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Interview: Neely of Tilly And The Wall

Neely Tanner (nee Jenkins) answers questions about Tilly And The Wall tours & song lyrics, recording with Rilo Kiley, and the connection between music & yoga.

Neely Jenkins After The Show Interview

Photo Credit: Dawn Belik

After The Show: Playing bass, teaching yoga, and focusing on the rhythmic flow of the breath seem similar in a lot of ways. What are the connections for you between music and movement?

Neely: I find them as a way to escape the loudness of the world. It is time for focus, concentration, and calm. The “being here” moments are so important.

You’ve played so many shows and festivals (like Coachella and Iceland’s Airwaves festival) with Tilly And The Wall. Do you have a favorite tour that you look back on and smile?

We did a European tour with the band CSS. We shared a bus and traveled around Europe and the UK with them and their crew. We had originally met them in an artist tent briefly in Scotland previously, but the connection was quick and amazing. Next, CSS and Tilly ended up in the line up and playing The Leffingeleuren Festival in Belgium in 2006…

They asked if we had any Tilly T-shirts they could have. We gave them all a shirt. We ran off to lunch, then came back to watch their set. When they walked onto stage, they were all wearing our shirts! It was adorable and I was so moved. I think we all were. We stayed in the same hotel that night and ate french fries. We fell in love. They asked us to open for them on that 2007 European tour with them, starting in Lisbon and going for a couple of weeks, traveling, sight seeing, being young and crazy all with the music behind our backs. There were eight girls amongst our two bands. I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. What a fun band to dance the night away to, and then slumber party with after the show. It was a truly magical time.

Anything you want to share about what inspired “Pictures Of Houses”? The ending line “it will be beautiful to watch them [the ships sailing away] leave” makes the song so complex – it seems to suggest that there’s a hope in letting go of nostalgic sadness.

That is a song that Jamie wrote. So I guess I will be speaking for her here, but yes. I think it is about letting go of the things that you don’t need. Leaving you still, and peaceful again. It’s funny because I use this same sort of imagery, letting go of what is holding you back, in my yoga classes. It is truly the only way to move ahead. I don’t think I knew the importance of this as I sang this song so long ago, but it is one of the best life lessons.

I read that each of the 5 Tilly members would write alone and then bring an idea to the group where everyone would put their print on it. What Tilly songs that you initially brought to the table are you most proud of?

That is true. Hmmm… not sure of the one I am most “proud” of… but I enjoyed writing and performing “Dust Me Off.” My boyfriend, now husband, and I worked on it together one afternoon. I brought it to Tilly and the song was born. I have always loved pop music. Even the most simple of pop songs, which I think this one is.

Your music has been featured on TV shows like 90210 and Sesame Street, movies like Whip It, and commercials for Vicks Nyquil and T-Mobile. What’s your view on licensing your music?

Licensing music helps a band to live. I think everyone knows and understands that it is hard to survive as an indie band monetarily when you are not out on the road. It is also fun to receive texts and messages from friends and family from all over saying, “I just heard you guys on T.V!”

I think “All Kinds Of Guns” was the best song of 2012. Musically it’s catchy, and lyrically, it’s a brilliant play on words about how having integrity/convictions is as powerful as having an arsenal of weapons. Is that what you guys intended it to be about?

Aw, thanks! Kianna wrote this song. I love it so much, too. I will be speaking for her but I do feel it’s about being in love and how great it is to have someone stand by your side with strong convictions and how powerful that can be. But I think my fav song off of Heavy Mood is “Thicker Than Thieves.” It is one of my favorites to perform, too.

So you contributed backing vocals to “The Absence Of God” by Rilo Kiley for More Adventurous! What do you remember about that experience?

We were in the Presto studio, in Lincoln. I remember being so stoked to be asked to sing with a band that I loved so much and laughing a lot. Everyone in Rilo is rad and hilarious. It is always fun to get to hear a new song in process. You are getting a sneak peak into a little world that you just know will be big. It is always so fun get to hear the behind the scenes of a record in the making.

“Pictures Of Houses” (“I still believe in purity”), “Love Song” (“Oh it’s strange how the world becomes pure”), and “The Freest Man” (“pure of soul”) all reference the concept of purity. Is that something you were aware of while writing? Is there any connection between those three songs?

