Sol Cat: Worth the Wait

CMJ is in October, I’m aware. I’m also writing this little collection of music reviews and interviews all by my lonesome, so here’s a chat I had with an amazing band from Tennessee outside the doors of Sullivan Hall. In October.

Totally overwhelmed when their publicist reached out to me, I listened to about 20 seconds of Sol Cat music and agreed to have a few words during the festival. Not only were the guys awesome to catch up with on what turned out to be a busy night, their live performance was one of my favorite throughout the festival.

Sol Cat Squares

Photo credit to facebook.com/solcatband

The turn music has taken lately has made it necessary for me to say that the best music is the hardest to describe. That said, it should be no surprise that I have absolutely no idea how to describe Sol Cat, the six guys who hail from all over, but most recently Nashville, Tennessee (yeah, other stuff besides country music comes from there). In my CMJ re-cap, I described them as “vaguely Strokes-y.” Guess that will have to do.

The members of Sol Cat are so laid-back and give off such a generally fun and loving vibe, that their account of musical influence seems only fitting.

“Musical influence is always a difficult question for us just because we come from different places and we all just grew up with different backgrounds,” admits keyboardist Jeremy Clark, “so I would say that everybody agrees on certain bands and most of them are older like ELO, Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Laid Back, stuff like that but when it comes to where we get our actual ideas for music it comes from things that we all do love which tends to be things like beaches or space or the sky.”

Upon request, Clark’s fellow band members clarified the term “space” to mean “outer space” as well as “the empty space in our skulls where brains should be.” Like I said, not a bad group of dudes to spend some time with.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Sol Cat is that they are just that, Sol Cat. Not six different men making music together. Of course their tastes and backgrounds all have a part in the culmination of what they bring to us, but without all six of them together, there is no Sol Cat. They have bonded together to create an entirely different being.

Sol Cat Rooftop

Photo credit to Rob Loud Photos

“We definitely all have different influences and it all comes together and makes this Sol Cat thing,” the guys agree. “I think lately we’ve been kinda finding influence in each other and keeping it a little more organic when we’re together writing music. We all write together and everybody brings something to the table- but it’s usually one or two ideas that stick together and we track those ideas down and get them set in stone and everybody layers on top of that so that it becomes more of a solidified idea rather than just a bunch of people playing in the same room together.”

What Clark and his bandmates, Brett Hammann (vocals), Johny Fisher (guitar), Ryan Usher (drums), Aaron Martin (bass) and Jaan Cohan (lead guitar) have created is their very own entity to represent the merging of their musical minds. Regardless of how they compose their music, when Sol Cat takes the stage they become one unearthly, unified source of music virtually unaware of anything except for the melodies they need to release. It’s fucking beautiful.

Fortunately for us, the guys are dedicated to keeping this beautiful being on the road for the next few months. Aside from releasing new music videos, Sol Cat expresses plans to keep touring including a visit to the ever-popular SXSW. What better reason to make a trip to Austin?

 

Originally published January 10, 2014 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

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It’s Easy to Love the Rubens

I’m starting a trend of kicking off my birthday with an awesome show. Last year I saw one of my local favorites, Push Method, at the beginning of my birthday week. This year, the night before the big day, I took my hot little date to see Australian boys, The Rubens, kick it at Bowery Ballroom. A good decision if I ever made one.

The Rubens

Photo credit to Claire Marie Vogel

Like I said, these kids are from Australia. We all know how I feel about things made in Aussieland. No exception here. Composed of three brothers and two additional members, The Rubens have only been together as a band for a little over a year, but they’ve expanded to the U.S. with ease and success. Keyboardist and brother, Elliot Margin, sat with me on a Bowery Ballroom couch and told me what it’s like to speed through such a process.

Margin recounted the band’s birth and journey from gigs in Sydney, Australia and recordings in their bedroom to a national U.S. tour to support an album recorded by producer, David Kahne, production mastermind behind talent like Paul McCartney, The Strokes, Sublime, and Lana del Rey, among others.

“We’d never played together before forming a band,” the youngest Margin admits. “We all learned different instruments separately. Then one day Sam and Zaac were home bored and were like ‘Wanna…jam?’ Then I came home from school and they were like, ‘Should we…jam?’ People ask if our parents forced us to play instruments and make a family band. It was the exact opposite.”

Despite living together for their entire lives, the brothers and Sam’s good friend, Scott Baldwin, didn’t come together as a band until 2011. They quickly began playing gigs in Sydney, where they met Dean Tuza, an Australian sound engineer who connected them to Kahne after his work on Mix With the Masters. Once Kahne heard The Rubens demo, it was a short step to a request for the band to visit America and record an album.

