Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moby Interview @ New Music Seminar LA February 2011

Me & Paul w/Moby holding a sticker from his old high school
Richard Melville Hall was given the nickname Moby as a baby to reference his great-great-great-grand uncle Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. Although born in Harlem, he spent much of his childhood growing up in my hometown of Darien, CT, a suburb of NYC. Moby was just scraping by in this affluent town with his single mother who had grown up here. He lived with his maternal grandparents at the corner of Oak Crest Road as well as in a garage apartment on Noroton Avenue near Middlesex Road. There's also a great story about Moby playing with Robert Downey Jr. in the basement of the house across from mine at the bottom of Mansfield Avenue, while the parents were getting high upstairs (the Downeys rented it while in a NYC production).

As a boy, Moby attended Royle Elementary School, then Middlesex Middle School as well as Mather Junior High School (now the Town Hall). As a member of Darien High School's Class of '83, Moby Hall hung out in the AV room, helping teacher Cece Lefferts by indulging in all things technical even then -- from cameras and projectors to sound equipment. After school, he'd play around with instruments in the home and continue studies on guitar with Chris Rizzola, who also lived on Noroton Avenue at the time. Moby played in punk bands while working at Johnnie's Records on Tokeneke Road and was a DJ at The Beat club in Port Chester until moving back into the city, putting down roots in NYC's Lower East Side before the term gentrification even applied.

As co-owner of a tea shop and active in animal rights, he promoted a vegan lifestyle while partying really, really hard (he is now sober but for only a few years). His work caught on first in the clubs of Europe and then the U.S. during the mid-90s, with a fast rise to celebrity stardom that he clearly attributes to being at the right place at the right time. Moby's humility and humor infuses everything he does, while his casual conversation is infused with vocabulary that would make a DHS English teacher proud. When I was able to schedule an interview out in L.A. during the New Music Seminar, I brought him a "Blue Wave Pride" sticker from his alma mater. He asked if it was really from Darien, as he's run into a few other wave mascots similar to his high school so really seemed pleased to have it. This was just months after switching coasts and maybe having a small taste of home was appreciated. I had met Moby twice over the years: signing T-shirts in Stamford for an arts collaborative he organized and the night he gave a talk at the Darien Community Center (at the after party at Ernie's, his first time at the local dive bar!) I'd also seen him in concert but it was a thrill to sit down with him and discuss everything from our shared suburban lifestyle to his new life in L.A. Here we are with my sound guy Paul after the interview and between panel discussions at the seminar -- interview for PopMatters at link here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interpol @ Radio City Feb. 17th

Interpol offered an overly polished performance at Radio City Music Hall to a full house of fans February 17 in support of their new self-titled release. The band was formed by Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks at New York University in 1997 and quickly became a leading voice in the resurgent New York City music scene along with The Strokes and the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs. The new line up includes Brandon Curtis from the Secret Machines on keyboard and David Pajo of the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs and Stint filling in for the departed Carlos Denger. Playing live highlights drummer Sam Fogarino for providing a range of dynamics throughout the songs. Interpol relies on deep emotional swings in their music and the dynamics of drums provides the ebb and flow.

“Success” opened the show with the classic Interpol sound of Kessler’s strumming guitar and Banks’ vocals lilting over the venue. With only a few ‘thank yous’ between songs, the band chugged through a set list of fan favorites: “PDA,” “Evil,” “Barricade,” “Rest My Chemistry” and “NYC.” Newer songs such as “Summer Well,” and “Memory Serves,” were solid contributions to the Interpol repertoire. While the band confidently filled the stage and acoustics are always great in this space, there was little room for spontaneity. When Kessler would travel to the edge of the stage in order to rally the crowd, he fell into darkness without spotlights. The only unplanned moment came in the finale of the generous four-song encore, “Not Even Jail,” when a female fan snuck on stage to give Banks a hug and ran off into the arms of security.
Photos by Sadie Harrison

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Music Seminar LA, Febrary 14 - 16

With the hum of the 101 Hollywood Freeway outside the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles, the winter New Music Seminar (NMS) expanded to a multi-day and night event from February 14 through 16. The theme of a revolution inspired the attendees to build a new music industry model, “since the old one is fundamentally broken.” Beyond the typical sponsors, such as the likely combination of Mountain Dew and Cheetos logos on the podium, a few instances of bad feedback on the microphone and wayward embarrassingly uncool ringtones, the seminar had a lot to say about how things are for emerging artists.