All three of those songs were written by different people. I don’t think the idea was to have the songs match in purity. I contribute it to us being good friends on a wild adventure. And when you spend so much time together, practicing, touring, creating, and hanging out on the side, you find these true similarities amongst your loved ones. Then a Tilly song is made.

“All Boy Band” by Park Ave. is such an amazing song with meta references to being in a band and loving music. It was so long ago, but what does that record mean to you?

Conor wrote the lyrics to that song. I think it speaks to what he was feeling and going through being in an all boy band and touring, but performed by us. Most bands in Omaha at that time were all dude city. Park Ave. was different having three girls in the band. We had NO IDEA what we were doing and looking back, that was the best part. The whole idea behind us even getting together was to learn something we didn’t know before. Conor wanted to learn the drums, Clark wanted to learn how to play guitar. Jamie said, I can tap dance. Jen agreed to play keyboards. And when Conor asked me to play bass, I was like, “Um, I don’t know how.” He said that was the point. I said ok.

We practiced in Clark’s parent’s basement in Omaha (as he was still in high school) and Todd, his older brother, was usually around. Todd had to tune all of our instruments for a while until we learned how to on our own. Jenn, Jamie and I were in college in Lincoln at the time. We would often laugh at the fact that we would go pick up the boys from high school to practice. Practice involved writing, all of us taking naps in one bed, playing music, or going to the mall. We were very serious.

I definitely hear the joy/happy energy/exuberance in Tilly And The Wall’s music. What things do you do on a daily or weekly basis to cultivate gratitude and joy in your life?

I meditate, exercise, spend time with good friends, and do yoga. It’s like my church. Moving here to Los Angeles really brought a lot more loudness into my life. I feel like it is so important to find those healthy ways to escape the chaos.

Thanks for sharing Neely! Check out Tilly And The Wall on Facebook.

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Music Tech Interview: Kevin Nelson

Kevin Nelson is a web and mobile software engineer based in Berlin. His current clients include the music streaming service Rdio and the music licensing and distribution company Loudr.

Kevin Nelson Interview

Kevin shares his thoughts on music tech scenes, choice paralysis, and the future of digital music. Note: Because he works as a contractor for music companies including Rdio, his opinions below are his own & don’t reflect Rdio’s or any other company’s opinions.

After The Show: How does Berlin compare to San Francisco in terms of each city’s music tech scenes?

Kevin Nelson: Interesting question. Music Tech is an interesting space concept to me, because lately it seems to have two main branches, music consumption tech and music creation tech, and I’m not so convinced that they intermingle very well. I also think it’s important to recognize the importance of the music scene in general when thinking about the music tech scene. If you’re trying to bootstrap a music tech scene in a city that doesn’t have a vibrant music scene, you’ll either flounder, or wind up creating a vibrant music scene in the process.

Historically, music consumption tech has been borne of commercialism and economics. Investors, producers, label executives, and the rest of the money people all want to innovate on technology so that they can sell more sound waves. First it was the phonograph record, then the variety of tape recordings, the compact disc, and the implosion of file sharing.

From what I’ve seen, Berlin doesn’t have a huge community of these sorts of people. Obviously there are some labels and business folks here, but the word “producer” in Berlin means more the conceptual artist or director rather than the executive responsible for footing the bill.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, amidst the gold rush of TCP/IP venture capital, it’s sales, eyeballs, and advertisements that drive the train, so you have business- and growth-minded people building tools and media that they think will propel Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York into the next generation of music monetization.

The other branch of the tree, music creation tech, is the extended evolution of recording studio innovations. Transducers, signal mixers, magnetic tape. This is where all of the excitement of new music lives, the branch of the tree where you see a couple of out Philadelphia invent a new kind of music controller that sparks a slew of imitations from bigger companies. Or where you see recording artists release the iPhone app they’ve developed to record and use live. To me, this is where the excitement and joy is…

Berlin is definitely much more focused on the creative branch, which you can see in the companies that thrive here. Ableton and Native Instruments are both music creation companies, and even though it’s changed a lot over the years, Soundcloud was also primarily focused on creation when it launched. Of course, the companies don’t define the scene, but they’re a manifestation of its vibrance.

Berlin’s also a less expensive place to live than San Francisco, so I finally have time to actually make music again, which might also color my perspective a bit.

