Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Noot d'Noot

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Noot d’ Noot are a ten piece band from Atlanta, GA. They blend funk, electro, and soul into a psychedelically tweaked soundtrack to an alternate reality. Their live performances transform whole rooms of unfamiliar listeners into ecstatic, writhing mobs. I recently caught up with founding member Bimbi Garraux.

EM: How has the shift from being a two-person bedroom project based on sampling and loops changed how you write songs now that you are a ten-person band?

BG: It hasn’t really changed how we write songs all that much, but the outcome has changed a lot.

EM: Because of the input of the other people?

BG: The same ideas are still there, just messing around with sounds like it’s a collage project. What we do now is we all get together and play and record it and then listen through for cool pieces–a melody or a cool rhythm or vocal idea. Then we just keep honing it down until it becomes a song. That’s actually what we always did from the beginning.

EM: So you just cut out a little section and say this is the verse? Is that how you guys actually structure your songs, verse, chorus, and so on or is it more open-ended?

BG: It is becoming less open-ended, there’s always room to go back to that if we want. We started with us looping, where Dream Sanitation would play keys and I would play drums and we’d go and make loops and then turn those into songs. So it’s the same process, it’s just ten people instead of two.

EM: You have a vocalist now; is that pushing the songs towards having more structure?

BG: I think that’s pushing it towards that. It used to be entirely instrumental but now we have a bunch of songs with hooks, verses and choruses.

EM: What’s happening with the new record?

BG: It’s coming out in July. We were trying to get it out before this tour but we don’t want to half-ass it. It’s a full length. Ten songs. We recorded it at the Living Room with Ed Rawls so it sounds a lot bigger and more live.

EM: Will this one be more similar to the live experience? I think that was the one thing that threw people off with Fingers Like Steeples; it didn’t have the same manic energy that comes across in the live show.

BG: Yeah, we splurged and got an engineer so hopefully the results will show. We are trying to appeal to what people want. They want us to make a live sounding record so we tried it this time.

EM: Yeah, how big a role does the crowd play for you guys when you’re playing live?

BG: It’s so important, we’ve all been in a ton of bands and so often people in bands think of themselves as artists and it’s all about what they’re trying to convey. This time around, we think of ourselves more as entertainers than artists. We’re on stage to entertain, that’s our purpose. A lot of things we notice playing live that people respond to, we just run with if it gets a reaction.

EM: It’s literally crowdsourcing.

BG: Totally, like when we got the girls immediately people started asking why they didn’t sing more. They had just joined the band so we hadn’t actually had any time to write songs for them to sing on. I think, as an experiment, we’ve just tried to cater to the crowd. It’s been really fun to see the crowd reaction, to see people dancing. It’s awesome.

EM: Traveling, touring, even getting a full band practice together…how difficult is that with ten people?

BG: Logistically, often we don’t have everyone at practice and even sometimes when we play you’ll see James playing drums because Justin wasn’t there when we wrote that song. That’s why we switch around when we play. We write in different configurations. Someone will get up and leave the room and somebody else will grab an instrument. So it ends up being who was on what instrument when the song was being written.

EM: It’s like a claim ticket. With ten people from such different musical backgrounds, are there ever communication problems?

BG: That’s one thing that I think is cool about the band, we don’t really look like we’d be in the same band and we don’t share a lot of the same references or listen to the same music, but it all works out to come across as our sound. Like the percussionists, they have an Afro-Cuban ensemble that they also play in, and they listen to traditional Cuban music all the time. One of the dudes, he has two rock records, one from the sixties and one from the seventies, and that to him is rock music.

EM: That’s crazy to me, like having a space alien in your band.

BG: Totally, it’s bizarre, it’s almost like when we write a song their input is like another song laid on top, it’s like a mash-up but it works out. And the singers are listening to what’s on the radio, modern pop music that I’m not really familiar with.

EM: So is there a theme for the new record?

BG: Yeah, it’s called From Ever Since, and there are a few concepts tied up in that. Like, we think the music we’re making is coming from ever since, we always write as a group and songs comes out of jamming and improv, so it’s more about the band getting together and channeling a song.

EM: Do you think that the organic process of writing creates a greater sense of camaraderie in the band, since songwriting is shared?

BG: I do think so, and I also think it brings out music that none of us would write if we were writing by ourselves. I put out that solo record and I did most of it at home and it’s really chill, but when you have ten people in the room playing, and there are three or four people playing drums and percussion it is pretty hype, you know? It makes for stuff that is good to hear on a Saturday night. It makes you want to throw down.

EM: Sure, it’s a primal feeling. So how much of the show is improvised?

BG: Well, it’s getting less and less as we go along because we have more songs, but we always try to leave room for that.

EM: I think that’s refreshing, a lot bands get away from that, because they either want to be really tight or they have really taskmaster type songwriters in the band.

BG: Yeah, I don’t want to ever lose that element. For me, as a musician coming from a punk background where you only know how to play your songs, to be able to think about music as a language lets you find a place in whatever is going on.

For more visit, and look for them on tour this spring.

Mexican Summer

Friday, June 4th, 2010


Where are you from? Where did you go to college?

KA: I grew up in Connecticut (and a little bit in San Diego). Never went to college. Actually, I went to a ‘junior college’ for a year in Massachusetts and that was a total bust. I never was cut out for a classroom.

