HAIM – Live in Nottingham (Interview)

HAIM

(Pictured Above: Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, and Este Haim)

When I came abroad to study in London, I figured the opportunities to see bands live would  perhaps be greater than it was back home in Champaign-Urbana, but so far the live music I’ve gotten to take in here has been insane.  A week ago, today, I was granted an opportunity to interview LA-based rockers (and sisters) HAIM, as well as take in one of their shows.  Though my previous knowledge of the band was rather sparse, I can say with the utmost certainty that popular music, as a whole, is better because HAIM exists.

I stepped off of my train at 3pm and was greeted with typical North England weather: cold, dreary, and depressing.  As I made my way to the venue where I had an interview in 3 hours, I noticed something strange: fans lined the block. For a concert in Nottingham, England, five hours before show time in the nasty drizzle.  My mouth legitimately dropped.  At this point I realized I may have underestimated the scope of HAIM’s appeal.  Though none of the three sisters would ever tell you this, to quote Ron Burgundy, they’re ‘kind of a big deal’.

HAIM’s performance was more than what I expected out of them.  Their freshman album Days Are Gone was a smash hit, and included singles like “Falling” and “The Wire”.  This has thus thrust HAIM into the mainstream consciousness, but their live act shows no hints of complacency, pushing the envelope seemingly with each track.

Over 15 minutes of talking to Este (Bass, Vocals) and Alana (Keyboards, Vocals) I came to realization that HAIM is still, like many young musicians, growing into their fame.  Where they differ from others, however, is that they’re growing with spectacular tact and eloquence.  They’re neither arrogant nor frantic, which is rather refreshing coming from any artist who is accustomed to the limelight.  Check out the interview and some videos below!

Disclaimer: due to technical difficulties, the first few questions were not recorded on audio, but can be found in print below.

 

Boswell (WPGU) – How has tour been?

Este (HAIM) – Tour’s been great. We’ve been all over Europe, and I think we only have like 10 days left. It’s actually kind of sad.

Alana (HAIM)-But in 3 weeks we start again, so that’ll be fun. And then there’s festival season which is basically like a vacation

Boswell – What’s your favorite festival? Bonnaroo is the quintessential American festival I feel like but I have a soft spot for Lollaplaooza.

Este – Bonnaroo’s definitely crazy. You never know what you’re going to see around there. Honestly, though, I think Lolla was one of my personal favorite festivals we got to play. At Bonnaroo we were rushed to get to another festival and didn’t get to stay for that long, but at Lolla we got to stay for all 3 days and really soak in the experience, and we liked it a lot.

Alana – Yeah, Lolla was super cool. (to Este) Hadn’t you been to Lolla a lot before that?

Este – Yeah, When I was like 18 my boyfriend’s dad had some type of connection where we could get free tickets every year. It was a really sweet deal. It’s really crazy the lengths that people will go to if they really want to hear music. I mean I’ve snuck into the Hollywood Bowl plenty of times. There are some woods up on the side and you can just sneak right in or sit in the woods. I actually did that to see James Brown like 6 months before he died. It was awesome.

Boswell – Late 2012 and 2013 has been kind of a whirlwind time for you guys, wasn’t it? I mean in its first week your debut album even beat out Justin Timberlake here in the UK. Did you enter 2013 having any idea how huge it was going to be?

Este – It’s been crazy. We’ve just been on the road touring constantly so the transition was pretty gradual.

Alana – This is our second time in a lot of these European venues and it’s amazing to see how big the crowds have gotten. We’re playing to crowds I never could have imagined in places I couldn’t have imagined, and it feels like it’s the total culmination of our two-year journey. Before we start new music, of course.

Boswell – You guys are all sisters, right? And you’ve been playing together for quite some time. How do you stay sane all the time?

Este – Do you have Siblings?

Boswell – I don’t (laughter)

Alana – In a nutshell, ok like we’re sisters or whatever, but people can’t get over that fact. It’s weird.