Sometimes when I open Spotify, the nearly unlimited listening options are too overwhelming, so I close it and open my more manageable iTunes library. Besides offering playlists and recommended/similar songs (“You listened to Alvvays so you might like TOPS”), how can music tech companies combat choice paralysis?

I think this is actually the hardest problem that music streaming services are facing right now, and I don’t think anyone has come anywhere close to being successful. Choice paralysis is a huge issue when you can listen to (almost) anything in the world. This is why you see services like Pandora and Slacker take off — most people don’t want to think that hard about putting on music. They just want to push play.

Ultimately, I think this is actually the service that companies like Rdio and Spotify are selling, and I think that if it’s done correctly, it could be really remarkably great. I used to have a collection of hundreds of CDs in high school, and I found myself falling into a similar problem. The choice paralysis isn’t as strong, but it’s still there. Picking from the 300 CDs on the shelf is a lot harder than picking from the 3 in your disc changer.

That said, I don’t think anyone’s doing a good job of it right now — actually, I think everyone is doing a pretty terrible job of it (Sorry, friends at the Echo Nest and at Rdio, but it’s true). This is, of course, in the context of a range. What the Echonest does is much better than pure randomness, and it’s certainly passable, but it’s not something I would call “good” by radio DJ standards. It’s also an incredibly difficult problem to solve, with way more complexities and nuances than you might expect, so I don’t mean to say that the folks working on these problems are slacking off or not talented — just that the systems aren’t there yet.

If I may step off of that soapbox for a moment, and onto another one, the iTunes-style Library feature is something that Rdio has had forever, and when I started working there it was one of the biggest features that drew me into the product. You can create a virtual music collection (now called “Favorites”) without having to stuff albums into playlists in the way that Spotify forced you to do. Of course, Spotify eventually caught up and introduced their Library feature within the last year, but it still does completely idiotic things like preventing you from organizing the old iTunes style list of songs by “Artist-then-Album-then-Track Number”. Instead, it sorts alphabetically as the second tier by default, which is not how anyone ever thinks about looking at their music collection. It’s super dumb.

Rdio has also been working on their Home feature for a while, which presents a Facebook News Feed style list of activity from your Rdio social network: comments on playlists, trending albums, songs, and stations, more music by artists you’ve been listening to, etc. It’s a huge first step, but there’s also a lot of noise if you don’t follow the right people.

At the end of the day though, I don’t think an algorithm will ever make as pointed of a recommendation as a good friend who knows your tastes. Someone saying “Hey, I think you’ll like this because it meets my standards, and it sounds like these other things that I know that you’ll like” is a much stronger signal than an algorithm saying “Hey, you should listen to this 2 AMG star album by the same artist that released that 4.5 star album that you were listening to yesterday”, and you’re much more likely to enjoy the recommendation.

How do you like being an independent contractor vs a full-time/on-location employee?

This is my second big round of independent contracting, and each option has its ups and downs. The first time around, I struggled a lot to find clients and work, and struggled a lot with trying to charge what I thought was a reasonable rate. I feel really lucky that I found the clients that I did, and got to work on the projects that I did.

In general, the work of finding clients, and making sure they actually pay you is really challenging, and not usually something you have to think about when you’re working as a full time employee. I’m lucky right now, though, since I’m still doing regular contract work for a couple of clients that are great to work with.

Depending on who your clients are, or where you work, there are other pros and cons. It’s nice to work from home, for example, but living with a partner who also works from home can be stressful. The flip side of that coin is that it can also be lonely and isolating. If your client doesn’t force you to be onsite, you’re not going to have any water cooler (or coffee robot) conversations unless you get creative with where you work. It can also feel aimless and unfulfilling to constantly be doing hired-gun work, but you might also have a similar existential issue if you find yourself in a full time job that you don’t particularly enjoy.

The positive sides are really nice though: Since I work remotely and in a far-away timezone anyways, I also have the luxury of taking long lunches when I please. Usually that means I have to work later into the evening, but that also works well with the timezone thing, since my clients are awake and at work during my evenings.

The biggest two perks, though, are 1) that I was able to move to Berlin, and 2) that I’m able to schedule personal work time to focus on things like actually making music again, or working on my own app projects. I’m sure it’s possible to find a full time job that accommodates those things somewhere in the world, but those negotiations and discussions are easier when you get to be in charge of yourself.