What did you do before you worked at Mexican Summer? How did you come to work for Kemado? Have you always wanted to work in the music industry?

KA: I did a bunch of things before getting into the music biz; contracting, waiting tables etc. Strangely, I also temped at a large film studio for a stint in their finance dept. That was pretty random. Mostly, I tried to focus on making music, which never really panned out, so I started temping and interning at record labels. Lots of lame work, but I met someone at a big indie label and we hit it off. When he left that label to start Kemado, he asked me if I wanted a job, and I immediately accepted.

Where does the name “Mexican Summer” come from?

KA: It’s a Marissa Nadler song from her album, Songs III: Bird On The Water

What do you do at Mexican Summer? What is a typical day like?

KA: I do all of the A&R here – which basically means, I “sign” the bands. A typical day….I wouldn’t know where to begin. There’s not really a regular rhythm – I think we all just try and stay in front of the workload.

What are the some of the unique challenges of running a small, all-vinyl label?

KA: Well, I should first clarify that we’re actually going to be pressing some CDs in the coming months – not on every release, but certain full lengths where there seems to be demand. It’s definitely a change of pace for us – and even seems a little wrong, but people still seem to want em…so, we’ll give it a shot.

As for challenges – when you do a high volume of releases, keeping production in check is always a headache. It’s the price you pay for putting out so many records, I suppose. Also, we sometimes seem to catch some slack on our records being expensive. It’s tough because our goal has always been to create a high quality product. Unfortunately, when you do that, the record/sleeve production isn’t cheap. It’s a definitely been tough to balance that. We actually just started doing cheaper paper stocks on all represses (while keeping the heavier stock on board for the first press). That keeps the cost lower.

Why a mostly vinyl/mp3 label? Are people buying more records and mp3s than CDs now? Does it make sense financially, or do you guys just really like vinyl?

KA: Well, like I mentioned above, we’re going to be producing some CDs now, but I still think that doing mostly vinyl and MP3′s is where it’s at. It’s just a nice marriage – it helps people have an intimate, warm listening experience and the on-the-go copy for the mp3 player.

Record sales are absolutely up and people seem to be looking more and more at buying vinyl, which is a great thing. There are lots of opinions on the CD disappearing, and it’s definitely a fading format, but who knows how long it’ll be ’til it actually goes.

What kinds of bands do you typically work with? Are there any specific criteria that you have?

KA: There’s no real criteria – it’s all about song craft. If you write good songs, I’m sure we’ll be stoked. Style over substance is not the way to our hearts.

What are some exciting projects you are working on right now? What should we look out for in the near future?

KA: Lots of good stuff coming soon – The Young Voyagers Of Legend LP, The Black Ryder Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride LP, No Joy 7″, Dunes 12″, TK Webb LP, Jacuzzi Boys 7″, Dimples 7″, Soldiers Of Fortune 12″ – I’m really excited about the upcoming Tamaryn LP, which will be in the fall. We have a bunch of reissues, too – a Michael Angelo 7″, Ramases Space Hymns LP and Linda Perhacs’ classic Parellellograms LP. And there’s a few secret things in the works – to be announced SOON.

What advice do you have for young people who want to work in the music industry?

KA: Well, if you’re really hell-bent on working at a label, just have patience and drop that sense of entitlement. There’s lots of unappealing work that you’ll need to do before you get a break…but hopefully it’ll pay off.

For more visit

Glow Like This and Time Machine

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010


Where did you grow up? How did you come to live in LA? What do you like about it?

JS: I was born in Providence, RI and my mother and I moved to Miami when I was 5. I moved to LA with the other guys in Time Machine in 2003, because we were previously living in separate cities and all agreed that we needed to be in the same place to give our music the attention it needed. We had been to California to do a few shows, and we liked the way LA felt.

I like that LA, more than maybe any other place I’ve ever been, is truly what you make it. You can live a very private secluded life, or you can be out and around people all the time. It’s still the Wild West in the sense that anything goes. People complain about LA being full of phony people, but I think those who say that are just surrounding themselves with the wrong folks. There are good and bad people anywhere you go.

How did you first get into hip hop? What about it grabbed you?

JS: Just being around older kids in the apartments where I grew up in Miami. Miami is basically New York south – a lot of Caribbean people, West Indians, Jews – and the music reflected it. In the late 80s and early 90s it was old school hip hop and all of that. And of course there was more local music. It was all just really exciting to me from a young age.

I was an only child and creatively inclined, so around 6th grade I started writing my own songs. My mom took me to some big pop and rock tours in Miami when I was real young, and then the first hip hop show I went to was in December 1991 when I was 13. I still have the ticket stub.

How’d you come up with the name Time Machine? Is it a conscious nod to being retro?

JS: Um, I think at first it was a combo of being a nod to older music that influenced us, and also a reference to a pattern that we noticed that a lot of our songs were about the concept of “time” itself.

What are some of Time Machine’s influences? Non-musical influences?

JS: I guess it would be Hip Hop of the 80s and early 90s. All kinds of Soul, Jazz and electronic music are in there too. And drums are foremost. DRUMS all day. Non-musically… girls, travel, attitude, physics, loss, honesty, discovery, and so much more; just the parts of life that make us stop, take notice, and comment.