One of the most significant changes Margin relates is the difference between the guys’ recording setup and the gear available for them at Avatar Studios.

“It was scary at first.,” he says. “We’d only ever recorded in our bedroom, on our laptop with shitty mics and stuff. This was our first recording experience. We got to Avatar Studios and it was just a crazy experience. To have all that at our fingertips was just overwhelming.”

Thankfully The Rubens were up to the challenge, and after a month or so of heavy rehearsing, Kahne allegedly whipped them into shape and they laid down the tracks to what became their very first official album. Margin says the improvement was drastic.

“When we played shows in Australia we thought we were alright,” Margin explains. “Then we came to America and David did a month of pre-production and sort of whipped us into shape. We came back to Australia and were like, ‘Holy shit, we were terrible’.”

After doing a European tour, Australian shows and their current American tour, The Rubens are preparing to hole up and bring together their second album. Margin says the guys have compiled a collection of raw ideas which they hope to develop into a full length album with a little time.

The Rubens on Track

Photo credit to geelongblabbertiser.com

“After this tour, we’re headed home to record album two,” he reveals. “We’ve put down lots of ideas now on the road, so we’re planning to rent a house on the beach for four months and write out the album. We’re planning to make it so a lot of the takes could go on the album.”

If it seems like the guys aren’t taking any breaks between masterpieces, that’s because they’re dedicated to ensuring their success from this point on.

“It only took a few months before we realized, this is happening really fast and we need to work really hard so that we can make sure it’s not just a fluke,” Margin explains. “Now we realize we have to work really hard. Getting a lucky break, you have to keep on pushing to make sure you deserve it.”

If The Rubens keep laying down smooth, melodic and catchy tunes like the ones they delivered to the guests at Bowery Ballroom last week, they should have no trouble climbing higher and higher. With five talented members who pull together various sounds to compliment Sam Margin‘s sexy, sleepy-dude-with-bedhead voice, The Rubens create a solid sound it’s easy to spend the night with and easy to relate to…even for a dude.

Originally published September 29, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

X Ambassadors Only Getting Better

X Ambassadors - MTV

Photo credit to mtv.com

I took my mom to see X Ambassadors. On her last night in New York. And she’s not really into concerts. Are you getting how awesome these dudes are?

Flashback to October, when I first laid eyes on Sam Harris on the Arlene’s Grocery stage at CMJ. I can’t remember ever seeing a performer so into his music. Harris was literally dripping with sweat…in October. Seven months later, X Ambassadors has somehow managed to up the ante. I would argue, based on this show alone, that the act of dancing is not a voluntary movement.

X Ambassadors live performance is the perfect execution of the recently released EP, Love Songs Drug Songs which damn well better be a prequel to an LP, because I want more, and I know I’m not the only one. The immense crowd at Santos Party House last Thursday was evidence that people kinda like these guys, though I was quite bewildered by the stoicism of the remainder of the audience. X Ambassadors didn’t seem phased. These guys obviously live for the music, which only serves to bring their performance to new heights. I would be willing to bet that Harris (Sam) was actually making love to music onstage and we were mere observers. It might be one of the only instances in which voyeurism is accepted and encouraged.

X Ambassadors produce a rhythmic collaboration of music to serve as a backdrop for Harris’ lyrics and strong, seductive voice, and their combined effort couldn’t be more dead-on. With an extra set of drums at the front of the stage (and presumably in the studio), an intense keyboardist to say the least and a hell of a vibe, their music takes on its own personality, and it’s the life of the party. Even X Ambassadors’ recorded sound is making my job more difficult, as I keep getting lost in the lyrics and melodies in my attempt to tell the world how great they are.

X Ambassadors album

Photo credit to soundcloud.com

Complete with saxophone parts and body language that would put Elvis to shame, Thursday night’s performance swept me away, and Love Songs Love Drugs is a constant reminder of how talented these guys are and how quickly they’re making legit moves. Their genius combination of heavy drums, creative synth waves, soulful lyrics, wide range vocals and pleasant harmony (not to mention their dynamic energy) is nothing less than a formula for greatness. Somebody let me know as soon as they release more music, because I’ll be front of the line (or queue, since everything is online these days…).

Originally published July 14, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Shinobi Ninja on Making It Happen

Whether or not you’re a fan of Childish Gambino, it’s hard to deny the reasoning behind his 2013 album, “Because the Internet.” In this day and age, it’s almost astounding how much can be accomplished by artists, entrepreneurs, crowd-funders and basically anyone, thanks to the invention of the world wide web. Brooklyn band, Shinobi Ninja has certainly made a career of using the internet to their advantage.

