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Brian Fennell is a student of simplicity. As SYML (pronounced “simmel”), which translates to “simple” in Welsh, Fennell writes emotive ambient pop songs that capture the ethos of his musical persona. With delicate piano, swells of strings and Fennell’s sterling vocals, the songs that comprise his debut EPs “Hurt for Me” and “In My Body,” out January 2018, embody the relinquishing of all emotions, a cathartic release laid bare.
“The name meaning simple was the cornerstone of what I wanted in these songs,” Fennell says. “Keep it simple because you can’t hide behind things as well when it is stripped back and when it is naked and raw.”
The project’s origins stem from a pair of songs Fennell had written years prior, borne out of the resulting introspection from navigating a healthy and supportive relationship with his now-wife. Over a heaving string orchestration and harrowing piano on “Where’s My Love,” Fennell looks outward at a romantic partner and wishing for their emotional wellness for the sake of the relationship; on “The War,” a stark track with thundering percussion, a battle is waged between the boy and adult man living inside himself. Fennell shared these tracks with a friend who helped land “Where’s My Love” in an episode the MTV drama “Teen Wolf” in 2016, thus thrusting Fennell into the spotlight. So he wrote more songs, self-recording and producing in his home just outside of Seattle.
A child of a closed adoption, Fennell discovered his Welsh roots as an adult and utilizes his heritage in his music in the project’s name and as a filter through which he views the world, though it’s ultimately the juxtaposition between his own happiness and the content of his music that is most resounding.
“I describe my music as generally being pretty sad or dark but the reality of where that comes from is a general mystery that exists behind my history as a person,” Fennell says.
On the “Hurt for Me” and “In My Body” EPs, Fennell examines the will of a person that exists after hurt and loss, the humanity in the thoughts and feelings we all possess when we close our eyes each night. He reckons with internal struggles in “Body,”: “I’ve become the only thing I hate,” he sings; a plea for a lover’s own self-acceptance on “Wildfire”: “You’re not a curse, you’re not too much / you are needed here, you are enough / nothing’s going to hold you down for long.”
“There’s not a ton that we can all agree on other than like what it feels like at the end of the day being human and going through intense things such as hurt and loss,” Fennell says. “You can compare it to the honeymoon phase of something positive, we also have honeymoon phases in hurt and loss. At the end of each of those phases I think that we're unified in ‘I have to decide how I’m going to choose to still love after this. Do I still love myself?’”
Fennell’s heartfelt approach to music comes from an experience he had in college with a percussion professor. A classically trained pianist who graduated with a degree in music education, Fennell often rested on his laurels early in his career. the instructor inspired him to strive for more, to put more of himself into his practice.
“I had to bleed and really be upset with myself to understand fully how to learn something like music,” he recalls. “It all collided at the same time and I really latched onto writing songs at that point. You need to let go of being perfect or being the best. As soon as you accept failing at something and can give yourself up in a personal way to the music, then you can finally be light enough to reach your potential.”
Ultimately, it is a kind and truthful depiction of emotion, grounded by his gut-wrenching vocal delivery that keeps SYML from sounding maudlin, soppy. Like the name implies, it’s the simplistic approach -- things are hard, let’s talk about it -- that makes SYML relatable, the topics he sings about tangible.
“One of the pitfalls of writing more emotional music, as a listener and lover of that music, would be you pulling the wool over somebody’s eyes just to make them feel something,” Fennell says. “I’m trying to be conscious of not doing that. It’s not flippant music where I’m throwing out this emotion to the world, I’m trying to approach it with more care and conscience.”
"There's a disarming spirit of generosity in the musicianship of Julian Lage, and a keener sense of judicious withholding. A guitarist with roots tangled up in jazz, folk, classical and country music, he has spent most of his life bathed in a bright, expectant light."