I’ve also discovered that billing 8 hours in a day is a lot more work than showing up at a full time job and working in the office for 8 or 9 hours. I’m now pretty convinced that the average 8 hour work day only really consists of 4 or 5 hours of actual work.

How do software engineers communicate effectively with non-tech people at a music tech company? Is there a department that serves as the bridge/translator between the technical and non-technical sides?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about music tech here. Any company with an engineering department is going to have these kinds of stereotypical “engineering vs other department” issues. With music streaming, you have a content licensing department, but with music creation, you just have the normal company set of things. Product design, marketing, sales, analytics.

Maybe music tech companies attract engineers who are more interdisciplinary, but I think other companies can attract these kinds of people as well. It also depends on company size. If you’re big enough to have middle management, then you need to make sure that the people you put into those management roles can bridge any communication gaps between their team and other teams.

How do you envision the future of digital music, particularly music discovery and streaming? What frontiers do you think we’ll push past?

This is a hard question for me to answer for a couple of reasons, but let’s just say I’m not incredibly optimistic. To start with, streaming is not currently an exhaustive listening experience, and I don’t think it will ever be one. You can’t stream Queen Crescent on Spotify. You also can’t stream the Beatles, but the point of using a band that you (hopefully?) haven’t heard of is that unless a service aggregates literally everything, the scope of discoveries that it can provide will be limited.

Today, for instance, I discovered Breaking Circus for the first time, but it was because I was reading about related bands on Wikipedia and clicked on some links, not because of some algorithmically curated radio station. Their music isn’t on any streaming service because the label it was released on is now defunct, and no one’s tried to recover the rights to redistribute the content. It’s also not for sale in iTunes. Will Spotify or Rdio (or Beats/Apple, or Tidal) ever be able to solve that problem? Probably not, unless the major labels and copyright restrictions magically disappear…

At the end of the day, though, streaming definitely has changed the way we think about obtaining music in the same way that downloading did at the turn of the century. We didn’t have pocket computers back then, so it makes sense that with this new technology we have a new distribution mentality. The commercial services, locked into unfavorable deals for eternity, will do their best to stay afloat, so they’ll try to encourage lock-in: only listen to music in Spotify. This works for everyone who listened to terrestrial radio. For the music nerds, the best place for music discovery is the same place that it’s been all along: small (online) communities of friends and people with similar tastes.

Thanks Kevin! Keep up with Kevin’s projects at his website + Linkedin.

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Interview: Isaac Jaffe

Isaac Jaffe is a composer, performer, and Head of Research at TuneSat, a company that uses audio fingerprint technology to monitor TV channels and websites for unlicensed music.

Isaac Jaffe Music Interview

After The Show: You juggle so many projects – composing music for film and TV, performing with SugarBad, playing upright bass in jazz bands around NY, teaching piano/guitar/bass, and running TuneSat’s Research Department!  What’s your schedule/time breakdown like?

Isaac: My schedule tends to move around based on what’s going on, and fortunately all of the people I work with give me flexibility which is key.  Most weeks I do 4 or 5 days in the office at TuneSat, leaving around 5 pm each day to teach a few music lessons.  After teaching, I usually do one rehearsal and 1-3 NYC performances a week.  Those are long days…

SugarBad also plays out of town every few months. This is either a long weekend or a 10 day stretch, which means I have to put my students on hold and work remotely.  That can get a bit crazy, but being on tour is so much fun so I don’t mind. Working while traveling definitely wouldn’t have been an option in the days before free wifi.

Fortunately, composing music is relaxing for me so it isn’t too hard to fit this into the free time I find here and there.  I live with an upright piano and two other musicians, which helps a lot!  While juggling everything is a challenge, the nice thing about shifting my focus is that when I feel burnt out at the office or on the road I’m never too far from shifting gears.

That’s so cool that you were a music librarian for the 2010 Winter Olympics…What do you remember about that experience?