The opening night party showcased a wide variety of performers across the new music spectrum. King Charles was touted as a “UK sensation,” yet this artist with the glamour of Prince gave a mellow performance alone on stage with his acoustic guitar. Jessie and Toy Boys represented the power of pop on the current charts, but their generic dance moves and formulaic material came off as a novelty act. Ben Hunter’s reggae also fell flat on stage, though would sound perfectly fine in the Caribbean sun. Of Verona had a solid rock sound with a strong female voice in Mandi Perkins, however the group seemed a conglomerate of people and not a band with a vision. Perkins is transitioning from singer/songwriter to being part of a full on rock ensemble, a work in progress. Blaqstarr covered the rap/dj scene with his set, though he failed to cover new ground. The Little Death finally made things a party with big, raw bluesy rock songs fronted by Laura Dawn with powerhouse vocals. When introducing the band, she referred to her stylish bassist in a black suit as Richard Hall, who would appear on two panels as Moby.

The next morning Tom Silverman, Co-Founder of the New Music Seminar and President of Tommy Boy records, called the sold-out conference event a “convention of creators” during his opening remarks. He reminded participants that they were all there to “serve our great love of music” whether the goal was to create, expose or monetize music. Using the video world’s term of “game over,” Silverman said it was time to press start and move on. Hauling out statistics to refute the notion of death of CDs, he described the single as the sun in the universe. Silverman explained how the music business always been about selling singles since that’s how fans are made. His model moves the record business to a fan relationship business and stressed how music is not just content to be had for free.
Panels and workshops continued the discussion with tools to break through the clutter of millions of bands on Myspace. From the basics of fan mailing lists to social media, sponsorships and licensing, artists were told to rethink the idea of a label centric existence and to monetize rather then block free plays. Grass root activities to build buzz from simple emails and touring still generates the most exposure, while basics like merch tables cannot be ignored. During a panel of top label executives, Ron Fair, Chairman of Geffen Records, said, “there still needs to be spirit guides.” A nice sentiment, even though these days this is clearly an indulgence for only few musicians.

As a reflection of this thinking, the NMS Artist on the Verge project finalists were chosen based on factors such as music sales (physical and digital), ticket sales, frequency of gigs, touring history, merchandise sales, media (both online and print), social media activity, and online buzz as determined by the NMS Music Committee. To be considered, artists must have never sold over 10,000 albums for any single album and not be signed to a label. From this collected data, the committee selects The Artist on the Verge Top 100 list and ultimately three Artist on the Verge Finalists.

These groups were chosen from more than 800 acts to perform in a showcase: Mike Del Rio, The Daylights and Shinobi Ninja. Local band Nylon Pink opened the evening, winners of a separate Reverbnation contest. Proudly described as “Hello Kitty on Acid,” this powerpop girl group hit the stage with flailing arms over guitars while hopping on stage monitor speakers and a liberal use of cymbals on drums. Their high energy performance had no where to go, and a cover by The Go-Gos only reminded the audience that things could be more interesting than lyrics about a party monster or simply repeating “Bang Bang.”

Mike Del Rio is an independent singer/songwriter and producer from New York City who appeared fronting a big band. On stage there were two guitars, keyboards, a percussionist and a female drummer who stole the show with long blonde hair whips. Del Rio’s brown furry vest was thankfully too hot for the whole set so it became easier to focus on the pop sound with superficial lyrics such as “does he fuck you like you like?” He instituted sing-a-long lessons to the unfamiliar songs by imploring the crowd to “sing it back now.” Del Rio’s future as a muture artist is yet to be seen.

The Daylights are another LA band that began their performance with a long instrumental introduction. This trio (two brothers on bass and guitar along with a drummer) produced a big, reverberating sound that called to mind Muse or U-2. The darkened stage set a moody backdrop to long guitar solos and alt rock creations. They played polished songs that went overtime but the crowd didn’t mind at all.