How do you feel about all the lo-fi hip hop groups that are making music right now? Where did that trend come from?

JS: I assume you mean groups with real simple 808 drum beats, real rhythmic, not much melody? I think there’s room for all that and everything else. I like a lot of it. The beauty of music, and all art forms for that matter is, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay attention to it. I’m not sure exactly where the movement you’re asking about comes from, but it’s definitely a retro thing that comes from the same place as a lot of the fashion trends we’ve seen in the past few years.

Is it tricky to switch back-and-forth between making music and the practicalities of running a label? What do you look for in potential groups to work with?

JS: We figured out running a record label as we went along. For a while it really felt like my calling. I have entrepreneurial tendencies, and most importantly, it allowed us to make, release and market our music however we wanted. There were times when the business and the music conflicted, but more often than that, I think it created opportunities for us. After a while, the label stopped feeling like my calling and started feeling like a pain. Now that the label is alive but less active, it feels pretty good again, and we’re doing pretty well with having our songs used in TV shows and commercials.

When we were signing new artists it wasn’t about anything at all but loving their music. Panacea and The Project were completely unknown outside of their local scenes, and it was important to me to get as much attention as possible for music that I thought was so good. Going forward, we’ll probably only put out music by Time Machine.

As a record label, how do you feel about the prevalence of online downloads? I noticed you put some free downloads on your blog.

JS: It seemed really problematic for us at first. You have to keep in mind that for a label of our size, anything that sells 5 figures of units is considered a big success. So when the whole world woke up one morning and decided to stop buying CDs and records, the forecast was grim. The plant where we had our vinyl pressed went out of business. Now we do a decent amount of business every month with paid downloads online. Not having to manufacture, store or ship anything is a beautiful thing. We like putting up free music now and then on our site… old and new mixes by DJ Mekalek, lost songs that never saw the light of day, promo tracks, etc.

You’ve done some fun music videos. Are there any stories you’d like to tell me about the making of a video?

JS: We were really resourceful (and lucky) when it came to music videos. For a group with basically no financial backing, we have some really creative and compelling videos. A few times we were hit up by people out of the blue, like, “Hey, I make videos and I like your music. Wanna work together?” That’s how “The Unfortunate Twist” video came about… it’s like a top-notch animated video by a guy from England named David Whittle. He just hooked it up. All we could do in return was promote the video as best we could and take him out to dinner when we were on tour in the UK.

The video “Night Lights” from our first album Slow Your Roll was directed by my ex-girlfriend, and we still had to work together on the post-production immediately after we broke up. The video for “The Groove That Just Won’t Stop” was the only one that I directed myself. The whole thing was made of thousands of still photos animated in a rapid-fire slide show, and brought together with cartoon-y segues by our friend Evan Guidera (who saved our ass a number of times). Making videos was a lot of fun, although really stressful at times, and we were really lucky to have some good people in our corner.

What’s next for Time Machine? What’s coming up that you’re excited about?

JS: Time Machine is working on new songs now. I’m not sure what shape it’s going to take… if we’ll put together a whole album, a series of singles, or what. Whatever it is, it’ll be on several paid download sites.

We are also releasing some old music for the first time digitally. The album Hot Air that I was talking about earlier from 1999 will be in wide release for the first time this year, and so will a 2-song 7″ vinyl-only release I did around 2001 or 2002 called “Apple Pie”. Both are under the artist name Jaysonic.

I’m also doing a photo site called calledleisurecult. It’s all from my phone, and it’s about the things that I see that make me stop and take notice; not about me being a photographer.

For more, visit and

Elizabeth Seward and 'Song a Week'

Monday, May 31st, 2010


CS: Tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you got to where you are today.

ES: Well, I grew up in a small town in Ohio called Marietta. I started writing my own music around the age of 12 and by the time I was 16, I was constantly playing every show or open mic I could land within an hour or so drive from Marietta. I moved to NYC when I was 18 to pursue music, played some solo shows when I got here, but it didn’t take me long to form a band. I started a band that sounded nothing at all like my solo music when I was 20 called Devola. We toured a lot and worked really hard, but members quit and changed and it all started to fall apart just as I was starting to write songs again on my own. I’ve been getting back to my songwriter roots for the last two years. Most of my songs have been unpolished low-fi recordings birthed in Garageband and right now I’m just writing and recording obsessively, trying to be as good as I can be.

CS: You live in New York now, but you’re from Appalachia. Does your rural background influence your songwriting?

ES: Oh, I think so, yeah. It’s difficult to expect your home culture to not affect your art. Sometimes I feel a little too ‘in it’ to really see the influence Appalachia has had on me, but other people tell me they hear it all the time. The blues, the hint of country twang, the burden-ridden lyrics that you’ll find most frequently with country music, the finger-picking you’ll find most frequently with bluegrass and folk music. Come to think of it, I use a lot of country imagery in my lyrics–I mention nature, particularly hills and forests, more often than I even realized…until just now.


CS: Tell us about your ‘Song a Week’ project.