-New York Times
On Modern Lore, Julian Lage's second studio recording with his trio, the composer and guitarist focuses on the groove, building his melodies and solos around the work of the prodigious rhythm section of double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Modern Lore finds Lage playfully flipping the script he followed on his acclaimed 2016 Mack Avenue debut, Arclight. That album -- produced, like Modern Lore, by Lage's friend and collaborator, the singer-songwriter Jesse Harris -- was his first trio set on electric guitar and found Lage inspired by the sounds and the attitude of the freewheeling, pre-bebop jazz era, when, as he puts it, "country music and jazz and swing were in this weird wild-west period." This time he incorporates the sensibility, if not the outright sound, of early rock and roll, a similarly hybrid form driven by rhythm, personality and a passion for the electric guitar.
"Last time it was specifically a combination of the electric guitar being a lead voice interacting with those pre-bebop songs. I wanted to do a jazz record the way I had always craved to do one," Lage recalls. "Modern Lore is the evolution of that sound, through the lens of original compositions. These pieces are more designed in the image of early rock and roll, early Little Richard, early Bo Diddley, wherein the first measure of music sets the tone for the whole experience. The sound of the band driven by these grooves and the guitar is more of an explosive voice, it bends more; it's more dynamic."
Opening with the exuberant "The Ramble," Lage's set of all-original new material is largely up-tempo, though on tracks like "Atlantic Limited" and "Splendor Riot" the trio adopts a hypnotic, lyrical stride. And, on "Revelry" and "Pantheon," it grows more pensive. Throughout, the beat is concise and steady. Lage's solos are action-packed musical monologues, stuffed with brilliant melodies and off-the-cuff inspiration. The penultimate track, "Earth Science," is an outright scorcher.
"I wanted all the songs on this album to be borne out of a danceable groove, a kind of sensuality, something that felt great even before the guitar was a part of it," Lage explains. "Kenny and Scott have this unique way of transforming these pieces, creating variations that morph into completely new feels. It's kind of kaleidoscopic. With that in place, I wrote melodies that were singable to me."
Lage was already an established guitar virtuoso when at age 27, he picked up the Telecaster for the Arclight sessions. That was, in a sense, a return to his roots: When he was four years old, his dad, a visual artist, had made him a plywood guitar, based on a Fender Esquire he'd traced from a Bruce Springsteen poster. As a young and preternaturally gifted musician, Lage found supporters in such artists as vibraphonist Gary Burton and veteran jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who would become Lage's mentor and friend. Though Hall passed away in 2013, he remains a profound influence on Lage. In fact, Lage first encountered Colley and Wollesen when they were backing Hall at the famed Bay Area jazz club, Yoshi's in Oakland, CA. Since then, Lage has more than fulfilled the promise of his youth, collaborating with a diverse range of fellow artists, including guitarist-singer Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers, bassist Steve Swallow, and iconic avant-garde composer John Zorn; often appearing with the house band on Prairie Home Companion; and composing for and fronting this trio.
For Modern Lore, the trio cut the tracks at Reservoir Studios in midtown Manhattan. Then Lage brought in keyboardist Tyler Chester from the Blake Mills trio to add some very subtle textures. As Lage notes, "In the most tasteful way, Tyler brought a spirit to everything that really ignites the sonic palette." Tom Schick, Wilco's longtime engineer, mixed the album in Chicago and producer Jesse Harris contributes acoustic guitar on "Whatever You Say, Henry."
Once again, producer Harris was an important editorial voice, both arbiter and cheerleader. Says Lage, "Jesse and I shared a vision and a craving for a body of tunes that focused on directness and the space we could leave. We were adamant about keeping the music in that zone, that warmth and clarity, within which the beat of the song could really thrive. This was our dream for these songs."
"Every time I record with Scott and Kenny, I wish I could do this every day," Lage admits. " The sound I'm craving takes many forms; it can be very restrained or it can be wild and crazy. It kind of depends on the context. With Modern Lore, the music sets the foundation for a mutlitude of directions, all rooted in a kind of sensual narrative."
As one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation, Lage has long displayed an ability to explore a wide range of sounds, ideas and genres. But what delights him here -- and will, in turn, captivate his listeners -- is the the artful simplicity of Modern Lore.
