Legends of Sam Marco – The Albertans

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The market of sweet indie bands has gotten quite saturated over the past few years. This makes new efforts that fall under that stylistic umbrella to be more easily dismissed. So the fact that The Albertans’ Legends of Sam Marco can subtly catch a listeners ear and bring out a smile it’s something worth noting.

The first thing that stands out are the vocals. Lead vocalist/guitarist Joel Bravo has a very understated tone without feeling weak. He sounds exactly like Brandon Riley of Nightmare of You (which is great). Additionally, keyboardists/percussionists Alison Yip and Krystin Monaghan sing lovely backup vocals in unison, combining for a vocal sound very similar to Arthur & Yu’s Sonya Westcott. The two are synced up so tight you may not notice it’s a duo.

From the opening clicking of drum sticks and Yip and Monaghan’s sweetly sung gibberish refrain on “Marie,” an inkling of whimsy is abound. Everything is in a soft focus. Many tracks, such as “Stop” and “Warring Man” are sparse with lots of room to breathe. At times the songs seem to be the musical equivalent of a balloon floating gently, and hopelessly, out of sight. Continue reading

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Q&A With Serena Ryder

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American audiences might not be familiar with Serena Ryder, but this folk-rock dynamo has already found great success in her native Canada. Only 25 years old, Ryder has already earned a gold record up north and won multiple Junos (Canada’s Grammys) – including “New Artist of the Year” in 2008, on the strength of her impassioned, Melissa Etheridge-esque vocal. Every strum of her acoustic guitar carries a heavy burden of visceral truth. Ryder’s songs are ripe with beauty, yet have the raspy edge that makes them cut to the emotional core of the listener. Some might refer to this as a characteristic of soulfulness. If that’s the case, then Ryder has soul in spades. On top of all of that, she’s drop-dead gorgeous. She may just be an unstoppable force of nature.

Ryder’s US “debut” album It Is O.K. comes out next Tuesday, November 2nd (though it is already available at any of her shows, and it’s been available in Canada since last year.) The record features on of the absolute best songs of the year “A Little Bit of Red” (a fabulous rendition of the tune can be found below the jump.) I never get into any music that’s remotely close to this style, so when I say It Is OK is an album you have to check out, put some stock in those words.

I was able to catch up with Ryder after her energetic set at Spokane’s Big Dipper last Sunday and she was graceful enough to spare a few minutes.

What have been some of the trials and tribulations being a successful Canadian artist trying to garner a bigger American audience?

Serena: Well I guess the biggest struggle is always just keeping your shit together. It’s like…staying healthy on the road and…you know…staying sane, because there are a lot of really, really long days and there’s a lot of crazy traveling.

You’re meeting everyone for the first time – for them – everyday is a first impression. So, if you’re having a bad day or something went really wrong, the person that you’re meeting doesn’t know that. Making first impressions is my entire life it seems. So it’s kind of having this fast and fleeting way of being; one of living out a gypsy-ish kind of lifestyle, but wanting to have a sense of home inside yourself.

But for the most part it’s been really amazing. I mean like, touring in the states, it’s literally 10 times bigger than Canada. So it’s mostly just being able to be healthy and not go crazy with the travel.

I’ve had a lot of trouble describing your type of music to other people. I’ve heard things like folk, country, and adult alternative – and I have no idea what that means….

Nor do I. Yeah it’s really weird, I don’t understand that labeling.
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Going Solo For Art’s Sake

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Art impacts each one of us in a different way. No two people see a painting, hear a song or watch a movie and get the exact same thing from it. Which raises the question: Why are people so hesitant to experience a concert alone?

Recently one of my friends had one of her all-time favorite bands come through town but didn’t attend the show. It wasn’t because she couldn’t get a ticket. It wasn’t because she had to work that night. It was because she had no one to go with.

She was even considering just hanging outside the venue (not a smart idea in Spokane) during the concert because she cared so much for the band, yet going alone was unthinkable.

The situation may seem rather extreme, but this type of thing occurs quite often. Probably the most common situation for this refusal to digest art alone is movie-going. No matter how much they have been anticipating a film, people are reluctant to go solo.

Individuals will convince themselves that waiting to see it later with friends is the best option. It’s odd because watching a movie with others does not change the product in the least. If you watch the film alone or with a slew of friends, every frame is still the same. Every joke, scare or tear is still shows up the same way on that projector screen. So, what is it that drives this tendency in people? What we really desire is not the companionship; what we crave is social discussion of art.
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Q&A With Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band

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Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band have trekked across the U.S. much of 2009 and rocked many an ear along the way. The group’s self-titled debut LP is one of the best albums of the year (read the review here), showcasing the group’s loud, jaunty, and rhythmically interesting songs which transition smoothly across many different musical styles. All in all, it’s fair to say the band rocks in a wonderfully straightforward way without having to dumb a single thing down.

I caught up with the group’s lead vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Verdoes (pictured right) after the last show of their tour in Spokane (October 10th) and he was generous enough to answer a few inquires.

What are the details on the new album? Do you have everything written and when are you going into record it?

Benjamin: We have it written and we just have to make some last minute edits and make some revisions. We go into the studio about a week from now. It not going to be all of us, it going to be done in sections over the next two and a half months.

Bands often say that they have a “family feel,” but it’s a bit different for you guys since you actually are a family (keyboardist/percussionist Traci is Benjamin’s wife and 14-year old drummer Marshall is their adopted son). How does that change things from the “typical” band experience, be it touring or otherwise? What are some advantages and disadvantages?

The benefits are that I for sure don’t feel guilty when I go on tour and it doesn’t destroy my relationships in that way. In my opinion, from what I’ve seen around me, it’s more damaging if you leave the people for long periods of time. Especially in our case, cause Marshall lives with Traci and I, and so it’d really bad for me to leave her or him individually, but especially together. It would be a major blow to our marriage and to Marshall’s upbringing or whatever.

The disadvantages, are that we’re on the road as a band with a 14-year old, which you know, some people wouldn’t wish that on themselves. But you know, I think that by in large the benefits out weigh the negatives of it.

Are there any atypical squabbles that you get into because you have that family dynamic that you wouldn’t get into otherwise?

Well, I’d actually rather fight with Traci, like if we get in a squabble, because we’re really good at resolving them and we have a really intimate relationship, where as sometimes when you’re fighting with dudes it’s a lot easier to reach that level where you can stay away from them and harbor things.

With Marshall, a lot of times, it’s over stuff that you’d never encounter [in a typical band}, like over homework and over being respectful to people and not yelling at them when we’re on stage and saying, “Hey you need to do this.” You know, stuff that people don’t usually need to be told. But I guess I’ve talked to bands that have grown men that are on a similar plane.

Yeah. I think it’s not like a bed of roses, but it’s been really good so far.
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Aimee Mann Feature For The Inlander

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An artist’s artist, musician and comedian, Aimee Mann proves that being independent is worth it

Aimee Mann relies on herself, not the record industry.

A decade ago, the singer-songwriter kicked record execs to the curb and began releasing albums on her own label, SuperEgo Records.

Known best for her work on the Grammy- and Oscar-nominated Magnolia soundtrack, Mann continues to build her substantial fan base with odes to loneliness and the more dour aspects of life. Yet her decision to leave the corporate world of music behind has never has left her singing a sour note.

“Everything [about being independent] is the best part,” she says. “To not have to worry about other people weighing in with their opinions or making announcements about what you should do. To have control of your art and not be told when and how to tour. You can make decisions based on your own person.”

With that kind of freedom, she has produced seven solo records while still finding time to collaborate with other musicians.
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