ES: The ‘Song a Week’ project was an idea of my close friend and fellow musician, Ben Britz. He has always complimented me on how quickly I piece together songs and at the end of 2009, he challenged me to start an online project that would hold me accountable to my fans online. He said something like ‘do a song a day’ and I said something like ‘ummm, no, how about a song a week.’ And then I just started the Tumblr page for it. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that I’m still going strong with it, but it’s been a remarkable process. Putting yourself in a box can sometimes be the best way to come up with something you’re happy with.

CS: Are there any changes in your songwriting process when you’re forced to create new songs so often?

ES: Definitely. I’ve been fiddling with my melodies more, working myself harder with my guitar parts, playing around with the idea of using loops, playing piano here and there, etc. When you’re forced to create a new song every week, you strive to make each its own piece; to breathe life and individuality into each of them. So I can see how my songwriting has been changing over the course of this year and really, it’s a nice thing to sit back and watch. I’m not sure anything else could have cornered me into expanding on my style.

CS: You’ve written on your blog about your enthusiasm for D.I.Y. culture. How do you feel the Internet has changed the relationship between you and your fans?

ES: I’m such a big fan of the Internet. It has changed everything! When I started playing music and taking my career seriously, it seemed like there was one way and one way only to make fans: a record label. Everything you want to do you can do yourself. With the expansion of the Internet, I’m constantly thinking and making lists of what I can do next. The huge change the Internet has made is that I’m now in control and my fans can reach me. They can literally just send me an email and expect to hear back from me, leave me a comment and wait for my comment back, vote on t-shirt designs, etc. I’m excited to be a musician during this time.


CS: What’s next for you as an artist? Working on any cool projects?

ES: This project has taken a lot of time just to get started and keep afloat, but now that I’m in the swing of it, there’s a long list of collaborators I’m planning on working with for the second half of 2010. A group project I’m not really allowed to talk about yet is underway, as well as a new band I’ll be going public with sometime this summer. Other than that, I’m just trying to organize my songs, get better recordings, release them as I see fit, and continue down the long road of songwriting improvement.

Listen to Elizabeth’s tunes at

Mr. Kiji

Friday, May 28th, 2010


Kiji McCafferty is a Japanese-born, New York-raised artist and graphic designer whose vivid work comes in all shapes and sizes, from intricate illustrations to large-scale painted murals. Before setting out to contribute to the Welling Court Mural Project in Queens with some of graffiti/street art’s most famous and recognizable names, Kiji sat down to describe what the day to day life of a working artist consists of.

AM: What materials do you use aside from your computer? Is there a palpable process to making something digitally for you, like hand sketching, or do you basically go from brain to screen?

KM: It really varies from project to project. I usually make thumbnails and notes in my sketchbook trying to utilize both my analog and digital tool chest as appropriately as possible. The computer does save me a lot of time, but only when smart decisions are made from the start. I always welcome happy accidents.


AM: Where and how do you draw inspiration from for your work? Are you one of those people who systematically writes down ideas in a notebook or keeps a folder on your computer of images you come across and want to consult later?

KM: I am pretty methodical about keeping sketches and compiling longstanding lists of notations. I have stacks of sketchbooks of all sizes. The drawings aren’t always great but the important thing is that it conveys the idea. I think it’s a great exercise to constantly be sketching. It allows you to have a healthy and immediate outlet from your mind’s eye to the real world.

AM: Are there any particular projects you are especially proud of and, conversely, anything you feel like you really flubbed at the beginning of your career that you wish you could do over?

KM: There’s no one project I’m overly proud of. I’m really critical of my own work and always look at a project in hindsight wondering how I could do it better the next time. There’s lots I could have done over, but all of it brought me to where I am now. I just try to keep a forward momentum; it seems like the healthiest means to success.

AM: What are the challenges of working from home for you?

KM: Some people think working from home would be fun. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. On one side, you have the freedom to set your own hours choose your projects and do what you want. On the other, you’re your own boss, accountant, project manager, negotiator and motivator. It’s a balancing act. I commend anyone that does it well. I sometimes miss working in a shared studio environment.


AM: Do you find it difficult to balance creating work for a living and creating work for pleasure/yourself and art shows?

KM: I’m not always hired for the same aesthetic. I think that versatility has made me a commercially viable illustrator. On the flip side, jumping back and forth between such vastly different aesthetics and processes can be a bit confusing sometimes. The work I make for a gallery setting usually has a bit more subtext both on a personal level and on a semiotic level. It’s a balancing act, but I think I’ve learned and grown very much by the contrast between the two.

AM: What is a typical day like for you?

KM: It’s pretty straightforward; up and at my computer around 9am with a coffee in hand. The first half of the day is a juggling act of doing revisions on an existing project, working on a current project and email correspondence. I cat nap, but all in all, it’s a labor of love. The best time for drafting and drawing is at night. I feel my hand is steadier and my mind is clearer, so once the sun sets, I usually shift over to the drafting table if I have the time. My day ends anywhere between 1am and 4am. The cycle repeats. I try to only do three days on this schedule before I spend a day or two on a lighter schedule.


AM: Any upcoming projects we should be on the look out for?

KM: There’s a bunch of stuff! A mural project organized by the people of Ad-Hoc in Queens called the Welling Walls. A group show at Yes Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a bunch of my good friends. In July, the Electric Windows 2 project in Beacon, New York. Lots of fun stuff!