This was a really interesting job for me right after college.  I was in charge of checking and formatting all of the cue sheets for much of the network and cable programming (cue sheets are submitted to Performing Rights Organizations like ASCAP and BMI in order to distribute royalties to composers and publishers).  This entailed spending 2 or 3 months working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week in a windowless room at 30 Rock watching every hour of curling and figure skating and ensuring that the fingerprint technology was picking up all of the music…

Usually it was a matter of checking each of the instrumental underscores coming in and out of commercial or during replays, making sure that the durations and use counts were accurate.  Sometimes, we would have to figure out what was being used by ear.  I remember winning an argument with another librarian over whether one track was sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday.  Occasionally, your jazz degree pays off!

You’re in charge of TuneSat’s team of music investigators – what kind of research goes into determining if a client’s music is fingerprinted and properly catalogued?

The acquisition and cataloguing process for our clients’ music is pretty straightforward – we have a fingerprinting and metadata system that keeps things pretty well organized.  What is really challenging is sorting through different uses of music on the internet and find commercial uses that are likely unlicensed.

There’s just so much media online being used in advertising and being monetized on its own, through Youtube and elsewhere. It used to be that music was only transmitted on terrestrial radio and television, which only leaves a handful of frequencies that are being broadcast at once.  Now, there is new media being uploaded and consumed constantly from a virtually infinite number of sources.

This is the main challenge for TuneSat – finding ways to determine the signal within the noise, the media that is really generating revenue living alongside user-generated content.  Now that consumers aren’t paying for CDs and are moving away from buying downloads, sync licenses and performance revenue are becoming a more and more important part of the music industry.  It’s shocking how much music is incorporated into commercial uses on the internet without a proper license.  Our technology has found music that I’ve written being on jewelry advertisements and pornographic videos without my permission, and without any compensation for my work.  It’s really exciting being challenged every day to build solutions that become an essential part of how musicians are paid.

Thinking about music data management, what technical skills and programs besides Excel and Salesforce are really important to know?  What do you use on a daily basis?

Excel and SalesForce are where I do most of the heavy lifting at work.  I will say that while I have no formal training in computer science or programming, the skills I learned designing websites as a teenager have come in very very handy.  A lot of what we do involves web-crawling and data mining on the internet, and being able to modify API calls and sort through the source code of websites looking for media files is a huge help.  Long story short, if you understand how HTML works and know how to ask Google for help, there’s an awful lot you can get done!

How much technical/coding knowledge do you need to work with developers and administrate the backend and client side of a website?

Just enough to communicate!  Fortunately, I work with a really smart and talented team, and the programmers are really patient when they have to bring me up to speed on why something may or may not work.

Do you have a favorite age student to teach music to?  Have you noticed any similarities between students who stick with learning an instrument vs. students who give up?

It really has to do with attitude, some of my favorite students are in their 50s, some are younger than 10.  Regardless of talent or passion, if a student is willing to show up to a lesson ready to learn and have a good time, we tend to make a lot of progress and stick with it long term.  I’ve had very talented students who want to be professional musicians but get frustrated and lose focus when they hit a plateau.

What I’ve found is that progress happens in two stages: first the ears get better, and then the hands get better.  As soon as the ears get better, the student hears what [he] has been doing wrong for the first time.  Often, this can be frustrating and even make it seem as though things are getting worse.  Instead, hearing what is going wrong is the first step to addressing it; once the ears find the problem, we can work on fixing it by building technique.  This is how the hands get better. Of course, this is a cycle, and one reason why musicians always seem to fluctuate between feeling great about our playing and feeling terrible.  I find that if you can recognize this process and stay on top of where you are it makes the journey less frustrating and intimidating, so I always try to help my students see their progress in context.

What advice do you have for people who work with music data?

When I was a teenager, everyone told me that becoming a musician was a bad idea.  The record industry had just started its rapid and historic decline, and the prevailing opinion was that there wouldn’t be any feasible way for musicians to make a living anymore.  Fortunately, I’m very very stubborn, and just couldn’t see myself being anything other than a musician.  Instead of the dust-bowl of a music industry that we were promised, what we’re faced with now is a blank slate for the new digital economy.  Those of us working making music and technology have an opportunity to build this new system, which is fun, and if we do it right, a chance to ensure that musicians are paid more fairly than they were in the 20th century.

Thanks Isaac! To keep up with his projects, check out his website + LinkedIn + SugarBad.

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Interview: Kerby Ferris

Kerby Ferris is a sound artist & software developer who has played music with Lovers, Paw Prince, and Lavender Mirror. Kerby answered questions about the intersections between creativity and technology, designing sound installations, and composing music in Los Angeles.