Three years since first emerging as Britain’s emotive dance music maker-in-chief, SG Lewis is back with a new record and a renewed sense of purpose. After two EPs, 2015’s Shivers and 2016’s Yours, a period that saw him crafting hits for rising artists Dave (100Ms) and Ray BLK (Chill Out), the Reading-born producer-cum-songwriter-cum-DJ returns with a three part ode to club music: Dusk, Dark, Dawn.
“Everything I do stems club culture,” he says of the concept. “Dusk, Dark, Dawn is about taking the intentions of that music - all those feelings and experiences, those amazing emotions I had from the age of 17 to 19 - and placing them outside of the context of the club. Those memories of being a young person and having my mind blown by this thing I never knew existed.”
Born in Hexham, U.K., Jade’s early life was spent mainly in flight as an “army brat.” One of life’s few constants proved to be the influence of strong working women. At first via her mother and grandmother, who largely raised her, but later the female role models within the musical subcultures Jade become obsessed with: from empowering country heroines like Loretta Lynn to iconic alternative songwriters like Patti Smith; Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill was a similar early touchstone. Jade recently spoke with Noisey about the influence of these and other women on her music.
“Lottery” as well as her debut EP Something American, out now on Glassnote Records, continue to receive widespread critical acclaim:
“…an English songwriter with a country-rock streak and a furious rasp when she gets riled…”
—The New York Times
“…her outlaw spirit, fiery riffs and ready-to-roar vocals illustrated everyday gender dynamics…”
—Los Angeles Times
“…on paper there is no way to describe the power that is Jade Elizabeth Bird’s voice.”
— Brooklyn Vegan
“[‘Lottery’ is] a treat of a track, complete with playful wordplay, ebb and flow—and that Clapton-meets-Feist style Bird has carved out for herself since the release of her 2017 EP, Something American. With that successful debut under her belt, and this single in her very capable hands, we’re pretty sure we’ll be betting on Jade Bird for years to come.”
The three main elements defining Los Angeles trio DREAMERS are almost irreconcilable.
First, DREAMERS’ aesthetic embodies psychedelia. It hearkens back to simpler times on the internet, when pixilated 8-bit imagery of starry nights looked like HD. The group flaunts its self- made exploding rainbow gifs like a unicorn in heat.
Second, contrary to what these psychedelic visions may musically imply, DREAMERS plays smart pop. The 12 tracks on the trio’s debut LP This Album Does Not Exist sizzle and spark with three-minute tunes to perk you up and make you shake.
Third, according to DREAMERS, there’s a point to this.
When DREAMERS—Nick Wold (vocals/guitar), Nelson (bass/vocals), and Jacob Wick (drums) —talk about This Album Does Not Exist, they assume a collective tone of considerate existentialism. They seek to counter the crassness of pop, the snobbery of jazz, and the pretention of indie that zaps the fun out of music with meaning. Yet, they want to draw you in, indiscriminate of taste, style, or ideology.
“Nothing exists by itself,” muses Wold. “Everything in your mind is created in your mind and you see the world through that lens. Everything has a subjective reality in addition to an objective one, especially with music and art. So on this record, we’re toying with that idea of existence and nonexistence.”
Yet, these songs of playfulness come from a place of less—homelessness, joblessness, borderline hopelessness. In 2014, Wold simultaneously vacated a relationship and an apartment and began living in his Brooklyn practice space. The brick warehouse used to be a brewery, he recalls, with rats as ubiquitous as the graffiti crawling the walls.
“It was just a cinderblock room with no windows, no bathrooms, ” begins Wold before Nelson chimes in, “Musical prison!”
Recalls Wold, “I showered with this $20 a month gym membership I had.” When he returned to the studio, “I just tried to make it look like I was coming in for a night session.”
During the two years of living in this “musical prison,” Wold reduced his bartending gig to just once per week. It freed up his schedule to write more than 100 songs, many of which ended up on This Album Does Not Exist.
Meanwhile, both Nelson and Wick bottomed out on the musician lifestyle and returned to office jobs in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. As Nelson says, “We found ourselves in ‘normal’ situations and quickly decided to yank ourselves out of it.”