For more on Kiji check out his online portfolio at

Pamela Wasabi

Monday, May 24th, 2010


Let’s start out with your background; where are you from, and how did you first get into fashion? Did you go to school for it?

I grew up in Colombia, I have lived in Paris and now home is Miami. I really don’t care about belonging to any place in particular but every place that I have lived has contributed to who I am.

I took a fashion associate program in Miami back in ’03 just because I wanted to be in a creative field, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

How did you come to live in Miami? What do you like about it? In general, or career-wise?

I came to Miami when I was 16 and I had no choice but to come, as it was a family decision. I hated the decision back then, but now I think it is the best thing that has happened to me. To come from Bogota, a cold, conservative, religious, close-minded, man’s world, to Miami, a young, full-of-energy, free spirited and next-to-the-ocean city, it woke me up! And now I don’t rest until I know that what I am doing is for my own benefit. Call me selfish, but it is my life and I just have one to live.

How did you come up with the moniker Wasabi? What does it mean to you? Stretching it out further, what do you want the name Wasabi Fashion Kult to signify?

My personal fashion style, color preference and even graphic aesthetic is very similar to the one built into the Harajuku culture. I have developed this saturated style since I can remember but what is funny is that I was never exposed to the Japanese pop culture until ’05. A friend gave me a Fruits postcard and opened a whole new universe and new obsession for me. Since then I love, love, love anything that has that colorful, dolly, j-pop strokes of energy.

Therefore, Wasabi stands for that eccentric flavor and colorful, expressive style. It is a word that has the Japanese culture built into it and no matter what language you speak it correlates to something hot and stimulating. Later on as my concept grew, I tied in the Fashion Kult words and formed a name that I want to signify a movement, a house, a brand, an icon that stands for expression, freedom and individuality. Like creating a religion, this one is my own.

You have many different types of content in your online magazine. Art, music, interviews, video…what’s the overriding ethos that drives it?

The first thing that I intend is to document our culture, what is happening right now, how we evolve, how we behave, what we like, and, most importantly, why? I am very, very curious and seek to know how others make something out of their lives. But the common ground for this type of history that I want to observe is the one where the individual is really looking for his or her independence.

You also do fashion street photography. What draws you to that? What kinds of people do you most like to photograph?

I am attracted to see how people express themselves. How they break the mold and don’t give a damn about it. Those are the people I photograph.

You do so many different things…is there one medium that was your first love, or did they all grow organically at the same time?

I call what I do, solving puzzles. I like to see the big picture and then move the pieces to make it work. It is like a kind of math and everything that I do, from my fashion journalism to organizing the magazine, advertising, promotions, styling, producing and art directing has this creative arithmetic. I think conceptually, and mostly through images. And that is how everything in my life organically happens.

What are your biggest aesthetic inspirations? Have you been to Japan? Your style, as you said, is often similar to j-pop imagery.

The big picture will be, to be the bridge or some sort of blender that communicates, and documents both cultures. The creative, expressive avant-garde Japanese pop culture with the free spirited, artistic Western one.

I have never been to Japan; I will go when WFK gives me the opportunity to travel. It will be the peak of my career and the start of a new chapter.

How did you get into producing fashion shows? What do you like about doing this particular line of work?

It’s putting into practice my artistic mathematics and my creative conceptual thinking. Like creating a big assembling machine and making everything work flawlessly. I like to entertain people, and while I dress up what I do with a big fashion smile, I play my game backstage.

What exactly goes into producing a fashion show? What are some of the unique challenges?

The biggest challenge is to dare oneself to create what hasn’t been done before, and since you do not have a point of reference you only know if what you are doing is successful after the show is over.

To produce a fashion show it takes a lot of organizational, communication and visualization skills. As the producer and art director I like to get my hands in every department; from the idea to the making of it.
It is a big process: looks, casting, models, sizes, fit sessions. Styling, outfits, make up and hairstyle design. Venue, production, runway, coordination. Music, dates, PR. Dressers, timing, dead lines, adrenaline and show time!

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I love to watch movies, mostly old ones. Film is a perfect art to me and it gives my imagination wings. I also love adventure and action; I practice boxing and go for runs very often. It’s my discipline.

What advice do you have for a young person who wants to get into fashion?

Fashion is a business and can be a monster. Selling and making clothes is just like selling and making French fries, you just have to be smart about the game.

For more Pamela Wasabi, check out her ‘zine at WasabiFashionKult and her street photography at WasabiBlackMagic.

Life Size Maps

Friday, May 21st, 2010


There have to be some mixed feelings attached to the title of “best unsigned band in New York.” On the one hand, you’re the best! On the other hand, you’re the best at dealing with the thankless toil that fledgling, hopelessly under-the-radar bands have to withstand in this town if they want to make even fitful progress.

Just ask Mike Mckeever, guitar player and songwriter for Columbia University-based Life Size Maps. It took him months of hanging out at Brooklyn DIY mecca Death by Audio, a veritable proving ground for the borough’s legions of talented musical unknowns, before he could talk the venue’s bookers into giving his band a 30-minute set. On a Thursday night in late April, the band played soaring baroque-inflected power pop for a crowd of about 50 Columbia groupies and a small handful of miscellaneous scenesters. A weeknight DIY crowd faced with a band that no one in north Brooklyn has ever heard before usually watches with their arms placed stiffly atop one another. But Williamsburg’s trademark diffidence was no match for a song like “See it Differently,” whose exuberant and impossibly massive chorus shreds all cynicism within earshot. The members of Total Slacker and Fiasco, two established scene bands sharing the night’s bill with LSM, were among the converted.