Este – I think that people assume that because you’re related and you have to spend so much time together that eventually you do kind of not want to be around your siblings. That’s never really been a thing for us. I think it’s a testament to the way our parents raised us, really.

Alana – Yeah, we still laugh our asses off. I think laughter is the fuckin’ key, honestly. It’s the key to having a happy tour.

Este – That and not taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at yourself and have fun on tour. Because honestly, at the end of the day, if you take yourself tour seriously, tour can get stale real quick.

Alana – Plus this is best job in fuckin’ world, so why would you spend it sad? I’d rather do this way more than sit at a fucking deck from 9-5. There’s no use in taking shit too seriously.

Boswell – At what point do you think you guys realized “holy shit…we’re famous, now?!?” Or was it a gradual transition?

Este & Alana – We haven’t had that moment!

Alana – I think it’s just that there’s so much more we want to do that I don’t even think I’ll ever believe that we’re famous. We’ve done so much with this record, but there’s so much more I want to achieve. We’ve scratched the surface of what I actually want to do with the band. I don’t think there’s ever going to be that moment because that’s when you start relaxing and we’re definitely not relaxed. So I guess that moment hasn’t happened yet.

Este – That’s a weird thing to think about. Like: ‘I’m famous now’. We’re not.

Alana – We’re definitely not.

Este – I think that’s also kind of a recipe for disaster once people start to think of themselves like that.

Boswell – What’s your favorite collaboration?

Alana – Kid Cudi was really cool. Cudi and A$AP (Rocky) were both really dope. They just happened so fucking randomly. Maybe I’m just not that educated in the rap game, but I just assumed that when you’re in the studio you just do something, but we’re not used to that at all. With Cudi, he hit us up and was like ‘you guys should just come to the studio sometime’.

Este – Yeah, he said he sampled a song he wanted to work on with us and so he just sent us a song and we thought it was cool, but then he said ‘what I really want to listen to is this:’ and he pulled out this Hit-Boy track. And we were like ‘fuck yeah! we love Hit-Boy!’ We’re huge Hit-Boy fans. So we just started writing over it and the song was written in like a couple hours. Then we tracked it and we thought we were going to go back into the studio and re-track it. Then a couple of months later he was like ‘Nah, I love it. I’m putting it out’. It was dope.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn_O3DK5u0A

Boswell – What’s your dream collaboration?

Alana & Este – Prince (without hesitation)

Boswell – Wow, that was quick. He’s been playing really small shows all over London lately.

Alana – I know! And we’re missing him by minutes. Literally.

Boswell – How was playing SNL?

Este – Crazy!

Alana – Mind-blowing. That was one moment where I was like ‘woah…’. I never thought we’d be able to play SNL

Este – It was my dream. It’s always been my dream.

Alana – And the fact that we were in a skit was crazy. They don’t tell you that you’re in a skit until hours before, and we went through the whole week thinking ‘oh shit we’re not going to be in a skit’ because we wanted to so much.

Este – I made it abundantly apparent, though. I grew up loving sketch comedy. It was always a weird dream of mine to be in a sketch so I made it probably annoyingly apparent that I wanted to be in one. I have a couple friends on the show from LA and I think they kind of did me a solid and said ‘we need to put Este in a sketch’. But yeah, it was a crazy experience.

Alana – It’s so scary to be on the show. There’s so much weight on performing! You spend all week stressing about it and then when the actual show happens, it happens so fast. Then you’re like: ‘Wait! We spent so much time together!’

Este – And Josh Hutcherson was really rad. He’s awesome.

Boswell – What’s next for Haim?

Alana – We’ve got a US tour. We’re finally going to the US, which never happens.

Este – We’re actually playing in Chicago at the Riveria.

Boswell – Oh yeah, that’s a really big venue.

Alana – Don’t tell me that! But yeah we’ve got a US tour and then it’s festival season, and then it’s off to record #2.

