliners.

Currently on their own headlining tour it seems they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve. Though it’s been a few years I still have several of their songs on my iPod that they played that night and can’t seem to take them off. Songs like “Someone Like You,” “Stay” and the poignant “Annie” hit you in the heart and their followup album, These Times does just the same.

First track, “Believe” draws listeners in with soaring guitar parts and Douglas Brown’s ethereal vocals. “You gotta believe in what you got…If you gotta cry then let it out, if you gotta scream let it out.” Memorable guitar licks alongside Brown’s powerful vocals are just an introduction of what’s to come on the album. In fact, SafetySuit’s introspective and questioning lyrics at times brings to mind that of Switchfoot.

String features introduce “Get Around This.” Asking for forgiveness, it’s hard not to take Brown’s side. Meanwhile, title track “These Times” was written out of a social need. Discussing hard times everyone faces the band manages to uplift without sounding cheesy.

The band worked with several outside producers and writers for These Times including OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and the guys from Espionage who helped write Train’s mega hit “Hey, Soul Sister,” giving the Nashville-based act a more pop friendly release.

On the heels of their new EP Hallelujah and in the middle of their U.S. headlining tour, SafetySuit show no signs of slowing down. Be sure to catch them in New York at Gramercy Theater Wednesday, September 12. To keep up-to-date, visit the band on Twitter.

September 11, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

Grace Potter has spent her summer on the road with dudes. On the aptly titled Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Jake Owen, Potter proved she could hold her own as a standout opener. I caught her set earlier this month when covering the show for Billboard and as Potter danced around the stage during her performance, she exuded energy. In fact, at one point she kicked off her heels to run around the stage and it wouldn’t have been a huge shock if she started doing cartwheels.

The band opened their set with the soulful “Nothing But the Water” where Potter was found alone on vocals center stage for nearly two minutes before the rest of the band jumped in. Her high energy set continued with the rocking “You Can’t Stop the Beat” with ear-grabbing percussion, plenty of guitar distortion and Potter’s captivating vocals.

Prefacing “Stars” off her new record, she explained the story behind the song.

“This song I’m particularly attached to and there’s two versions of it on the record,” she said. “That’s because Kenny Chesney  heard the song when I was still working on it and he said, ‘I gotta sing on that song’ so we recorded it with him.”

A slow burning ballad, the piano driven track impressed with Potter’s powerful vocals. While Chesney didn’t make an appearance on the song during her set it was easy to see why he was so taken with the track.

“What’s the point of being the warmup band if we’re not warming you up?” Potter asked the crowd.

And that she did. In fact, watching Potter dance around the stage, wailing her arms in the air it was hard not to do the same as her excitement was contagious. Closing her set with the sultry and jazz fused “Medicine,” Potter even took to the drum kit to pound on the drums before running down the stage’s catwalk and shaking fans hands. With so much energy and a sold-out audience at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals no doubt made many new fans.

As Potter’s opening set impressed it was her striking duet with Kenny Chesney on “You and Tequila” that had the crowd screaming for more. Chesney even prefaced the track saying it was “one of my favorite songs I’ve recorded,” as he welcomed Potter back to the venue: “She always makes the stage so pretty.” Having Chesney as a fan is an impressive endorsement and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals in the near future.

August 27, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: The Kin
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

 

Currently readying their debut major label release, I chatted with The Kin after a recent performance in New York to talk musical robberies, their upcoming self-titled album and what they liken their music to. Made up of brothers Thorald and Issac Koren from Australia and New York drummer Shakerleg, the guys filled me in on just what to expect from their new music and Rockwood Music Hall weekly residency.

 

“[Our album is] going to be a real mix of everything we’ve written in the last year,” Issac said. “We took a year to stay in New York and play every week at Rockwood. We just wrote as much as we could.”

 

Playing every Thursday at Rockwood Music Hall at 9:30, their weekly residency allows the band to test out new material on the audience and see the crowd’s response. “It’s really helpful to see what people think,” Issac said. “We’re really proud of it. We’re really excited to get the songs to people.”

 

As far as their decision to play at Rockwood, Issac said the venue is “just so human.”

 

“People come and go and the sound is good. It’s inviting,” he said. “Great music comes in and out. We feel like a part of a happening. That’s what New York is about: pockets of community. The Kin is all about that. It’s about finding a tribe. Rockwood promotes all of us for that.”

 

Thorald further shared the band’s wishes for their new album.

 

“We’re hoping to make an expansive amount of fans that don’t know us yet. They can expect explosive, fun, dirty, pretty songs. We just want each song to be an experience,” he said. “The album’s going to bring out the voices and uniqueness of the drums and hopefully it’s going to translate [our live show].”

 

 

The album is due for release early next year, but the band’s upcoming single “Gemstone” can be expected in October.