Total Slacker especially. This past Thursday night, the band weathered a journey that few Brooklyn artists would dare to undertake, dragging themselves and their instruments to a basement dive underneath the subway tracks at 124th and Broadway in Manhattan, just to headline a Life Size Maps gig. “Umm yeah, this isn’t the kind of place we usually play,” guitarist Tucker Rountree said, scanning the underclassman-packed, defiantly un-hip downstairs area of the Pub. With its molded linoleum dance floor and hideous neon-red booths, the basement looks like someone’s badly—albeit endearingly—misfired attempt at building a respectable club space. The result is more serial killer’s basement than Music Hall of Williamsburg, but the combination of dirt-cheap drinks and a small horde of excited undergrads made the place feel like the perfect DIY dive.

As did power pop from a trio of music nerds. “I just wanna write great pop songs,” says Mckeever, a hyperactive and shorter-than-average mop top studying towards an English and music double major at Columbia. Mckeever’s songs carry a decidedly classical sound, and have an obvious and relatable quality that distracts from just how mind-blowingly complicated they are. He started the band as a sophomore, eventually trimming an unwieldy flute, oboe and two-guitar ensemble to a taut guitar, drum and cello three-piece. He writes the sort of songs that you can sing along to the first time you hear them—even though they’re dizzying, thickly layered marvels of pop symmetry that only a trio of classically-trained musicians could execute.

Mckeever is backed by drummer and fellow Columbia music student Griffin Kisner and cellist Rob Karpay. The basement looks like it’s never met a classical instrument in its life, but Karpay seems to relish the incongruities of the evening. “Yeah,” says the gangling, Manhattan School of Music junior. “I guess I might be the greatest rock cellist in the world!” He had no competition on Thursday night. The meandering “Meet Me in the Shade” is all Rob, with his cello providing a frantic, anxious counterpoint to Mckeever’s sweet falsetto. He furiously shakes his head with every stroke of the bow, pinching the instrument’s fret board as a couple of exuberant fans hovered a few inches from his face.


Life Size Maps might not have a record deal, but they have something that could be just as valuable: fans who are ready to swear that they’re listening to one of the best bands on Earth. The number of people who mouth along to every one of LSM’s songs, who know that “See it Differently” will always be the set the closer and who hang on every key change and hook seems to grow from concert to concert. “We even have a stalker,” says Mckeever, pointing to a steely-looking acne sufferer towards the back of the venue. “He like, follows us everywhere. I don’t know what to do about him.” He’s half-joking. A band too big for its campus roots yet too small to make the jump to the DIY circuit needs all the stalkers it can get.

By the time Total Slacker finished their set at around one in the morning, a couple of young, ridiculously talented acts had laid waste to a random basement bar in a remote and culturally (or at least rock-musically) blighted part of town. Life Size Maps is simultaneously inviting and devastating in a way that only a well-practiced pop act can be. The “best unsigned band in New York” is a title they might not need to get used to.

For more visit


Thursday, May 20th, 2010


When did you guys start playing your respective instruments? Are your parents musical?

My brothers Jake and Matt are only 13 months apart in age, and started playing music when they were very young. They played garage rock in venues around our hometown before they were in high school. Matt was like 3 feet tall. I’m the youngest and was an artsy kid. The band needed a drummer, so I filled that spot when I was 13. My low- tops were perfect for drumming, because of the flat sole. The guys were cool enough to let me sing and play original songs.

Our father is very musical, although he practices law for a living. Our parents first met at one of his gigs when they were teenagers. They owned a DJ company together as a young married couple. We grew up with guitars in the basement and lots of vinyl albums.

That’s awesome having supportive parents, how much of a difference did that make in your musical journey?

It’s made all the difference, really. We couldn’t ask for more supportive people in our lives. Our younger sister Rose is amazing, too. She’s the first person I play new songs to- she’s fifteen and has a great ear. We also have many family friends that are musicians and have totally inspired us.

How vibrant a music scene does Minneapolis have? Is it a good place for a young band?

Minneapolis is an excellent place to grow up, both as a human being and as a band. The city is great, because young musicians can get on stages here and get support. There are many encouraging musicians, and Minnesotans are just nice.


What brought you guys to The Grammy Camp? How did that experience affect you musically and beyond?

A family friend encouraged us to audition for Grammy Camp. The camp was in its first year and was new and exciting for everyone there. Teenagers from all over the U.S. went to Los Angeles to experience many aspects of the music industry. We were in the singer/songwriter and instrumentalist groups, so we recorded in a great studio, were loaned amazing instruments and stayed up until 2 a.m. jamming every night. It was heaven. We left inspired and empowered to pursue music.

Did you guys play in bands before you played as a group together?

Jake and Matt have always played music together in one form or another. When I was nine two friends and I were a girl group for a day or two. I think we were going for TLC meets the Spice Girls.

