Talia Billig is Always Talia (Which Isn’t Jazz)

New York native, Tallia Billig is many things: diehard vintage collector, DJ on-the-fly, self-proclaimed “bad kid,” singer-songwriter, hardcore feminist, bookworm, travel aficionado, LES resident, the list goes on and on. Most importantly for Billig, though, is what she learned about herself during creation of her most recent album, The Ripple Effect.

Talia Billig - Kickstarter

Photo credit to kickstarter.com

“No matter where you are, it’s always the same,” Billig says. “I kinda had this idea during those years, and it’s kinda what I struggle with always, this instinct of, if I run I can escape it. And I sorta learned with the record that you can’t. No matter where you are you’re still you.”

As a musician, this realization has been more to Billig than just a coming of age. She has taken this life lesson and transformed it into a “ripple effect” for others to experience and enjoy.

“Generally the themes that I center around are movement, confusion, movement is a big one. It’s like the big Talia key,” she explains. “My dad suffers (or benefits) from wanderlust, so we traveled when I was a kid and we flew a lot. I sort of began to associate those things with home more than I did a house. Then as soon as I got out of high school I ran, myself. So it’s very difficult for me to stay in one place. The lyrics are largely based on that. This record specifically was at a weird point in my life, so there are quite a few songs center around those ideas of confusion and a lack of axis. This record that I just put out, The Ripple Effect, is from a point of travel.”

Transforming experience into music seems to be a strong suit of Billig’s. Following her flight from high school around the globe, she made the choice to return to New York for jazz studies. With a lack of jazz roots, Billig found this to be more challenging than she had expected.

“I didn’t come from jazz,” Billig admits. “I went to jazz school because I love music, and it was clearly what I wanted to do but I didn’t know anything. I guess I’ll start saying this in public: I sort of looked for what was the coolest school in New York. I had a really difficult time, because I don’t know anything about jazz, and jazz is a small and specific world, and I’m not a jazz singer. I was with all these prodigies from their own towns, and I had no fucking idea what I was doing.”

Whether she knew what she was getting into when she enrolled in the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Billig certainly left with more knowledge about her music, some of which has led her to where she is now.

Talia Billig - Shervin Lainez

Photo credit to Shervin Lainez

“I kinda fostered a bit of an animosity towards jazz,” Billig shares. “I wasn’t playing bebop and I didn’t understand why everyone was so rigid and not understanding. I felt pretty left out and not understood. Quite a few people who went to jazz conservatories have difficulty with jazz. I’ve come back to it on my own terms and realized that music is music, and good music is good music. I love jazz, but it’s very much not what I’m doing. My sound and my band came out of fighting against it, so it really bothers me when people  say that it sounds like jazz, because there’s no swing, there’s no improvisation, the harmony is fairly complex, I guess, but not really.”

Not only did Billig find her groove through discovering that jazz wasn’t it, she also had quite a career scare during the last semester of her school experience. She explains that after a 14-hour recording session due to lack of funds, she began to notice certain symptoms like quick hoarseness and inability to reach certain notes. While doctors worked to diagnose her, Billig dealt with both the physical and mental repercussions of a short-term life of silence.

“I was in Holland not really allowed to speak, and I wrote four of the songs not being able to sing them, which was really painful, but good,” she remembers. “It was horrific, frightening and brought me back to knowing that I wanted to sing.”

Now that she’s treated her vocal issues, Billig has customized her sound and dropped her new album, a combination of her autobiographical lyrical motivation and crafted ubiquitous lines to open her songs to a wider audience.

“The lyrics have become the more important for me, which I didn’t think would be the case, but that’s the most important part for me. That’s the catharsis,” Billig explains. “I think my lyrics are just about as clear as they could get. I try really hard to make them less specific and more universal.”

Billing maintains that her writing style most likely originated from the musicians she has always found inspirational.

“Joni Mitchell is the love of my life. I grew up on her, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. Largely honest, fairly direct while still poetic, songwriters, so I think that’s kind of present in my own writing,” she shares. “There’s almost no level of abstraction. It’s just pretty honest accounts of what’s going on.”

While Billig is mentally building a new album, potentially with the theme of changing seasons, she is also careful to maintain a presence in the world of performance. With an upcoming CMJ show on Tuesday, October 16 and an appearance at The Living Room on November 15, Billig is participating in what she feels is one of the most important parts of being a musician.