Shinobi Ninja_Sanchez

Photo credit to Sergmatik Sanchez

Last week, following the pumping excitement of another trip to Austin’s SXSW, Shinobi’s vocalist, Duke Sims, was generous enough to give me some talk time and chat about what the band stands for, how they came together, and how they’re making it work in a world almost overrun with music genres and T Swift songs.

Sims names one of Shinobi’s key accomplishments as staying together as a band for eight years. In the era of Craigslist bands and hobbyists who aren’t sure what they want from life, that seems like a pretty fair assessment.

“I think our biggest accomplishment as a band is freaking making it eight years,” Sims admits. “Some bands don’t make it eight months. It’s all about focus and energy and determination.”

The six ninjas who make up Shinobi Ninja, including Sims, Baby G (vocalist), Maniac Mike (guitar), Alien Lex (bass), DJ Axis Powers (turntables) and drummer, Terminator Dave, are undoubtedly a story of what dedication, positive energy and the power of the internet can do.

The crew initially began to come together at a recording studio called Progressive Music in New York City, where Sims, Mike and the original bassist worked. (Fun fact: Mike and Terminator Dave are twins!) Sims and Shinobi’s original bass player, Jonathan Simone, were playing various venues around the city with the help of whoever was available at the time, while the twins (Mike and Dave), and DJ Axis played in their own band, Stalley & the Wax Machine.

When Stalley & the Wax Machine decided to disband, Sims stepped in to take the lead, and when the guys came together with Baby G, whose sights were set on conquering singing like she had dancing, Shinobi’s seeds were planted.

“Baby G, when she first started the band, probably sacrificed the most,” Sims shares. “She was dancing for Rihanna, Santigold, Diddy, Ricky Martin…she was at the top of her profession. There was no higher than that. But when you want to do something like be in a band, you have to jump off the building, so she jumped off the building.”

Based on Sims’ account, Baby G, herself, is a tale of determination, focus and energy. Essentially, the girl came to the city of lights with no dancing experience and a job at Swatch, and before giving it all up to be the vocalist in a metal band, she’d made it to the top of the top (let’s be real, dancing for Rihanna and RICKY MARTIN is kind of a big deal).

Her dedication to her craft and talent to make it happen is representative of the band itself. Shinobi has been fully complete since Alien Lex’s appearance in 2011 (Lex was a fan who got a pretty sweet chance!), and by all accounts, the group has been hustling and grinding the whole time. From producing their own music and videos to branding themselves and scouring the internet for fans, Shinobi Ninja is a self-professed “DIY band.”

“It’s all about hard work,” Sims says. “There’s nobody telling you that you have to work hard. It’s just you versus you. If you want things to happen, you have to make them happen yourself.”

From the get-go, Shinobi has proven they’re up to the task. After deciding on a name (which comes from a combination of influences, including a favorite video game and the architectural design of the twins’ mom’s Piermont, NY home), the group set to work branding themselves, a move that Sims maintains is indispensable. 

“That’s one of the hardest things you can is brand yourself, in any business,” he says. “Doesn’t matter if you’re doing book bags or guitars or pencils, it’s all about branding.”

In choosing colors and merch designs and creating their own unique sound, Shinobi Ninja nailed that aspect of the game. Within a few months of coming together, the band played Afropunk and made television appearances, and in the years since, they’ve been featured on NBA 2K12, the soundtrack for A Haunted House 2, The Killing, and much more. Baby G was featured as a coach on MTV’s Made (back when MTV was relevant), and the band was even chosen by New Music Seminar as one of the best new bands, and they’ve done it all without the help of nary a fat cat.

In fact, Sims rates playing that show at The Roxy for New Music Seminar as one of the best experiences so far, along with hearing their music in a movie theatre and on a video game loop. He also maintains that giving it their all, no matter what the occasion, is part of how they’ve climbed so high, even from their very first show.

“You can’t deny energy, be it positive or negative,” he says. “Whatever you put to the wall is gonna bounce back at you. That’s just what we did. Our stage presence was all or nothing. We were just dying to live. We didn’t know what to do. We knew we had to express ourselves, and people got that. Even if the sound wasn’t fully developed, even if we weren’t fully developed, we were still energetically giving it our best. That came across. It always comes across.”

