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

Tinderbox Girls Rock Webster Hall

Chick rockers took over Webster Hall last night as part of Alyson Greenfield’s Tinderbox Music Festival. Beginning in the early afternoon, a plethora of all-girl bands, singer/songwriters and chick fronted bands took over the stages at Manhattan’s popular venue to remind the city that girls just do it better.

Vagina Panther

Vagina Panther’s June is pretty femme and pretty deadly, photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Tinderbox featured a variety of music ranging from acoustic guitars accompanying low-key vocals to hardcore rock bordering on legit metal. The selection of artists at this year’s festivals seemed to have been geared toward appeasing all kinds of women and their lust for music.

Singer/songwriter Jamie Bendell was among the first to perform on the event’s Marlin Stage and did not disappoint. True to form, her set was heartfelt, soulful and energetic.

Not much later, while the likes of Hello Phones and Tamar Haviv entertained on the Marlin and Studio stages, the rock force that is Vagina Panther started the party on the Main Stage and welcomed Tinderbox with a proper hardcore jam session. As the only girl in the group, Vagina Panther’s front-woman, June, commanded the stage well with her ferocious drummer and intense guitarists, and when she wasn’t belting out the lyrics to their homemade songs, she was riffing with the best of them.

Following suit, Hard Nips kept the energy alive and even heightened it a bit when the three tiny girls who make up the primarily female band stormed the stage. The band’s tiny vocalist, Yoko, supplemented her triple-tone brightly colored getup with rambunctious stage presence while her bassist and guitarist rocked in every sense of the word. Bassist, Gooch, put her male counterparts to shame while wearing a skirt and fishnets. Enough said.

Hard Nips_Cropped

Hard Nips’ Yoko and The Gooch rock out in dresses, photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Throughout the day numerous other femme fatales took the stage including Jasper the Colossal, a girls-only punk band from Ohio with a dynamically hyped front lady and ZZZs, Japanese experimental band who donned all black and lace alongside the likes of Bern & the Brights, American Pinup, Computer Magic, CocoRosie and so many more talented New York women.

With issues like birth control and power over our own bodies on the line in our fucked up society, it’s refreshing to have examples like the awesome ladies at Tinderbox to help chip away at the glass ceiling we still fall victim to. Don’t fret if you missed it, because the majority of these chicks perform regularly around the city, and the rest of them are available online for a small fee. Not to mention Tinderbox will be back next year. Get ready.

Originally published November 12, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

What Doesn’t Kill You Leaves You With Lots of Cool Music

For a certain group of New Yorkers, the past few nights have been very special. Tonight will be the second night we can sleep without fearing that we’ll miss an amazing band at CMJ.

Beginning last week CMJ Music Marathon took over the city’s most popular music venues to bring New Yorkers a plethora of sounds from all genres and styles. From new age metal bands to funky synth pop, this year’s CMJ had a full menu of awesome music.

While, contrary to belief, I’m only human and couldn’t make every show, I certainly tried my damnedest, and more than a few bands made quite an impression. Rather than hold onto all this awesome knowledge until I can draft a masterpiece, here’s a sneak peek of the bands who made my list at CMJ, aside from PushMethod and Kinetics and One Love(we all know their sets were legit).

Manican Party

Photo credit to facebook.com/manicanparty

Manicanparty

The front chick’s fluorescent getup may have drawn the crowd for Manicanparty, but their mesmerizing, other-worldly synth music kept listeners around. Even hardcore rockers couldn’t resist the charm of frontwoman Jessica Corazza as she harmonized to a backdrop of catchy, purpose-driven keyboards and drum beats. Manicanparty put me in my own zone and reminded me what CMJ, and music in general, is all about.