 

“It’s certainly the closest to a live, driven album,” Issac said. “Now we’re listening to them, what could be the songs on the record. We had 50 now it’s down to 25. It’s virtually like giving away your babies.”

 

So how do they narrow down the 25 tracks to 12?

 

“We let the audience at Rockwood decide,” Issac confessed. “The songs that get the most requests and the ones they demand us to play again.”

 

But that’s not the only reasoning.

 

“A song not only has to be strong but has to sound great on a recording,” Thorald said. “Some we love playing live but haven’t translated on the recording.”

 

When the Kin aren’t busy putting the final touches on their album they take part in something they call musical robberies where they take their show to unexpected patrons at restaurants throughout the country.

 

 

“It came out of our love of fun robbery movies and thieves and Shakerleg’s subway days when he’d rally people around his drumming,” Thorald said. “I think we came out of it with a fun idea. It was a way to catch people when they were a little bit scared and play with their senses a little bit. That’s something we’ve always loved to do.”

 

The Kin alternate between what they call musical robberies and musical heists.

 

“You can either do a real robbery where no one – not even the owners of the place — knows and we get kicked out,” Issac said. “Or it’s an inside job which we call a heist where the owner coordinates it. The patrons don’t know so it’s a heist.”

 

“And then we have dinner with thieves where we rob people at a 5 star restaurant setting,” he continued. “We just want to mix it up. The way we play music, we want to mix it up.”

 

Drummer Shakerleg had a whole other way of explaining things.

 

“I think what we’re trying to accomplish in a live show is that feeling that you get when you step on a piece of gum and you can’t get it off and you’re actually happy that that particular piece of gum is on your shoe,” he said. “That’s the sound we’re going for.”

 

Catch the Kin live in New York every Thursday through September at Rockwood Music Hall.

August 6, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Gaslight Anthem Carry The New Jersey Torch
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week, Features

 

When New Jersey rockers the Gaslight Anthem decided to film a music video for their new single “45,” Asbury Park’s the Stone Pony was the only option they considered.

 

The famed rock venue, which is home to New Jersey legends Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Southside Johnny, has been hosting memorable shows since it first opened its doors in 1974. Acts like the Kinks, Stevie Ray Vaughn, KISS and the Ramones have taken the stage and even the former VP of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Robert Santelli has called the club “one of the greatest rock clubs of all time.”

 

“It’s one of the cool old New Jersey relics left,” drummer Benny Horowitz said as he recalled his first Battle of the Bands contest there as a teen.

 

Just the drive down to Asbury Park strikes up the band’s material. Passing through New Brunswick, “The Diamond Church Street Choir” paints a picture of University life from an outsider, not far from where the band got it’s start. Before a left turn onto Ocean Avenue, where a slew of fans await for their chance to be in the band’s music video, Cookman Avenue appears. One of the many Jersey mentions in their song “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” off 2008’s EP Senor and the Queen it’s evident the Stone Pony is the perfect location for the band to feature in a music video.

 

For my complete article visit CBS. Stay tuned for more interviews with the band and a behind-the-scenes recap of their music video shoot.

May 25, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: Greylag
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

Folk duo Greylag is made up of longtime friends Andrew Stonestreet and Daniel Dixon. While they may seem new to the music industry, the Portland, Oregon-based band is the product of a multi-year, cross-country journey of friendship, emotional trial and self-refinement.

The group’s debut release, The Only Way To Kill You is due out May 1. If their current single, the country fused “Black Crow” is any indication, Greylag is well on their way. With foot-stomping rhythms, memorable harmonies and fitting guitar accompaniment, “Black Crow” is an adequate introduction.

The EP begins with the surprisingly upbeat “Into the Woods.” With catchy percussion beats masking the dark lyrics, one gets the feeling Greylag is a band not to be messed with. Meanwhile, come-hither vocals alongside a steady percussion beat keeps the listener intrigued and wanting more.

While “Tiger” slows things down, the poignant “Outgrown” is a telling number with spot-on vocals, delicate finger-picked guitar and haunting string accompaniment. Nearly three-minutes in the track picks up speed with powerful percussion and equally loud vocals.

Greylag — Tiger from The Sights Of Sounds on Vimeo.

As their singing style brings to mind Augustana, it comes as no surprise then that the duo will be supporting the band on tour throughout April.

The ethereal “Speaking Voice” embodies memorable vocals while “Winter White” closes the EP strongly. Greylag is currently on tour with two performances scheduled this week at SXSW. For those attending SXSW, be sure to catch them Thursday at Rusty’s from 12-6 p.m. and Saturday at Clive Bar at 9 p.m. For more on Greylag, visit their Website.

Greylag — Winter White from The Sights Of Sounds on Vimeo.

March 12, 2012 | | (0) comment comment
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