Phantogram – Voices (Review)

voices

Back in 2010, when Phantogram was but a small duo signed to Barsuk Records and touring the country in support of their first album Eyelid Movies, I had the privilege to catch them at an in-store concert at the record store where I worked throughout high school. The crowd was made up of about 15 kids, none of which had previously heard of Phantogram, but were at the show for the pure love of the music (and the sheer fact that a touring band somehow made it’s way to Monticello, Illinois). The New York-based duo seemed to legitimately love the show, too, which was the absolute best part. From that very moment, I’ve been a massive supporter of Phantogram’s art, so when I was asked to review their newest effort Voices, I was extremely excited.

On my third listen through Voices, I came to a startling realization: if not for my personal connection to Phantogram, I think they would probably get lost in the fray of indie-synth rock that has seemingly exploded over the past 5-10 years. Somehow, however, the popularity of the pair from Brooklyn continues to grow.  Citing collaborations with Big Boi and The Flaming Lips, the case could definitely be made that Phantogram has no problem stepping out of their comfort zone, which is why Voices is surprisingly disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, Phantogram is far from offensive. As I previously stated, I actually like their music quite a bit, and Voices is no exception. It features the same dance-inspired synths that were present all throughout Eyelid Movies and their Nightlife EP. Female vocalist Sarah Barthel’s melodies are as airy and etherial as ever, and truly do stand out on tracks like “Fall In Love”, which is what I believe to be the album’s most innovative (and probably most popular) track.

The track that follows it, “Never Going Home”, also seems to deviate from the typical Phantogram mould by featuring lead vocals from the band’s male half, Josh Carter, as well as intricately laced guitar and a melody I just can’t seem to shake from my brain. What results is a surprisingly varied track, which starts sultry and ends in a rousing fashion, which left me feeling inspired by the end, which is something I could previously never say about Phantogram, so in this sense, progression was fairly apparent. The only problem is that, over the course of Voices, these moments are few and far between.

Outside of these rare glimpses, however, Voices continually fails to expand on many areas where it could shine. Where Phantogram could have done something different, whether it be production-wise or creatively, they simply did not evolve. “The Day You Died”, for example, sounds like it came straight off of Eyelid Movies, even to the point where the chorus is so similar to “Mouthful of Diamonds” that on first listen, I legitimately got confused which album I was listening to and had to open up my iTunes just to double check I hadn’t mistakenly turned it on shuffle mode.

Voices is a good album. I just get the inkling when I listen to it that it’s all been done before, and that Voices, while being good music, brings a strikingly small amount of unique or innovative aspects to the table. The realm of indie/synth/electronic/slightly-subdued-dance has been done so many times before by so many bands recently that, when I throw my emotional attachment out the window (which is very hard to do), Phantogram tends to get lost in that same abyss. While I’m sure their upcoming show at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign will be fantastic, on Voices, there’s simply no aspect to set them apart from the masses of bands in the same genre.  As much as I’d like this to be a memorable album, it simply fails to accomplish that goal.

Rating: W-P

RIYL: The xx, STRFKR, Purity Ring

Key Tracks: “Never Going Home”, “Fall In Love”, and “I Don’t Blame You”

Check out the video for “Fall In Love” here:

 

 

Monday Mixer

Mixer

When I was in high school, I made mixtapes for every month. My car didn’t have an iPod hook-up so it was pretty much the only way to keep fresh tunes flowing through the car. By the end of the month, I’d get sick of all 15 of the songs and archive the CD in my closet. I’m sure there are still many there, collecting dust slowly but surely. Anyways, the point it, my most favorite name for one of these tapes was “February Aid” because, as many of you know, February is the absolute worst month of the year. Sometimes we need a nice mixtape to push us through the short, wintry torture chamber we call a “month”, and so today, I present you with a modern and updated version of February Aid and maybe it can help you as much as it’s helping me!