According to Sims, that dynamic energy still comes across, each time Shinobi Ninja reaches out to someone on Twitter in an attempt to share new music or releases a new video on YouTube or takes the stage for a smaller show in their home city. As helpful as the powerful connecting potential of the internet can be, it all comes down to the perseverance, dedication and effort the band brings to the table.

“With the internet, you can put out quality, great art, and you can be distributed throughout the world,” Sims maintains. “You still have to have the determination and want to do it. Even though the internet and the technology is there, if you don’t want to do it, then it doesn’t matter.”

Shinobi Ninja

Photo credit to facebook.com/doobiedukesims

Between their obvious success, the number of sheer outreach efforts on social media and Sims’ description of “couch gut,” it’s clear Shinobi Ninja does want to do it.

The Shinobi crew is no group of gods though, and they have their rough spots like anyone. Sims says the key to pushing past these days and staying ahead is harnessing positive energy and using it to reach further and further toward the top.

“You’re always gonna have positive and negative thoughts,” he admits, “but you’ve gotta persevere with the positive, always, because the negative isn’t gonna bring you anywhere.”

I have to agree with that train of thought, and it seems as though their throngs of fans do as well. Even as a band who produces a wide variety of music, from high tempo metal jams to more relaxed, introspective tunes, Shinobi Ninja never sees a change in fans that isn’t positive. Sims attributes this to their fans’ real love for music itself.

“Real music fans love music, period,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how it’s being presented, it’s all about melodies and quality.”

Is there a better kind of fan? Fortunately for fans, old and new, Shinobi Ninja is looking towards a pretty dynamic 2016. Having just finished a brand new album, the band is shopping for a label to sponsor their release, hoping to bring their sound to a wider audience than they have so far.

“We try to be smart business people and do right for us, not just put music out because it’s cool,” Sims says. “We have to figure out how to put this music out so that it gets the broadest reach.”

Not only are Baby G and the guys wearing their business hats this year, they’re spending ample time in front of the camera, thanks to YouTube, and looking forward to hitting the stage in as many places as possible, hopefully including L.A.

As far as shows go, their first order of business is Williamsburg’s The Hall at MP this weekend. Shinobi hits the stage on April 1, and whether you’ve heard these guys or not, it’s a show worth attending. As far as I know, Williamsburg is still the cool place to be. Pair that with good music, and you’ve got yourself a damn good way to spend April Fool’s Day…all because the internet.

J’Adore Savoir Adore

It seems both odd and endearing that Paul Hammer, one half of the primary duo that is Savoir Adore, is more excited about the presence of his parents at his show than about the fact that he and partner in crime, Deidre Muro, are currently in the middle of a nationwide tour.

Savoir Adore

Photo credit to indyconcerts.com

Onstage, Savoir Adore is a five piece band complete with two guitars, drums, bass and a keyboard. Behind the scenes, Hammer and Muro take care of the dirty work themselves, appropriate considering their beginning. After meeting in an NYU song-writing club, the two found themselves in constant company as solo singer/songwriter performers. Aching for change and familiar with one another’s faces, Hammer and Muro challenged each other to write songs over a weekend with—here’s the kicker—no use of acoustic guitar. Quite a feat for two self-admitted singer/songwriter types. Hammer and Muro rose to the challenge emerging with 19 minutes of music that would debut as their EP, The Adventures of Mr. Pumpernickel and the Girl with Animals in Her Throat.

“We had one rule which was no acoustic guitars,” Hammer says, “and whatever we made over that weekend, it would be something. In the end we ended up having an amazing weekend and wrote a series of short little pop songs.”

“We started completely from scratch,” Muro adds. “We were like, ‘Whatever we make, we’re not gonna work on it. It’s just going to be what it is.”

Thankfully they didn’t stop there, and after releasing an LP with Cantora and a second full length album on their own, the two have teamed up with Nettwerk to re-release their most recent production, Our Nature.

Obviously so many different recording and production methods result in four very different sounds, but for Muro, that’s part of the charm.

“I think it’s really awesome that we have this lineage that you can listen to,” she admits. “You can literally hear our collaboration develop from a sort of whimsical, spontaneous thing to the pieces that we really mulled over and spent a lot of time on.”

Savoir Adore 2

Photo credit to newyorkmonthlymag.com

Not only have the duo been picked up to expand and re-release their newest album, they’ve also been paired with Sea Wolf for their first nationwide tour, an occurrence they both say has shown them a different world. Muro explains that the two were only made aware of the tour about a month and a half ahead of time, and as they are primarily a recording band, the tour has been quite a new experience.