How is it playing in a band with your brothers and sisters? I’m sure you get asked it all the time, but how does that shape your music?

How being siblings shapes our music- that’s a great question. The band’s sound is definitely a mix of our three different personalities. Matt is influenced by alternative rock, especially from the late 90s… Jake is really into singer/songwriters… I’m all over the map. We don’t sugar coat opinions with one another- we can be brutally honest as siblings.


That’s a really mature way of approaching a notoriously difficult business for people so young. Do you guys write the parts together or split them up?

Oftentimes I’ll play the others a song that’s almost done, and we finish it together. Once you play a new song for the rest of the band, it opens the box to everyone’s input. Sometimes Matt plays a guitar riff and we start jamming on drums and bass and creating a song around it- that’s really fun. Matt likes to point out that the lyrics about young men are all mine.

What are our plans for the immediate future? Are you touring and recording?

Yes and yes! We are heading on a national tour this summer. We’ve written many new songs since releasing our album “Field Day” in 2009, and hopefully will record this summer.

Any advice for younger musicians trying to get started?

I think that great songwriting is at the heart of great music, so go for it. Also, just play a lot!

To see and hear from Lynhurst, check out their Myspace, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube page.

Photos by Collin Hughes and Lee Cherry

Filmmaking with Judah Switzer

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010


Judah Switzer is the 28-year-old director behind the esoteric videos for the most recent release by DFA recording artist YACHT. Fittingly for an album titled See Mystery Lights, the music videos contain the kind of mystic symbolism most often associated with tarot cards or Freemasonry. However, Judah is no crystal-clutching fanatic. His work has also been screened at several film festivals. Today, Judah explains what it is exactly a director does—besides calling “Action.”

Helen Schumacher: You went to college at the University of Oregon. What did you study there? Is that where you got into filmmaking?

Judah Switzer: I was fortunate enough to study the fine arts under some extremely moving and challenging people—talented artists and thinkers experimenting with ideas at a state school that weren’t really being explored at any of the more regarded arts schools in the nation. And yeah, probably a lot of their guidance helped me establish my own directorial sensibilities, but it was all explored through a fine-arts lens. The work was much more conceptual and procedural. I’d like to think that I engage this process in my current projects, that some degree of higher level artistic development is being applied rather than just making a wacky set and calling “Action.”

My school never had a “film school” so to speak. You could go the route of film studies (purely academic), or get into production through the journalism school, or study art and hope you had crazy professors who let you break free of the traditional drawing classes and other absurd requirements. I was lucky, and basically made bizarre Lynchian short films. Aside from my formal schooling though, I think primarily I became interested in visual storytelling around the third grade, when my friends and I began making silly videos and projects. In a sense, my upbringing as a so-called “digital native” also directly contributed to my own visual discoveries.


H.S.: More specifically, how did you get into making music videos?

I was called into a pre-production meeting in 2007 with a Portland-based animation studio called Feel Good Anyway, whom I had worked on a few projects with. The meeting was actually about making a music video for the band YACHT, and Jona Bechtolt was there so that’s when we met. The video never got made; I think at that time the animation budget was just going to be too high or something. But a few months later Jona sent Emma [Scout] Niblett my way when she asked him about Portland directors to do a video to accompany her “Kiss” single. She liked my reel and that was that, really. At the time I was still working a full time gig at an advertising agency, so I’d work 8-10 hours a day at my day job and then stay after hours and edit with Emma until, like, 3am in the editing suite, then wake up at 8am and do it all over again. I had a lot of fun working with Emma and Will Oldham, and the video was really well received, so it became a fun creative practice for me. And of course since then I’ve worked with Jona and Claire on several projects.

H.S.: I feel a bit silly asking this, but what is it exactly that a director does?

J.S.: Well, it can mean different things depending on the situation, but for music videos generally I conceptualize and pitch projects to bands that request treatments, then depending on the budget I hire producers and crew, help storyboard and art direct, and then finally work directly with the talent and everything during the shoot. It also involves making people comfortable and willing to experiment on camera, being able to communicate your ideas to people within an inherently vulnerable environment. And also, directing is about having an image in your mind profound enough to will it into reality, and then once you are in production and post-production mode, being able to have an open enough mind to accept or negotiate away from that original idea. A large part of the job is about coming to realize the loss of your conceived original image and instead refining and making it something even more amazing.


H.S.: Yeah, I always imagined filmmaking would be especially difficult because the level of collaboration required. Is that the case? Is it difficult to negotiate between your vision, the band’s, and others’ on set? In other words, how do you manage to be a part of a team while still retaining some level of creative control? Are there advantages to this collaboration as well?

J.S.: It is difficult, for sure, but I’d want it no other way. Having the opportunity to work with other artists is the most exciting and invigorating part of directing. I’ve been lucky enough to work with friends and clients alike who trust my own creative judgments but also aren’t afraid to explore other options. Working collaboratively will always solve more problems than not, and I think that if you believe enough in the idea you can convince other people as well.

H.S.: You’ve also done animation work. Is that something you’d like to continue to do and incorporate into your videos?

J.S.: Absolutely. I’ve loved getting into animation, and have been really lucky to have worked with amazing animators. Eric Mast and I are working on a second animated video for the Portland band White Fang; we’ve been tag-teaming on it for like a year now. And more and more I use animation in commercial projects, which is great.