“It’s really important for me to play out,” she says. “That’s the most important part of it for me, because then you’re sharing something with someone directly, and that’s a really powerful thing. Although it’s been a really interesting thing to figure out how people register singer-songwriter music live. I wish I played dance music. I’m a performer, and my stuff is relatively quiet and requires you to sit still for at least 4 minutes at a time. But you can only make what you’re making. You can’t control it, so I just don’t.”

Just let it flow, Talia. We like it like that.

Originally published October 14, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

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Marc von Em Keeps It Pure

Anyone who’s ever stumbled onto an unexpected, satisfying live artist knows what a treasure it is. The feeling only improves when said artist makes himself readily available to open up regarding his inspiration, goals and the role of music in his life. By this definition, Marc Von Em is quite a find.

Marc von Em

Photo credit to marcvonem.com

Having been some sort of musician since the early age of seven, Von Em is no stranger to the power behind it and work it takes to be successful. A few years after his beginning in choirs, Von Em began dabbling in guitar and by age 14, he was writing his own lyrics.

“I’ve been writing music since I was about 14. A couple of years after I started learning guitar,” Von Em remembers. “I started experimenting with chords, and I was really into listening to music that my parents and brother were listening to. The Beatles and really old stuff like Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Marley, Grateful Dead, I definitely had a wide variety of songs coming my way. I had a natural draw, an attraction to creating songs. A lot of that came from listening to the chord progressions and melodies that were in those songs.”

With influences like these, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Von Em’s music is pleasantly melodic, instrumentally bare and lyrically organic. Though he has mastered the art of conveying his soul and experience through song, he maintains that this accomplishment was a process.

“Then it became more a challenge to make my own sounds and not just imitate,” he explains. “Somewhere in my college years, somewhere between 18 and 22. When I got to college I was like ‘Look at all these songs I wrote.’ Hearing a lot of other musicians, I thought maybe these are a little corny or not quite my own things.”

From this point, Von Em set about creating something new and establishing his own style, drawing from inspiring musicians as well as his own experience and methods.

“I was always attracted to musicians that were really good at what they do, lyrics or singing or playing their instruments,” Von Em says. “I have a kind of double sidedness to me where I like something to be tight and precise but at the same time I want it to be a little raw. Initial inspiration should be something really raw and strong, That always seems to be the strongest. You wanna keep capturing that somehow, you don’t wanna lose that.”

Around this time, he also picked up the harmonica as an instrument, which proved to give his music a unique sound that simultaneously serves to concrete his stylistic identity.

Marc von Em - Harmonica

Photo credit to marcvonem.com

“The harmonica is a different animal completely. Everything about it.,” Von Em explains. “With guitar you use your hands With harmonica, it’s almost like a wind instrument. You have to learn how to breathe and use your breath. It was interesting, but I picked it up pretty well. Harmonica and wind instruments are related to breath because you use that power or subtlety or whatever you wanna do. I love the challenge of trying to figure out an instrument you don’t know. It was already kinda in me, some of the styles, but once I introduced the harmonica it probably brought in more of that blues sound and made me dive into some more blues type of music.”

Just as his progression to his musical identity has been a process, Von Em has experienced the struggle behind striving for financial stability and success as a musician. Of his four full-length albums, his most recent release of Crash, Boom, Pow in January 2012 has finally drawn much deserved attention to Von Em and his music. An ariose compilation of beautifully written music and intimate, unadulterated lyrics, Crash, Boom, Pow introduced Von Em to his first sold out show experience.

“We did a show in Peekskill, NY at Twelve Grapes. It sold out first night and they had to book a second show,” Von Em recalls. “It was my first sold out show. It felt really good and was a little bit of a surprise. My wife and I were trying to promote as well as possible. I got the cover of that local magazine, did a big Facebook promotion, and at the same time, papers came out. All the sudden in like a few days it almost sold out. By the end of the week it was sold out, so they decided to add another date.”

Appreciative and humble in addition to being a talented artist, Von Em does not fail to acknowledge the role his wife and fans have played in his success.

“It’s a hard business, but at the same time it’s a passion too,” Von Em says. “It’s trying to find something that doesn’t feel like work. She really helps a lot. She’s taken photos, she’s helped me write my bio and put my website together.  A big thing she did was a lot of the design and graphics for Crash, Boom, Pow.

With the release of his newest album behind him, Von Em now plans to focus on expanding to new cities and securing a booking agent as well as other important team members. Having entered songwriting contests and secured a place at Inertia Festival, Von Em seems to be well on his way up the ladder.