1 – “Life Round Here” – James Blake ft. Chance the Rapper

You would have to have been living under a stone for the past year to not notice the tidal waves he’s made throughout the entire music industry in such a short time. One of my personal favorites was when Chano stepped outside of his comfort zone for a track with English electro-indie artist James Blake. What resulted was both fantastic, and has been in constant rotation since I’ve moved to London.

2 – “Count On Me” – Lucki Eck$

I can’t promise that this is the last hip-hop track on this playlist, but I can promise that it’s the last one for a little while. Lucki has impressed me very much as of late, hailing on his debut project Alternative Trap, which has launched the 17 year-old into the limelight of Chicago’s budding rap cosmos. His laid back style carefully toes the border with too relaxed, especially for the subject-matter, but when he does succeed, he’s spot-on in a way that no other artist really has been.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3noGoxsLts

3 – “Luna” – Bombay Bicycle Club

The quartet from North London dropped their 4th album this week, and to surprisingly pleasant reviews, at that. The addition of a female vocalist really made So Long, See You Tomorrow a top-notch record, and if you just listen to this track, I think you’ll see why.

4 – “Fly Girl Get ‘Em” – BJ the Chicago Kid

No, BJ doesn’t rap, but he does have one of the smoothest voices in the city, let alone, the country. This track is a perfect example of that.

5 – “Underground” – Ben Folds Five

Every day I wish I was born at a slightly earlier time, when Ben Folds Five was at the height of their popularity. This track is one of the reasons why. What the hell does “Slammin’ the pit fantastic” even mean, anyways? I don’t know, and I don’t care, because I love Ben Folds.

6 – “Burn One Down” – Ben Harper

Maybe this will be the first year I go to Bonnaroo. If not, I’ll just listen to Ben Harper.

7 – “Shot You Down” – Isaiah Rashad

Ok, the hip hop is back. Isaiah Rashad started as a bit of an enigma. Out of nowhere he was signed to Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment label, and then came a period of relatively little movement from the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based rapper. Since then, he’s released his debut project and has had excellent success because of it. This video, which was the first one from his new project, Cilvia, introduced Isaiah to the world and so it’s fitting I use it to introduce him to you.

8 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – U2

I generally detest everything that has to do with the 80’s…you know: the hair, the clothes, Ronald Reagan, etc. This track, however, is almost enough to make me change my attitude. Some day, I will go to a show at Red Rocks. Some day.

9 – “Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro” – Someone Still Loves Your Boris Yeltsin

I’m generally not too big on melancholy soft songs, but they’ve served a much-needed purpose in my life, as I’m sure they have done with many others. This was the album I think I played the most when I used to work at a record store in high school. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

10 – “Always On My Mind” – Phantom Planet

If the last track bummed you out a little bit, use this one to pick it back up. No, it’s not overtly peppy or extremely high-energy, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It’s been really fun studying abroad so far, but it’s also been hard being abroad and away from all of those I love. I think I took some aspects of normalcy at UIUC for granted, and while I’m happy for the cultural experience I’m gathering, this track serves as a reminder that everyone back home is almost certainly always on my mind. Cheers, guys, and thanks for reading.

Glen Hansard – Drive All Night (Review)

glen

Though Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard has been around for some time, Drive All Night is technically only his second solo effort (after 2012’s Rhythm and Repose). This four-song EP was released to raise money for Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit charity whose goal is to restore music education in public schools.

The title track, a Bruce Springsteen song I hadn’t heard before from his 1980 album The River, leads off the set. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder provides backup vocals and Jack Clemons – nephew of former Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons – fills the holes with some soft saxophone runs. While the simply written track builds itself nicely, I would prefer if it weren’t eight and a half minutes long.

One thing I love about Glen Hansard is he doesn’t really have a formula for writing songs – there’s not always a distinction between verse and chorus. It seems as if he just lets it all flow out and doesn’t worry about following conventional song structures. This unique songwriting quality is evident on “Pennies in the Fountain,” channeling a man who has not moved on from a romantic relationship in his past. “Renata” continues with this stream of consciousness style of writing, delivering the type of emotional and honest vocal performance he is known for. The acappella “Step Out of the Shadows” closes the EP in mysterious, Irish tone.