H.S.: Most of your work so far has been shorter pieces, any ambitions for a full-length movie? Or are you more interested in the fine-art realm of video? What are your future creative goals?

J.S.: Yipes! It seems too early to talk about it yet, but yes, I have a couple of long-form projects in the works. I have an interest in continuing shorter video projects too though, especially with installation and performative pieces. Ideally I would love to be making and showing artistic pieces and still be able to support myself with commercial work.

You can check out Judah’s work at Jude Says or peep his Vimeo channel at

Art and ‘zines with Austin McManus

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010


Austin McManus, the man behind the San Francisco ‘zine company The Flop Box knows how to stay busy. He recently started curating monthly art shows at FREEGOLDWATCH in San Francisco, and managed to churn out two new ‘zines recently despite also preparing for a split show and joint ‘zine project with close friend Brandon Chuesy, as well as a solo photography show in Japan at the end of summer. Woah. For what Austin refers to as “seven foggy years,” The Flop Box has been putting out ‘zines filled with photographs, graffiti and artwork from his Bay Area friends and acquaintances. He recently took the time to tell me a little bit more about how he juggles everything.

AM: First off, tell me a little about yourself.

AMM: I am tall. I’ve been an occupant of planet Earth for 29 years. The seven most recent years were spent residing in San Francisco. I quit college several credits away from graduating. I am currently a freelance photographer, graphic designer, publisher, and curator. I haven’t had a “real job” in three years and feel fortunate to not have a structured schedule. I spent five months of 2009 bedridden, wondering if I was gonna live the rest of my life in horrifying pain. I like grainy black and white film and dislike bulky cameras. I ride a bike every day of the week and want to wear a new pair of socks for the rest of my life.

AM: When did you start making ‘zines?

AMM: I have been making ‘zines for six or seven years now. Seeing older kids making punk rock and graffiti ‘zines when I was younger in Los Angeles probably had a large impact on me. My brother used to mail me these obscure conceptual graphic design ‘zines he was making in the early 90′s as well. It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay, though, that I got obsessed with them. My friend Pez has had a huge influence on me. One day he came over to my house and gave me a stack of ‘zines from his archives, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. My love for independent publishing grows stronger everyday as the power of Internet photo sharing becomes more commonplace. You don’t have to work for your advertisers and anyone can do it. I suggest you go make one right now. I’m waiting.

AM: What materials do you use?

AMM: Anything that I can get my hands on. Offset printers, photocopy machines, home printers, long arm staplers, industrial paper cutters, stencils, silkscreen presses, Gocco printers, etc.

AM: How long does it typically tell you to assemble a ‘zine?

AMM: Anywhere from one day to one year, depending if there are other artists involved or if it’s just a personal ‘zine. Supplies are currently acquired through a generous barter system.

AM: How do you select the artists you work with?

AMM: All the artist who have had ‘zines on The Flopbox are San Francisco artists and personal friends. The original idea for the site was to utilize the Internet and offer something of tangible value, giving access to people outside of San Francisco.


AM: What has been the most fun one for you to put together?

AMM: They have all been very enjoyable. The ABC #2 ‘zine was great, though. I gave each artist different direction and some absolutely none. Everyone who contributed to that ‘zine sent me top-notch sketches. It was really interesting to see how far the artist would take a single letter of the alphabet. After twelve months of harassing people to give me drawings, it became an exercise in patience. There were many writers that I wish would have contributed and that I asked to be in it. But, some people are too cool for school sometimes and you know how artists tend to be…flakey.

AM: How difficult was it for you to get your materials stocked in stores – do you rely solely on online sales? Does it end up being cost-effective for you or just something you enjoy doing?

AMM: In S.F. it’s easy. I walk into the store, hand them ‘zines, they hand me money, and we thank each other. That’s San Francisco though, they know me here, and are willing to support local folk making things. As far as other cities and countries, it’s difficult. There is this worthless middleman called a distributor. Cut the middleman out if you’re not producing large quantities of product. I was in Japan recently and brought a large box of ‘zines with me. Not only my own, but ‘zines from several different artists. I had generous Japanese friends take me around to stores where they knew shop owners for meet and greets. The same scenario always arises. They tell me I need to have a distributor. People say “Oh, we would love to carry these and want to, but, we only really deal with distributors.” Even if I’m standing there with ten different products, from ten different artists, right in front of the buyer. I’m still trying to figure out what the difference is between what I do versus a distributor. They would suggest to go all the way back to the U.S. and sell it to a distributor for practically nothing, so it can get shipped all the way back over, so they can be charged more than I’m charging?. This is bad business practice in my eyes, and so impersonal.

I would say 75% of the ‘zines sell over the web, though. The demand over the Internet is high enough now that I don’t really have to deal with stores to much. Profits are minimal and the craft, rewarding.

AM: What other ‘zines from the past did enjoy the most?

AMM: Finding a good ‘zine is a real treasure hunt. I think every ‘zine in my collection is my favorite. The more limited and smaller pressing they are, the luckier I feel to have gotten my hands on them. I have run out of space on the shelves, I’m starting to fill boxes.

To order zines and find out more, visit The Flop Box