After The Show: You’ve said that the music you make can reflect the city/environment you’re in – music you made in Sao Paulo was frenetic and busy; music in Portland was feminine. What about LA?

Kerby: Cool question! Los Angeles is new to me and the effect it is having on my creative process is still very much coming into focus, but I’m absolutely inspired by the angular openness here.  I have lived in large and international cities before, but never one with this kind of simultaneous access to personal space, and the combination is fascinating.  This weekend for example: I danced all night to Kerri Chandler and then came home in a t-shirt in February to a tree with oranges AND lemons dropping off of it… come on!

Also, there’s the nice piece about making a move to Southern California from the Pacific Northwest since, in so many ways, the loveliness of the Pacific Northwest has to do with the beauty of the undiscovered, while Southern California contrasts as that of the thoroughly discovered.  That’s a spectrum that feels great to walk right now.  I’m very happy to be here.

Some of the sonic textures in Paw Prince and Lavender Mirror tracks remind me of songs on A Friend In The World. When you’re composing and creating a mood for a song, how do you know when to keep going and when to stop?

To be honest, doneness is such a lasting struggle, and as I get older I’ve begun to recognize that I am totally reliant on circumstance to tell me when it’s over. If I had my way, none of these songs would ever be finished, so I’m so happy I never get my way.

Now that you work as a programmer/Software Developer, what’s your schedule like? Do you still have time to devote to music or is it more on the backburner?

Right now I’m working full time and on-site as a software engineer.  That approach to work is absolutely new and different, but it’s been super interesting and exciting so far.  I enjoy my job and the environment/people there, and it is a fairly freeing experience to have work begin and end at some set time each day.  Also I’m finding that, with the work/not work demarcation in place, I can connect the dots more creatively in my free time, not to mention relax about how a musical idea might end up in money, which has really taken some pressure off my process.

There’s a deeper piece as well, which is that working with logic and systems leaves me bursting with a sense of connections, observations and feelings that I want to express creatively.  Logical problems have always been a sort of muse, and when I get a chance to really hash one out, I find it very inspiring.  I’m looking for a studio right now.  We’ll see how it all goes.

Can you describe the process you went through to design and build the sound installations for the Ace Hotel? 

Oooooh I love an opportunity to talk about this project!

What I wanted was a way to lower the barrier to musical entry so low that all it really required was the condition of form itself.  To make that happen technically, I used an Arduino micro controller with a midi shield and some C++ code to translate signals coming from a series of photo-resistors wired into cedar boxes to a sampler and a synth. Photo-resistors are super cheap electrical components that change their resistance in relation to the presence (or absence) of light, so, in short, if a person put his or her hand in between the sensor and a lightbulb it would trigger a loop and a synth tone for as long as they kept it there.  That was the mechanical concept.

Musically, I created a sort of modular composition: a piece broken up into 12 or so components that would work well together and in various combinations, so the result would feel like it made sense, but was still dynamic and at least slightly (or satisfyingly) unpredictable.  Further, the code instructed the micro-controller to check back for a signal twice a second, which effectively quantized the performance to 120bpm, so triggering a loop was not only easy, it also ‘sounded right’.

The installation worked, and the whole room became an instrument…Watching people of all these different ages and vibes engage and crack up and be surprised, confused and delighted together was incredibly sweet and rewarding…the overall experience was absolutely lovely and probably added 5 years to the end of my life.

I love your song title “It’s Always More Beautiful To Say Hello” and how the lyrics are so expansive/open to interpretation (like “the keys” in the opening line could have so many different meanings). Anything you’d like to share about what inspired you to write that song?

Thanks for listening! That song is mostly about a lonely moment of misunderstanding, about feeling totally mixed up or betrayed by language and strangers, and about trying to connect to a distant ally through objects, nature and signs. I suppose it’s the promise of a sort of wordless togetherness that moved me to write that song:  About longing for love and the one you love, or a lonely-time lullaby about essence, connection and understanding.

You describe yourself on LinkedIn as a Creative Technologist, which melds programming with music and performance. What do you like about the ways that music/creativity and technology intersect?