Shinobi Ninja combines the diverse influences of Hip Hop, Punk, Soul, R&B and Metal. Formed in a NYC recording studio, the power group layers the genres into a sound that doesn’t seem completely original. With a metal rock trio backing a pair of rapper/singers and dj, their high-energy performance stirred the crowd to join in the mayhem.

Delegates voted by text the next day to award the grand prize to The Daylights. In this age of DIY music promotion, a cash advance is a thing of the past. So this $50,000 worth of instrument, plus marketing and promotion tools, should certainly help the band ascend to the next level and reach new audiences. For The Daylights, their revolution has begun.

NMS Opening Night "After Grammy Jammy" at The Music Box

NMS "Artist of the Verge Party" at The Roxy

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Morcheeba @ Irving Plaza Feb 11th

Couples were getting in the Valentine's Day mood early at Irving Plaza during the Morcheeba concert February 11th. The down tempo grind of the music matched the dimly lit stage and atmospheric lighting so the action in the crowd actually became part of the show. Plus the fragrant air in the venue corresponded with the band's name as "cheeba" is an informal name of cannabis.

Morcheeba opened strong with "The Sea" off of their 1998 release, Big Calm. After hearing about the return of singer Skye Edwards after many years of estrangement and replacements hired by brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey, everything seems to be happily resolved. With her commanding presense and smooth velvety vocals, it's hard to even imagine someone else leading the charge from center stage. With guitars, drums, keyboards and requisite turntables for the electronic bias of the band, there's a need for such focus. Edwards is a charming diva who fulfills the role effortlessly.

After the first song Edwards gave a big, cheery shout out to New York City and asked if the audience was ready to dance with her. Many were already wondering how she could even move in her impossibly high platform heels. At one point Edwards asked "By the way, do you like my dress?" Then she recounted how she made the red flowy halter dress with the layered billowing skirt herself. Over the crowd's approval by applause a bandmate joked that she was being a showoff, with a chuckling reaction by all on stage.

Then it was back to the business of their music, offering up songs from their new release last year including the title track and other tracks off Blood Like Lemonade. For "Beat of the Drum," Edwards orchestrated call back session by splitting out male and female parts for the chorus, encouraging the crowd even more every time around. Other highlights from other releases included "Wonders Never Cease," "Over and Over," "Otherwise" and "Trigger Happy." The band ended the evening with the uplifting sing-a-long chorus "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day."

You and me were meant to be

Walking free in harmony

One fine day, we'll fly away

Don't you know Rome wasn't built in a day

NMMatterscorp YouTube Video "Beat of the Drum"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ozomatli @ Irving Plaza, Feb 3rd

Ozomatli is a fixture in the L.A. scene reflecting the cultural mix of the city. Their myspace page lists the sound as “Hip Hop/Latin” but there’s also reggae, jazz, salsa and funk influences found in their songs. The band comprises a fluid group of musicians that met through the Peace and Justice Center in the city, who embrace disparate genres of music to promote cooperation between cultures. They are currently on tour promoting their fifth release, Fire Away, and it was an instant party at New York’s Irving Plaza from the very first song, “Dos Cosa Ciertas” which translates into two certain things. (See video from the opener below for evidence.)

The crowd was eager to join in various dance moves and call backs – “I say Ozo, you say Matli” -- as instructed. Show highlights included the rapping “Saturday Night,” a call to shake it for “Can’t Stop” and the mellower “After Party,” when people of the world were asked to join in a classic love song. For the finale the band marched into the audience with only horns and percussion for a medley in the middle of the floor, playing “The Hokey Pokey” and Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough.” The group then started a traditional brass band parade, snaking through the crowd as others joined in second lining until everyone went right out the exit.

NMMatterscorp YouTube Video "Dos Casa Ciertas"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Hundred in the Hands' "Young Aren't Young"

I've been hearing a new song on KCRW with a familiar sound for the dance floor by a Brooklyn duo called The Hundred in the Hands, and quickly picked it for my Winter 2011 Playlist. "Young Aren't Young" has lush layers of synths, electric guitar and a female chorus of vocals -- I was surprised to see a live session by the band on WFUV's "The Alternate Side" where three people recreated the song in a small room. I also learned a new term used the interview when Eleanore Everdell and Jason Friedman discuss 'crate digging' though vinyl records in order to add to their collection. Whatever it takes for inspiration, I'm all ears.

Here's my write up for here.