“We found out about it like a month and a half beforehand,” Muro explains. “They had this tool rooted already and we’ve just been added on, which was great for us because we’ve gotten to see all these cities with Sea Wolf and play for all these new people.”

It seems that the touring life is a pleasing one for Savoir Adore, as they admitted plans to tour South America this September and hopes to return to the UK for a second round of touring there in the next year. From my experience, South America is in for one hell of a treat. Shortly after their interview I was privy to their New York show with Sea Wolf, and for an hour or so I lost track of the long days and of the decade. Savoir Adore’s liberal use of keyboards and soulful guitar eludes to a time when bands were named after flocks of birds, but they’ve managed not to lose a modern edge with this retro vibe, and I’m diggin it. If you don’t do anything else while June is trying its best to shake the feeling of April, check out these two awesome musicians.

Originally published June 18, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

sami.the.great: Modern Siren in the City

My roommate doesn’t like artists with “the great” in their names. Too bad for her, sami.the.great is keeping her name…mostly because she kind of is great. Her track, Making Eyes, from the most recent album she’s released instantly made it onto my favorites list for all the right reasons, the very least of which are her inspirations.

Sami the Great

Photo credit to samithegreat.com

“A lot of songs from the 50s and 60s I find really inspiring,” she shares. “…a lot of the girl groups like The Supremes and The Crystals and The Ronettes; all those “the” and then a word after. I’m super into them. I love the harmonies and I’m huge at incorporating them into my songs.”

Despite the fact that I’ve never in my life considered myself to be a fan of that style music, Sami’s special blend of herself with previous decades makes me feel like I’m in love with someone, and I don’t even know who. She’s created a style all her own that’s impossible not to immediately fall for. Sami may draw her inspiration from 50′s music, but her unique style and angelic voice are perfect for what she describes as “indie-pop,” though I’m not even sure that does her justice.

“I think I would describe my music pretty much as indie pop,” Sami says. “It’s definitely pop but not the kind you hear Katy Perry or Rihanna singing, but it’s not hipster indie music.”

Whatever it is, I love it, and I love the genuine place it comes from. Like many musicians before her and many who will come after her, sami.the.great writes from a place of heartbreak, but she’s clear about the fact that heartache isn’t always related to love and relationships.

Sami the Great Astronaut Date

Photo credit to samithegreat.com

“My biggest inspiration is definitely heartbreak, but it’s not necessarily always about a guy hurting me or heartbreak from love,” Sami explains. “I write about the loss of my childhood a lot and being sad about growing up. Heartbreak about frustrations with the world that I’m in, the music world, which can be really frustrating and heartbreaking sometimes. We’re sensitive people—artists are sensitive people.”

Her relatable, mesmerizing music only drives home the idea that this sensitive nature of an artist is key to finding creative success. Having released three EPs (though only two count) and finally a full-length album, Sami has taken to the road, starting with Brooklyn’s Glasslands, to spread her new, siren-esque sound across the United States. Despite all my desires, I’m not psychic, but I would be willing to bet that sami.the.great will be a well-known musician from coast to coast and in between by the end of this year. Mark my words…even though I kinda just did.

 

Originally published March 12, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Loren Benjamin Woos Rockwood

It’s appropriate that Loren Benjamin, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, should grace the Rockwood 1 stage at the beginning of February, since his music is soft, soothing, insightful and spilling over with references to relationships. Just the way we like it.

Loren Benjamin

Photo credit to youtube.com

Though he is admittedly quite an attractive specimen of musician, Benjamin’s manager, with whom I had the pleasure of chatting at the show, assures me that he’s not just another pretty face.

“He didn’t really keep up with how many songs he had,” Theo Roos claims. “When we sorted through them, he had over 400 songs.”

The seasoned musician was able to narrow the massive database of Benjamin’s music down to 65 of the best songs, and from there the two have worked toward the print of Benjamin’s first album. Here’s hoping that collection includes Not 2 Night, which is a delicious collaboration of simplistic keyboard notes, synthesizer beats and Benjamin’s clean, romantic vocals.

Though he undoubtedly has plenty of original work, Benjamin has also done his fair share of covers including such big name artists as The Killers and Rihanna. With a voice as smooth and melodic as his, Benjamin can successfully cover a wide range of artists and music without straying terribly far from the original sound.

He and his fellow musicians, percussionist, Cozi Levy and guitarist, Sunny, serenaded the audience at Rockwood on *February’s first weekend and will do a similar justice for March. Pissed you missed them? Don’t be. Check them on March 21.

*Originally published February 12, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com