So now, after bouts of vagrancy, nomadism, and vigilant attempts at normalcy, DREAMERS is now committed to its collective vision of artistry, inclusion, and idealism.
“The role of the artist in society is to be the dreamer, the one who thinks ahead,” considers Wold.
“We’re trying to pull people in. It’s a way of trying to coax people into our world, continues Nelson. “We want to bring people in to listen to our music and enjoy themselves....and then hopefully it’ll lead to a deeper connection.”
That’s the dreamer MO, after all—to find the joy in living and to chase it.
The L.A.-via-Brooklyn trio DREAMERS, are set to release new single, “Screws,” a sensually charged track driven by pounding drumbeats and lyrics that perfectly channel the frenzy of the mental and physical unraveling of a relationship. The song, to be released Friday, May 25, will also be featured on the band’s upcoming EP due early summer. The single coincides with the announcement of the band’s 31 city U.S. headlining tour kicking off on September 13 in San Diego, CA, and features support acts Weathers, label-mate morgxn, and Rad Horror on select dates.
“Screws” is the first follow up to DREAMERS’ debut album, This Album Does Not Exist, which debuted in 2016 and spun off three singles that charted at the top of the Billboard Alternative chart, including the top 10 Alt radio hit, “Sweet Disaster.” “Screws,” says lead singer, Nick Wold, “is a tortured love song about losing your mind -- the lyric is I'm lying naked and my brain has lost its screws. We really wanted to make a passionate song in the style of early 90's industrial music, which often dealt with the darker sides of romance, while bringing it into the world of 2018 sonically. It came out of the crumbling of logic and reason that love can bring, twisted dreams and memories, ghosts and insurmountable walls that can be created in a mind left to its own devices. I had a strange feeling at the end my last relationship, that I was most lonely when I was with her.”
Darker times make for bolder and, sometimes, brighter art.
The Ballroom Thieves - Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello), Martin Earley (guitar, vocals), and Devin Mauch (percussion, vocals) - mine immense melodies and hypnotic hooks from personal stories on their 2018 EP, Paper Crown (Nettwerk Records). Under the cover of vintage jazz-style, the five songs reflect feelings of rootlessness from four nomadic years, bouts of depression, and the ever-looming specter of political unrest hanging over the country.
Nevertheless, a noticeable glimmer of light always peeks through.
“Our lifestyle has shaped our perspective,” explains Martin. “We’ve toured so much that we haven’t been able to call anywhere home. A lot of the songwriting was done from this place of simply not having a home base. We were the perennial guests.”
“Some of the more somber moments come from a darkness I carry,” admits Callie. “I’m not an optimist, and I suffer from insomnia and depression. Traveling around on highways and utilizing the faux likes of large cooperate hotels and chains can bring a person down. Songwriting is a way to speak about sad things in a pretty and concise way while providing a distraction from some of the realities of tour life. It’s not all dreary though, and the enormous range of experiences give us the juxtaposition of happy, easygoing vintage music and dark lyrics.”
That subtle balance has transformed The Ballroom Thieves into a quiet phenomenon. Following two EPs, the group released their full-length debut A Wolf in the Doorway in 2015. Between marathons of touring, 2016’s Deadeye would spawn a string of fan favorites. They claimed real estate on prime Spotify playlists (e.g. “Your Favorite Coffeehouse,” “Relax & Unwind,” “Morning Acoustic”) with “Bees” cracking 10 million streams on the platform. Along the way, they sold out shows and delivered standout performances at festivals such as Boston Calling and Newport Folk Festival, while landing features at NPR, Baeble Music, Boston Globe, Paste, Earmilk, and many others.
In late 2017, they commenced work on Paper Crown, collaborating with producer Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile, Vance Joy) in Washington for the first time.