The stark androgyny of electronic music and creative technology is invigorating to me–the way art that’s made with (and sounds like) machines holds the tension between opposites: the ethereal and the material, the logical and the transcendent, the quantized and the free.  This is how my brain works when it’s working, how my fashion works when it makes sense, how the world looks when I’m in the total pattern recognition zone.  The idea of leveraging a machine(s) for the sole purpose of free and joyful human movement gives me chills.  Technical art is a borderland, and borderlands are where all the interesting things happen.  It’s so good to be alive now.

Thanks Kerby! Check out KerbyFerris.com for more info on all her projects.

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Interview: Rathborne

Read on for our interview with Luke Rathborne about his most recent album Soft, his upcoming cassette imprint, and being a minimalist.

Luke Rathborne After The Show Interview

Photo by Aaron Stern

After The Show: Can you describe the recording process you used to achieve the crisp yet slightly fuzzy guitar sound on “Wanna Be You”?

Well, I use a fender deluxe amplifier. I recently heard Johnny Marr talking about the amp. It breaks up in a beautiful way. Not too fuzzy, just a little bit of what you’re talking about. If it’s good enough for Johnny Marr.. A certified genius..

So you run your True Believer label, with distribution through French Kiss. As an indie label, how important or necessary is that distribution for you? 

Right now the future of True Believer is changing. Were taking on a heavier load of records, and putting out artists we love in the next few years from all varieties of genres. I’m also starting a cassette imprint called, ‘ARE YOU PUNK!’ which is releasing different artists doing punk material whom you wouldn’t expect to be doing that kind of material. Basically it’s saying we are all, and we are all not, in fact punk. That’s cool to be doing new things, and the distribution will probably change.

A lot of people get stuck on a certain sound or way of doing things. How did you get the courage to move forward from your quieter solo songs to the louder, faster Rathborne sound? 

Well I met this kid who played the drums in a way that gave me a heart attack. It was something I wanted to do, become out of control. I’m really glad things exploded, it was hard at first, for sure. But you should make a sound in this world, whatever is inside you, and put it out there. At that time it was just coming out loud.

“Pantomine Fear” was on After Dark, and you recorded it again in a real studio for the Dog Years EP. What do you like or dislike about each version of the song?

I don’t like the Dog Years EP version of ‘Pantomime Fear’. Think I got that right when I was 16. That being said, I like the horns arrangement I wrote for that. That was fun!

I like the things on After Dark because they inevitably teach me about myself before anyone believed in anything. I was just 16 and operating on what little self belief I could muster, and that’s special to think about in terms of courage.

How disappointed were you when Kenny’s Castaways closed?

It’s funny, I never went inside Kenny’s. I do remember a story from years ago. A friend had gotten in touch with the booker at Kenny’s Castaways and went through the routine booking questions. He promised to get, ‘over a 100 people through the door.’

Cut to the scene of them showing up to an empty bar on the night of the gig, the Kenny’s guy is refusing to let them in, ‘where are all the people!?’ Them: ‘I guess they didn’t show!’ And back and forth. The stand off ended with them looking inside the dead bar and saying, ‘so what? You’d rather just have nothing playing?’ Eventually they convinced the guy to let them play to a few people standing at the bar.

How’d you get into running the venue Live at the Pyramids in Williamsburg? What did you learn from that experience?

I learned never to do that again. What a nightmare! We got out of that business right before everyone went to jail.

In retrospect, which of the following was best for getting the most exposure and reaching a new, receptive audience?

a. Recording a Buzzsession for The Wild Honey Pie
b. Being Vogue’s artist of the week last year
c. Opening for The Strokes at SXSW 2011
d. Being a guest on Boy Crazy Radio

I think everything should add up to something fun you’re proud of. Press is always a great way to communicate, but nothing beats playing in front of living, breathing bodies. That is truly where there is magic.

Do you consider yourself a minimalist?
I have a certain resentment for possessions. When I was living at Live at the Pyramids, I became surrounded by things. I didn’t like that feeling. I think I respond best to removing those elements from my life.

When you’re with someone you love and they start using your phone or watching TV, it’s fine, but sometimes I feel like I’m losing time with them. Too many things crowding around can do that too.

Thanks Luke! Check out Rathborne on Facebook + Bandcamp

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Interview: Des Ark

I spoke to Aimée Argote of Des Ark yesterday about her new record Everything Dies, knowing when a song is done, and touring as a vegan.