While Drive All Night has a few nice moments, it’s not exactly what I was hoping for. It’s certainly not a bad group of songs, just not as exciting as most of his earlier stuff. To be honest, I haven’t yet heard his last effort, Rhythm and Repose, but I absolutely recommend his work on the soundtrack to the 2006 movie Once, which he also starred in.

Rating: W-P-1/2

Key Tracks: “Renata,” “Pennies in the Fountain”

RIYL: The Civil Wars, The Frames, Ryan Adams

You can stream the record below:

Fitz & The Tantrums (Live in Champaign)

fitz

Disconcerted with the gloomy, rainy Wednesday night at U of I, Fitz came out blazing with energy ready to put on the show everyone had been patiently waiting for. Their hit song, “Out Of My League,” from their sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream, climbed to the top of the charts in no time, leaving everyone eager to see if they could live up to their new highly acclaimed titles.  With their songs starring in commercials for big brands like, Google, At&t, and Spotted Cow, Fitz’ fan base grew remarkably fast. Their tour stared with a bang as the first two shows were completely sold out.  So, who exactly are these guys? After their show on Wednesday night, it’s safe to say they are the modern day electro-pop version of Hall and Oates with just with a slash soulful sax, woman’s vocals, and an impressive amount of energy.

As the lights in Champaign’s State Farm Center go pitch black, the crowd begins to wail in the anticipation for Fitz & The Tantrums presence. A break of light begins to fill up an electric heart, mirrored off their latest album, that they used as their stage backdrop theme. Alongside the heart is the eerie, washed out remix of their hit song “Out Of My League” beginning to play as the members of the band slowly creep out amongst the shadows. The stage then explodes with impeccable lights and sounds as the band breaks into their opening song, “Get Away.” The two front men, Noelle Scaggs and Michael Fitzpatrick brought an electric chemistry as they sang towards each other, almost completely leaving the rest of the band in the shadows. While I’ll agree there was great energy coming from the stage, most of the effort seemed a bit forced. Fitzpatrick stopped a few times before songs to bring the crowd back into the show with phrases like, “I need to know if you think that you’re sexy in this house right now. I need you to make some noise.” Naturally the fans roared and it was back to awkward dancing and a very staged performance.

The majority of the show revolved around Fitzpatrick and Scaggs singing at each other and doing synchronized, cheesy dance moves, really making the whole show sort of a blur.  The crowd seemed to be holding on for their hits, “Out Of My League” and “MoneyGrabber,” however; they did end most songs with gnarly baritone and tenor saxophone solos by their sax player, James King.  The guy had a very Blues Brothers- type appearance and came out from time to time just to wail on the brass instrument, giving the crowd something awesome to shout about. On one of their songs they even had the musician from Capital Cities come out with his trumpet and do a stunning brass battle against the saxophonist. There were explosions blasting off every few beats and the stage turned into a wild circus of sound. Even the 50-year-old dads next to me found their inner teenage self and went nuts to this battle.

The band sounded the best on the song “Fools Gold,” which emulated the strong voices of Fitzpatrick and Scaggs as they harmonized and even had a few flare solos. Accompanying the singing were blazes of gold, bronze, and white lights to make it a really regal setting. This was the song where you were like, you know what this band is actually pretty talented.  After the song Fitzpatrick yells at the crowd, “I’m not trying to bullshit you guys but this may be my favorite city in the whole fucking tour.”

Ultimately the show wasn’t anything too spectacular but you can definitely tell they put all they had into the show with confetti pops, a groovy cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), and lots of crowd interactions.  Fitz has undeniably catchy songs, but when it comes to live performances they should work on making it more memorable and spontaneous. Something about it seemed so robotronic.