Fiendish Conversation with Reggie Watts

I talked to the crazy-talented musical comedian about his busy schedule and Comedy Bang! Bang!. Check it out.

Gallery – Craft Spells

Craft Spells - GalleryLush musical moping will always be in style. Craft Spells, a San Francisco/Seattle act led by singer Justin Paul Vallesteros, are just the latest group of boys turning out that brand melancholy tunes.

Gallery finds Craft Spells toeing the line between sounding instantly familiar without feeling derivative. The band’s simultaneously shiny and sad pop tunes trace their lineage back to the British new wave and post-punk of the ‘80s. Instrumentals keep the mood upbeat, bringing to mind Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but unlike OMD, there’s a lush softness to the keys on tracks like “Burst” that makes them feel much more organic than synthesized. On the flip side, Vallesteros’s vocal cadence on songs like “Warmth” calls to mind Interpol’s Paul Banks (and thereby Joy Division’s Ian Curtis). But it never feels like Vallesteros is aping any of his predecessors; he just happens to have a kindred distant coo.

Gallery goes down easily due to the seemingly effortless way Craft Spells blends its cold vocal indifference with the warm and cheery musical backing.

Review Score: 6.9

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*

RockStar Motel Feature From Seattle Met

A new Seattle social media startup site attempts to let fans act as PR reps for their favorite bands. Find out how it works.

Sasquatch 2012 Picks From Seattle Met

I laid out my 10 must-see acts for this year’s Sasquatch! Festival over at Seattle Met. Check it out.

GirlTalk Feature From The Inlander

GirlTalk ShopTalk

Gregg Gillis lays out the dos and don’ts of being a mash-up superstar.

Gregg Gillis — better known as Girl Talk — has lorded over riot-like sweat-soaked dance fests ever since Pitchfork endorsed his album Night Ripper back in 2006, launching him from relative obscurity to playing night after night in sold-out clubs. And it’s easy to see the appeal. Gillis’ genius derives from the manic populism of his mash-up style; he crams together bits and pieces of songs by recognizable artists until the tracks overload and burst apart into pop bliss. His most recent album — All Day — uses 373 samples in the course of 12 tracks, using everything from Jay-Z to Radiohead.

How does he do it? We got on the phone with Gillis to get a few tips on making mash-up masterpieces:

1. Keep listening and sampling separate

“For me, looking for samples and listening to music are almost two different processes. When I’m listening to music, that’s like me waking up, throwing on a CD, checking e-mail, not really thinking about it so much. Whereas when I’m on the look for an ’80s synth-pop melody, that’s a different process. That’s like me combing through my CD collection … kind of skimming through things. Not really listening to music to listen to it, more the hunt for the sample.”

2. Your Ear = Your Expression.

“Getting things to mesh is definitely trial and error for me. For every person it’s different; that’s the ear. I think when you’re making those combinations — that is your voice.”

3. Shrug off failure.

“Most things I sample typically fail … I would say I have a success rate of maybe 25 to 50 percent with samples.”

4. Take the old, make something new

“For me, often times the goal is to make something transformative.

When I get a sample or a vocal piece or a melody or whatever that I like, when I use it I want it to be kind of removed from the original context. I want it to sound like something else.”

5. Protect yourself

“I always cover both my computers in Saran Wrap to kind of guard from the sweat, and the booze and the possible blood, or vomit, or whatever.”

6. Electronic ≠ Lifeless

“I don’t ever want the show to be cold, electronic and removed from

the audience. I want more of like a rock ‘n’ roll/punk feel. You know, sweaty and jumping on people.”

7. Keep your friends close

“There’s a small crew of friends … They kind of are the Girl Talk hype men. As the shows have gotten bigger, I just can’t interact with the audience as much as I’d like to. The material has gotten a lot more specific; it’s gotten more difficult for me to actually play it. They do any of the confetti blasts, or balloons, or they have these homemade guns that shoot toilet paper into the crowd and air into the front row. They go out there and basically go nuts for an hour and half.”

8. Dress the part.

“I think you have to definitely go out and spend a lot of money on Hanes.com and get a lot of different sweat outfits, because every show I dispose of my outfits. Sweat through ‘em, rip them off, get them out there.”

Fiendish Conversation with KEXP’s Cheryl Waters

In anticipation of KEXP’s Hood-to-Hood 2012, I chatted with the KEXP DJ and On-Air Events Coordinator about which Seattle bands she thinks are poised for a breakout. Check it out.

Impossible Bird – Impossible Bird

Impossible BirdWe all have our musical blind spots. Even the most ardent music lovers struggle to appreciate certain styles outside their wheelhouse. But every now and then, a band or artist turns out an album that’s so well executed, there’s no denying its merits, even if it’s not a genre one would normally dig. This is exactly how I’d categorize the debut EP by Seattle alt-folk duo Impossible Bird. It was April’s pleasant surprise. The five-song album is a mix of fiddle and falsetto, backed by incredible talent: Canadian Tyler Carson mans the fiddle and Stroh violin—a violin that uses a metal horn instead of a wooden body to resonate sound—and brings each song to life with energetic lead lines that rip away any notions of the folk blahs. Vocalist-guitarist Nick Drummond, formerly of local acoustic rock band the Senate, churns out propulsive guitar lines that keep the acoustic two-piece from sounding small. The instrumental arrangements are reminiscent of Dave Matthews Band, but Drummond’s clear vocals give Impossible Bird a sound that’s refreshing and entirely its own.

Opening track “Here I Am” showcases the duo at its most playful and anthemic; it’s not hard to imagine a summer festival crowd clapping along. (Perhaps at the Northwest Folklife Festival? Impossible Bird will be playing there on May 28.) The EP isn’t a one-trick pony, though; “Overture” is darker, like its set in an old Southern Gothic mansion with creaking floorboards and door hinges, thanks to Carson’s fiddle work and the clever use of clanking chains as percussion.

Lyrics aren’t Impossible Bird’s forte, but the track about a marriage proposal—“Bottle of Wine”—is genuinely sweet with lines like, “A ring’s like a watch that shows no time.” While Drummond has a tendency to excessively repeat his refrains (most songs have about a minute and a half worth of lyrics stretched into four-and-a-half-minute songs), it’s forgivable since the core of Impossible Bird is melodic instrumentation, not poetry.

Acoustic duos simply aren’t supposed to have this big a sound. It’s really only a matter of time before Impossible Bird has an equally large audience.

Review Score: 6.7

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*