People in Los Angeles, catch Des Ark play next week (7/24) at Origami Vinyl in Echo Park.

Des Ark Interview

After The Show: Your lyrics seem carefully constructed, like the alliteration in “My Saddle Is Waitin.” How much of a drawn out/thoughtful process is songwriting for you vs. just capturing the words as they freely flow out?

Des Ark: I didn’t actually know there was any alliteration in that song – I never really thought about it, so not very much [laughs]. The songs I try to write, I always end up throwing them away…unlike the ones where I wake up in the middle of the night, or I’m at a dinner party & I tell people “I got a call, my cat’s sick” but really I run home and write it and it’s done. Maybe it takes me a couple of weeks to write it but I don’t remember. Songs that like that one I just remember being there and waiting to come.

You’ve lived and recorded music in a bunch of places like Durham, Philadelphia, and Austin…Do you mentally differentiate your songs based on geography?

Yeah definitely. I grew up in Durham — it’s where the band started/the first 5 years of the band, so the first record we put out reminds me of Durham so much…I always loved Philadelphia so I moved there and stopped writing music because I didn’t understand city life. I enjoyed living there but realized that the things I write about in my music have to do about kind of how I was raised, which was in the woods, or in a really small town, and about the dynamic that exists between communities when those communities are really small.

And something I experienced a lot in Philadelphia is when someone messes up they just disappear and find a different community to be a part of. In the south that’s impossible because people really keep up with each other. After two years of being gone it was interesting to come back home. The environment inspired me to express things that I saw and understood. I did understand Philly in a lifestyle kind of way, but I didn’t identify with it personally.

With the new record Everything Dies, you created a quieter sound to be more conducive to touring outside the constraints of a full band. But doesn’t approaching the creative process with future logistics in mind hold you back or change the actual music you’re creating?

As an accidental habit the quiet songs that I record in the studio are, across the board, impossible to pull off live. I actually don’t think about that at all…I think what I meant is the challenge of figuring out how to do that is really fun. The songs all start as tiny little acoustic things on a guitar, then I go to the studio and build on that with 20 vocal layers or 18 guitars and that’s what’s interesting…to go on tour and say ‘how are we going to pull this off’?

Then it’s really fun again because that’s your challenge, that’s your project. With this band what I’ve realized over the years is I’ll always be on the tour…Recording is a very different thing than touring – on a stage it’s a physical thing. I need to feel like my body is really engaged rather than my intellect.

You’ve got a booking agent but you’re DIY and do pretty much everything else. How do you balance the artistic act of creating with the process of promoting the product of that creation?

I don’t – [laughs] I don’t promote it! It was funny when we got the booking agent, he said “you’d be really surprised -for as long as you’ve been [touring] how not many people know who you are.” The one thing I’ve always done is be on tour. I sort of refuse to do anything aside from that…like I don’t need to actively use my gender to get a magazine cover. I’m just not interested in doing that for myself…and it hasn’t really made sense to do that with the band. I’m not that person – it’s not in my nature to do that.

I hate playing local shows, I just don’t want to know anybody. I always want it to feel like it’s an accident when anyone shows up because when I think about that stuff I get really nervous and start picking the songs apart, and if I know that anyone else is paying attention I stop doing it.

You said that while recording you struggle with second guessing things – how do you finally figure out when a song is done or when to change some lyrics or add a guitar part?

I drive people nuts with that so I think that’s why I ended up playing so many of the instruments myself…The songs just let you know when they’re done. Until they’re done you’re miserable and it’s awful and you feel like a terrible person and then something clicks and it’s a relief that it’s all over, it’s all done.

Is there a connection for you between being a musician and living a vegan, simple, minimalist, health-oriented life? 

Huh…yeah I think to some degree. I’m mostly raw vegan – the connection is that I want to play music forever and want to figure out how to be on tour without it killing me. I think it’s totally possible and I’m on the verge of figuring it out. We go to co-ops every single day on tour in Des Ark. We wake up, we go to the co-op, that’s just how we operate.

For the new record are you staying consistent with not playing any guitars in standard tuning?

Let me think….yes!

Thanks for sharing Aimée! Catch Des Ark on tour in July, August, and September (dates below):








8/02 AMARILLO TX @ THE 806











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