“Working with Ryan at Bear Creek was a completely new and unique experience,” affirms Devin. “He naturally pushed us through our vulnerabilities, challenging the band to grow and apply some of his more pop sensibilities to our traditional ‘Thieves sound.’ The rustic wooded environment at Bear Creek also had a serious impact on the band's experience creating these songs as we found ourselves there at two very different times of year - once in the beautiful but smoky heat of August and again in February's more frigid rain season. The result was a pretty stark contrast in the sounds, tones, textures, colors, and feel between each song, which in itself is a reflection of this band and our journey. “
During the process, The Ballroom Thieves dramatically expanded their sonic palette. Electric guitars figured prominently, and the group wholeheartedly embraced the fifties and sixties pop and country influences such as Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Willie Nelson in addition to religiously spinning Dan Auerbach.
“It was an attempt to make contemporary music accessible for a large range of music lovers” explains Callie. “You can’t deny those classics are special, and people across all generations have loved them for decades. Listeners keep coming back to them again and again for a reason.”
Martin elaborates, “We liked mixing those old-school pop elements with our big harmonies and folk-sensible songwriting.”
The band introduced the EP with the haunting “Only Lonely.” It quickly generated over 3.9 million streams. Meanwhile, the single “Do Something” illuminates their evolution. Its smoky soul could very well have swooned right out of a Chicago jazz haunt and onto a California beach circa 1965. At the same time, it encases fiery rhetoric within those sweet sonics.
The Ballroom Thieves culled the EP title Paper Crown from a lyric in "Do Something." Representing the ephemeral nature of consumerism, corporate greed, and reality TV, it's symbolic of the fake coronation atop the country's hierarchy. At the same time, it proposes an alternative charge for unity in the face of this misdirection.
“It’s a letter to this administration to do something kind,” Callie exclaims. “This president is not a suitable representative for any human being, but ironically, many of the Americans rallying behind him are the ones who stand to suffer the most if he continues to bolster ideals that only work for people who look and live like him. For ‘Do Something’, instead of focusing on my cynicism about it, I was trying to have higher hopes, and maybe scream a little about what most of us are thinking.”
Martin goes on, “It’s unifying rather than being divisive. It points towards the fact we’re all trying to navigate this situation together. We shouldn’t be doing that as two separate factions.”
Whether it’s the hard-hitting “Can’t Cheat Death” or the tearful, yet upbeat joy of “Almost Love,” they make pronounced creative strides together.
“To me, this EP is a transition,” Martin states. “It leads us towards the next project and stands as an evolution of our sound. Just like any band, we keep evolving and writing new songs that require creativity in production. I hope we take our older fans with us while making some new ones along the way.”
In the end, The Ballroom Thieves strain light through all the darkness.
“We hope people find it catchy and inviting,” Callie leaves off, “but are also able to find a likeness and connection to any of the ideas we express and the music we love to create.”
After a 3 year hiatus, Canadian indie favourites, Hey Ocean! return with a new evolution of their energetic brand of west coast pop. David Beckingham, Ashleigh Ball, and David Vertesi have used the last few years to focus on other projects including their own solo records but the Juno-nominated trio's decade-plus long collaboration seems to have called them back for perhaps their strongest effort yet.
For long time fans, the new music builds a bridge between the carefree experimentation of 2008's "It's Easier To Be Somebody Else" and the slick pop production and songwriting of 2012's "IS". If it sounds like they are more relaxed, it’s because they are. The band cites their time away from Hey Ocean! as being key to feeling more at ease in the studio and with the project itself.
“Taking space to work on our own respective solo albums has been great.” Says Beckingham “We've grown up, learned a ton about our strengths and weaknesses, and had time to reflect on what makes this collaboration so special. "
They have also relieved pressure by parting ways with their record labels in favour of returning to life as an independent artist. "We're excited to be in control of our music again" says Vertesi "Being hands on definitely helps us feel more connected to what we're doing and to the fans of our music who have supported us through so much and for so long."
The Greatest Generation is a comedy podcast about Star Trek: The Next Generation, beloved by everyone from people who've never seen an episode, to complete dorkazoids who are fluent in Klingon. Benjamin Ahr Harrison and Adam Pranica tell you what's great, what's bad, and what's hilarious about the show they grew up loving, and still do. It's a little bit nerdy, a lot filthy, and exposes some of Adam and Ben's most embarrassing stories from their dorky childhoods.