X Ambassadors

X Ambassadors - Lauren

Photo credit to Lauren Keogh Photography

The term “killinit” has become a social media and musically descriptive staple in the vocabularies of many music fans I know. Can’t say I’m not guilty of using it myself, but I don’t think any of us have used it legitimately unless X Ambassadors were the subject of the statement. These guys were one of the hardest rocking bands I had the privilege of seeing last week. A unique mix of intense guitar music and body-moving beats, their style was a refreshing change from the indie superstars at CMJ. If those bands were killinit, X Ambassadors murdered it in cold blood.

Therina Bella

Therina Bella

Photo credit to therinabella.net

Awkward conversation about pianos? Check. Sticky key causing all kinds of trouble? Check. Amazing vocals releasing an array of emotions? Double check. I couldn’t have been happier that I stuck around ZirZamin to see what this girl had to show us. Despite a finicky key and the fact that her songs were composed for guitar, Therina Bella did not cease to impress with her dynamic voice and palpable feelings. Imagine what she can do with the guitar!

Computer Magic

Computer Magic

Photo credit to nme.com

Composed only of the keyboardist/vocalist and drummer, Computer Magic didn’t need more than two people to woo the crowd. Perfectly placed to give week-long CMJers a brief respite before Friday night chaos, members Danz and Egan amped up the dance vibe with catchy, rhythmic funk sounds under a borderline angelic, yet simultaneously sexy line of lyrics. Think 80s, Flock of Seagulls, style, only way cooler. And yes, that IS possible.

Fret not, a more in depth guide to each band who perked my ears is under way. Until then, check out these guys. They deserve it, and quite frankly, so do you.

Originally published October 23, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Afropunk Fest Takes Over Fort Greene

I don’t need to hear much more than the combination of the words “afro” and “punk” to get riled up for a two-day festival. Tell me I’ve got a press pass and give me PR info for some of the most awesome bands there, and my heart is yours. So thanks to the press rep for Afropunk for stealing my heart.

Afropunk Fest

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Rained out last year, the impending festival caused more than a little anxiety for some long-term fans. Thank God the weather was prime for partying the entire weekend, and the turnout for Afropunk Fest 2012 was impressive to say the least. Even with the last-minute cancellation of Gym Class Heroes, the entry line for the free music event wrapped around the park on both days. Thankfully, fans outside had 15 food and vendor trucks to choose from as they waited for the line to calm.

Mexicue, Kelvin Natural Slush Co., Fishing Shrimp, Valducci’s Pizza and Cupcake Crew, just to name a few, provided all day treats for festival-goers both Saturday and Sunday. As sponsors of the event, Heineken and Vitamin Water were also well-stocked. Several booths around the festival even featured free samples of Vitamin Water, which undoubtedly prevented more than a few cases of dehydration, including my own on the first day.

Aside from yummy food options and a plethora of merchandise booths with everything from band gear to eco-friendly watches to various local vendors and clothing companies from around the city, the festival featured a motorcycle contest, “art walls,” skateboarding competitions, Twitter giveaways and so much more. The main event of the festival, the amazing music lineup, needs no introduction. But I might give it one anyway.

Known for featuring an impressive collection of inspiring and significant artists, Afropunk did not fail to deliver in 2012. With big names like Erykah Badu and Das Racist in addition to up-and-coming talent and some surprise appearances by the likes of Pharrell and Mos Def, 2012s Afropunk Fest was destined to entertain in the best of ways.

Mos Def and Badu

Photo credit to S. Wilson Photography

Since I unfortunately haven’t quite mastered the art of being in multiple places at once, many of Afropunk’s performances were lost on me, but the artists I was privy to were outstanding. After check-in, my own personal Afropunk experience started off with Ninjasonik‘s performance at the festival skatepark. While the guys spit their rhymes and showed off their DJ skills, skaters from all walks of life occupied the half-pipes below their stage, displaying their own talents and skills. Fortunately for us, and for you, I was able to have a quick chat with Telli after his set, and he offered some legitimate insight to the purpose behind Afropunk.