Originally published September 18, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Black Bird White Sky Rediscovers Music

Music is and always has been an ever-changing form of artistic expression. Musical instruments as well as taste have constantly evolved over time, consistently bringing a new definition to the term “musically talented.” Ronnie Shingelo, front man for Black Bird White Sky, has seen this evolution for himself over his years in New Jersey and New York and has managed to adjust his musical style accordingly to accommodate the fleeting but precious balance between modern music and old school identity.

Black Bird White Sky 2

Photo credit to blackbirdwhitesky.com

From his former place in what can be described as a “dark” and “emotional” rock band, SkinGod, Shingelo has moved his music career closer to his roots in the club scene surrounding the tri-state area. In addition, he has pared down his collection of fellow musicians to a mere two, sometimes three, band members, making their stage presence much more malleable and impressive.

Accompanied by his occasional keyboardist, Jenna Perry and DJ, Luke Wagman, Shingelo has embraced the incorporation of various drum machines and an all new instrument known as the “maschine” in the sound associated with Black Bird White Sky.

“I grew up listening to dance music and working in clubs, so dance music is inherently in me anyway, so it wasn’t a difficult transition from the whole rock scene,” Shingelo explains. “It definitely is cool because it has the feeling of being totally live in a rock band with live instruments. Electronic instruments, like the maschine, now are really considered ‘instruments’ and people all over the world study it.”

In terms of his work with the new technology associated with one of humanity’s oldest known art forms, Shingelo shares nothing but pride and admiration for his youthful bandmate.

“He’s awesome,” Shingelo notes succinctly. “He’s been a real asset to the project. He’s a lot younger than me, so he keeps me on my toes, which is awesome. He’s a great guy, a really talented kid.”

Despite the experimental nature of Black Bird White Sky’s sound, inspiration and motivation are derived from many of the same sources as traditional musicians. As do various other songwriters and composers, Shingelo cites everyday activity as a frequent source of inspiration in his creative process.

“In terms of general inspiration, I definitely sometimes just hear a word someone will say and the way I hear it I’m just like, wow that’s really kinda hitting me in a way that I wanna explore that,” Shingelo explains. “Then I’ll just go in and sort of lyrically explore that word from where I am at that moment. Sometimes I’ll hear a sound and I’ll just build on it.”

Black Bird White Sky

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Shingelo maintains that a beautiful poem, a piece of artwork and even an intelligent conversation can be catalysts for compositions. He also describes spending a dedicated portion of time to his craft before beginning his typical day.

“Other times, a lot of times, I wake up in the morning early and I’ll just sit with my acoustic and I’ll just fool around with the chords and start humming and try to be open,” Shingelo says. “In the morning I feel like I’m the least judgmental and critical of myself, and I’m out of my own way. I always find that when I’m in that place, shit always comes in.”

For Shingelo and Black Bird White Sky, much of the movement behind the music originates and thrives in emotion as well as its effect on each person.

“I do go through phases where I’m completely obsessed with something and I’ll try to absorb all of it and then I’ll just forget about it and it goes into the archive, and when I’m writing it starts to come out through my own interpretation,” Shingelo describes. “You’ve gotta be able to look at the demons. I’ve been in places where if I look too much at what’s there, I get really upset, and it’s not a cool place. That’s pretty much the essence of walking the walk of an artist.”

For Shingelo, emotion not only plays a large part in creation of each Black Bird White Sky track, it also proves a necessary component to delivering a memorable live performance. With regards to his wide vocal range, Shingelo maintains he relies heavily on his emotional state to reach octaves that are not as easily attainable.

“I just kinda found that place through trial and error. I kinda tag it to the emotion,” he notes. “That’s the challenge every night is to try and be in that place. Especially when you’re doing it over and over, it’s easy just to kinda run through the motions. Luckily, I’ve been pretty consistent with it lately. Focusing on the lyrics and the intention behind them. Going to that place is just taking a couple of minutes before the show. I’ll listen to a really moody track, like an Adele track or Radiohead track or a Chopin piece even like for just a minute and now I’m in that place that I can’t even tag to words. Just that connection with music where I can’t even understand where it comes from.”

In addition to the implementation of the modern machine, trim lineup and emotional connection, Black Bird White Sky draws from a wide range of musical influence to create a unique, accessible sound with strong ties to pop, electronica and rock simultaneously. As the band’s front man and songwriter, Shingelo finds guidance in a variety of artists including Chopin, Radiohead, Muse, Ezben and the Witch, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, and at the forefront most recently, Charlie XCX and the everlasting Bob Marley. 

“I’ve always listened to him but I’ve really for some reason been so connected to his early, raw recordings,” Shingelo says of Marley. “The message he was trying to deliver and what he was able to do in terms of humanity is profound. I’ve changed so much because of it. I feel like I’m nicer listening to his music. ‘Everyone should listen to it.  What you just said is exactly what he was trying to do, and it worked, it’s just that the world is a tough place.”