“Afropunk is catered to ‘afro-punk’,” he explains. ”When we first started there was no place for a black kid that was different, so they made afropunk, and I didn’t like that. I was like if you a punk, you a punk. But now, through the evolution of what we’re doin’ and so many other bands, it’s not a different thing. So now it’s like Afropunk is dope because they fought to have a place for black people that were different. Now it’s just evolved into no segregation. Now it’s just punk. Soon they can take the afro off of it.”

Telli himself is evolving from his origin with Ninkasonik’s ”punk-rap” and getting ready to release a solo mixtape, 2Legit, which features Asher Roth and production by Roofeeo among others.

“Ninjasonik is like punk-rap and it’s for the world, so everybody can love it,” Telli expresses. “But my shit is geared toward me, man. I’m really important to the culture. I go out of my way to bring people together and make shit happen. It always starts with the music. Just telling my story over the music.”

Roofeeo himself did some time as a DJ at Afropunk this year, and TV on the Radio performed as Sunday’s late show. Unfortunately, I overdosed on energy drinks and other substances by that point and was forced to head home prematurely.

Following Ninjasonik, Spank Rock took the stage to put on a hell of a show, which I’ve come to understand is apparently expected of him. Disguised in a grey hoodie, his thin, blonde DJ soon took the stage as much more than your average DJ in a borderline S&M bikini. Spank himself rocked an orange jumpsuit, which seemed to be an underlying theme with performers on Saturday’s Red Stage, as Das Racist took the stage soon after, and Dapwell sported a navy version of the same general style.

As can be expected, Erykah Badu’s set was the highlight of Saturday night’s events, for a variety of reasons. In addition to her ridiculous voice, Badu sported a giant gold chain (for real..it was GIANT) and spent a little time on her drum machine giving the crowd something to groove to. As if her amazing voice alone weren’t worth the wait for her stage presence, mid-show she produced the face, voice and lyrical talent that makes 90% of women weak in the knees: Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def. Though he only stayed for one song, he only needed a few moments to whip the crowd into a frenzy with his trademark grin as he emerged from backstage.

Sunday’s lineup, starting with Bad Rabbits for me, was just as bombastic and served to round off the weekend perfectly. Vocalist Fredua Boakye commanded the stage with his insane vocal range and funky lyrics. Bad Rabbits puts on a great show, which I happily witnessed from the second row, right behind bassist, Graham Masser‘s parents. Somehow even better than their happy, fun-loving attitudes on stage are the guys in their natural habitat after the show.

Bad Rabbits and Shanna

Photo credit to a very cool person who agreed to take it! 

“We’re lucky to be out there, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” the band agrees. “We’ve been around each other for ten years touring, and a couple of us have lived together/in a van, so after a while it’s kinda just like your brother or sister or something like that.”

This comment results in an eruption of laughter from the guys, as none of them could qualify as a sister, before they let us in on the origin of their dynamic and eclectic sound, which they describe as “Lamb of God meets Michael Jackson.

“It’s just how we write music,” the guys agree. “It’s a reflection of what we listen to, what we grew up on. I think the live show is always a reflection of our heavier side. We’re huge Deftones fans, Every Time I Die, but at the same time we listen to Michael Jackson and a lot of other shit.” Needless to say, I’m in love.

While I waited to sit down with Bad Rabbits, I overheard the glorious sounds of one Alexis Brown from Straight Line Stitch absolutely dominating the stage. Not only is she hot and tatted up, she’s one of the few frontwomen in heavy metal and she kills the mic. I literally almost ventured away from the Bad Rabbits site just to get a glimpse of her and figure out how she was producing that amazing scream. Mad props.

I closed out Sunday with some sounds from the ever talented Reggie Watts and downtime with a friend, which is the second best part of a weekend concert, aside from the music itself. Events like Afropunk serve not only to provide an outlet for musical talent and creativity, but to strengthen the experience and economy of Brooklyn itself and to bring us back together with the people we connect with. Mission accomplished, Afropunk.

Originally published August 31, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Catalpa Festival Debuts on Randall’s Island

In 2010, if someone told me that I’d be on an off-road track in a badass new Jeep with the intoxicating smell of new car just a few hundred feet from the East River, it probably would have elicited a confident look of sarcasm. Yet last weekend at Catalpa NYC on Randall’s Island, I found myself in just that situation.

Catalpa Jeep Ride

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Jeep, July 28 and July 29 hosted a collection of well-known as well as up and coming artists on Randall’s Island as part of this year’s Catalpa Music Festival. Blessed with a press pass for this event, I was on the front lines for a few of these awesome shows.

Though Saturday’s events were a tad damper than expected, Sunday’s weather provided for an amazing New York summer day, and despite the brief shower during performances by The Dirty Heads and Cold War Kids, Sunday served to round out an incredible musical celebration.

Underestimating the walking time from 103rd and Lex to Ichan Stadium on the island unfortunately caused me to miss The Airplane Boys’ performance, but I was able to catch The Big Pink who provided an impressive exhibition of electronic sounds and energy. Coolest thing about The Big Pink? Their drummer is a chick, who now has my ultimate respect.

Between shows, Catalpa organizers and sponsors made sure that none of their attendees could complain of boredom or hunger. Food tents and vendor trucks lined the perimeter of the festival offering everything from vegetarian quesadillas to Jamaican grub to custom made ice cream sandwiches. Absolut vodka’s Art Bar tent commanded the center of the field, and Heineken, accessible in every corner, was in no short supply. Catalpa featured a sampling of craft beer as well.

CoolHaus at Catalpa

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Hand in hand with plentiful alcohol and cutting edge music, no festival goes down without a scattering of creative, entertaining activities serving the dual purpose of killing time between sets and marketing new, popular products. As a stage sponsor, Jeep wins the prize for coolest activity with an off-road obstacle course in the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Altitude featuring an out-of-vehicle competition involving sliding, slalom and timed gear loading. Aside from the main attraction, other promotional events included the Church of Rock confessional booths for got2b, quickie marriages at the Church of Sham and a Silent Disco during which attendees rocked out with their headphones out.

As for Sunday’s musical lineup, I was not disappointed. In addition to The Big Pink, I spent most of my time alternating between the Jeep and Catalpa stages to catch a great collection of artists, one of which was City and Colour. After hearing their newest album, Little HellI expected a good show from the guys, but I have to say I was blown away with their performance. Both from the photo pit and the middle of the field, I was impressed with their musicianship and collective sound.

The Dirty Heads left me with something to write home about as well. Surprised by their catchy blend of reggae and hip-hop, I found myself reminiscing about another band some like to call Sublime and moving to their grooves with no effort. When the rain made its appearance mid-show, I retreated to the media tent to protect my camera and was fortunate enough to catch the sounds from the Catalpa stage, where Cold War Kids and their fans were braving the weather. Though I can’t comment on visual effects, I found their music, which was new to me, to be quite pleasing and appealing.

Matisyahu at Catalpa

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Nothing quite puts a cherry on a Sunday like a Matisyahu show except being a foot from the stage during said show. As he casually strolled onto the stage like a cool kid walking into a party, camera flashes signaled his arrival. After posing momentarily for a few shots, he wasted no time getting into his show, which was high energy from the first moment. Matisyahu oozed stage presence and dance the length of the floor as though no one was watching. But we were.

For lucky festival goers who saw Snoop Dogg, word of mouth is that his show was just as dynamic, despite less than favorable reviews of the event as a whole. From small complaints like low water supply and attendance to rather significant issues, like the fact that the entire Arcadia stage was missing in action, Catalpa Music Festival definitely has a list of possible improvements for next year’s event, but as a festival pilot, Catalpa passes my inspection.

Originally published August 2, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com