Following months of preparation and studio time, Black Bird White Sky is set to release its newest album, The Fall, on October 16, followed by a combined CD release party and CMJ performance on October 17 at Matchless in Brooklyn.

Aside from this Brooklyn show and CD release, Black Bird White Sky is focusing on expanding to the East Coast and increasing membership on their website (p.s. increased membership leads to free giveaways, just saying!).

A dynamic combination of electronic and rock backgrounds, intimate writing, a constant evolution and experimentation, Black Bird White Sky presents an emerging musical style with potential to make a large-scale impression on today’s music scene.

 

Originally published September 16, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Social Media for Dummies (The Ex Issue: V1)

Social media: Connector. Ingenious networking tool. Information database. Electronic invitation system. Friendship maintenance assistant. Passive aggressive comment forum?

The Art of Social Media

Photo credit to flickr.com

As if meeting, dating, breaking up and moving on weren’t already difficult enough, modern singles now have to face the repercussions of expired relationships and their effects on every social media network thus far established. Where do I begin ranting about the irritation surrounding this?

Let me avoid diving into this without noting what everyone already knows. Social networking sites make stalking an ex as easy as baking the family-recipe pie with your mom in the kitchen. Though most sites have privacy settings in attempt to avoid real danger associated with these issues, it doesn’t take a hacker to skirt these safeguards and gain indirect access to life updates and new photos in various ways. I could go into a completely different session about how invasive this is, but now is not the time.

Stalking capability now addressed, the apparent inability for anyone using a social media outlet to maintain any level of maturity is ferociously annoying, to say the least. Whether you can come to terms with it or not, social networking is not catered to your needs, desires and hard drive alone. It’s public. Everyone you are associated with, and in some cases even people you’ve never even heard of, has access to anything you post, tweet, note, tumbl, update..you catch my drift. And if you don’t, let me put it a little simpler for you: Your shit is not private. We can see it.

Social Media Privacy

Photo credit to flickr.com

 

In light of this fact, it goes without saying that you can expect responses and reactions, whether positive or negative, to anything significant you might have to say. For example, post a status with an intelligent quote, expect “likes.” Tweet a relevant news story, expect “retweets.” In my opinion, it’s not a difficult concept. Who knows? Maybe I’m a genius, and it’s rocket science for laymen. In any case, now we all know. So if you’re still friends with an ex or someone ex-like on a social media site, it shouldn’t be unexpected, unappreciated or too far of a stretch to see a “like” or even a comment from them, depending on how friendly you are.

Why all this babbling? To set up the situation for my chief complaint: Passive aggressiveness via social media updates. Dudes and ladies, we get it. Love hurts, love stings, all that mushy and painful shit. No one expects you to come out of anything resembling a relationship and suddenly be BFFs with your ex, especially if that something resembling a relationship was actually just two people using each other for sex before one moved across the country. Don’t say I didn’t warn you not to fall for me. If someone expects that, delete them from your “Friends” list. However, if you need a shit ton of space and you can’t bear to remember that person exists, it’s on you to take the necessary precautions to prevent unwanted exposure. If you don’t want to take the risk of receiving “likes,” “tweets,” comments, whatever from someone in your romantic past, let me solve your problems. Fucking. Delete. Them.

If you just thought to yourself, “But what if he notices we’re not ‘friends’ anymore and takes it the wrong way?” ask yourself what Katy Perry wondered on her Teenage Dream album: “Who am I living for?” If it’s your ex, get yourself committed. It should be you, and if the person whose thoughts you’re considering isn’t you, it’s time to rethink your life.

Drowing FB

Photo credit to flickr.com

The real root of the issue is that if you have enough of a problem with this occurrence to lash out at your opponent, status updates are not the place to do it. Part of being a grown-ass adult is looking your problems in the face and telling them what’s up. Not posting an insult on a public site without having the balls to admit you’re thinking of a certain person. Need to have it out with your ex-lover? Check out this new-ish thing call a cell phone. It works in several different ways, in the form of direct calls, text messages, and even voicemails. Some more advanced phones today can even handle email capacity. Yup, that means you could draft an email spilling your guts and anger too. All of these are acceptable ways of getting closure or expressing frustration so you can move on in a healthy way, and if you’re really tactful, your balls might even drop. Text messages, phone calls, Facebook updates, emails. One of these things is not like the others. Can you spot it?

Originally published September 2, 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