Growing up in North Wales, I'd spend those summer days lying on the ground in the hay field at the front of the house, looking up to the sky, imagining familiar shapes in the clouds. Only thing was, the grass in the deep days of summer was often too high to even see any sky at all, you’d just disappear into the perfect hiding place. I think writing these songs became a different type of hiding place for me. Making this album has felt like trying to get a glimpse of the sky. This week, the wind blew the grass clear and we finally set eyes on that beautiful, formidable sky again. While the world today often feels more alluring & uglier than it was when we began this musical journey, I'm nevertheless reminded at how powerful music can be, how it heals, hurts, and how it wakes you up. I can't wait to share this madness with the rest of you someday soon. - Lots of love, RB (Ritzy Bryan)
THE JOY FORMIDABLE
AAARTH makes a statement unlike its predecessors. Drawing inspiration from a worldwide climate of political and social uncertainty the band transplanted themselves in Utah's vivid natural landscape immersed in a collage of colors and light, the ever fluid and expansive Southwestern sky mirroring our rapidly-changing world. The deep burnt-orange rocks and canyons became touchstones as the band formed the sonic landscapes of AAARTH. From soaring choruses to percussive pulsating guitars, The Joy Formidable paint an 11 song musical tapestry deftly balancing a sound as grounded as their ancient surroundings and as elusive and mind-bending as a gloaming desert sky.
AAARTH first came to life on the road penning lyrics and recording selected parts in hotel rooms around the world. They self-produced and mixed most of the album in their mobile recording studio. This critically adored trio is comprised of Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals, guitars), Rhydian Dafydd (bass, backing vocals) and Matt Thomas (drums, percussion). Formed in North Wales 10 years ago, each album they've released has been a joyful adventure and reflection of their fearless creative discovery and self evolution. The Joy Formidable has always refused to be fenced in or fit in. That restless and boundless artistic journey continues on their fourth album, an arresting and unapologetic tour de force that finds a band at its apex with no sign of getting comfortable.
Certainly, the road to AAARTH hasn’t always been easy. Staying together as a band for 10 years requires immense tenacity and passion, both of which The Joy Formidable have never lost. That same tenacity echoes in their new unrelenting affecting musical treatise. The songs, melodies, and arrangements on AAARTH soar seamlessly from the personal to the epic sometimes in loneliness, vulnerability, disillusionment, joy,and redemption, but all the while refusing to deny the persistence of our own and other's imperfectly beautiful humanity. Fernando Chamerelli's evocative album art frames this vibrant, diverse, and playful melodic and lyrical collage.
While the sounds build the mood at the heart of this album are haunting songs that don't let go, “Cicada (Land On Your Back)” draws on the shamanistic influence of Utah, infusing the melody with a lingering psychedelic impression. “We wanted some kind of rebirth, the way you do in a tribal drug ceremony,” Rhydian says. “We wanted to lose ourselves and start again.” These themes of feeling lost and letting go only to reconnect with yourself thread through the songs. In "All and All" these themes are echoed, as the guitars hypnotically build into a crashing tide of reckless abandon, hope, yearning, and desperation.
There’s one little part of me
that doesn’t want to let go
It’s easier to be the old me
I’m tired of staring down the price of bravery
All in all there’s something missing
All in all there’s something you can do
I won’t play it down or pretend I haven’t found
Because all in all there’s something in you
The album is book-ended by two songs that calls for a world less divided, offering a dual desire that we take on the challenge to find love and forgiveness across entrenched divisions, while reminding us that healing journey cannot happen unless we also allow forgiveness and love for ourselves. “Y Bluen Eira,” written in Welsh, invokes a white feather, a symbol of weakness in British history, and a snowflake. “It’s very easy to write off a whole group of people just by labeling them,” Ritzy notes. “That leads to a lack of communication and isolation. If we can be curious and courageous, then maybe we will find conversation across the spectrums that divide us and maybe even find new patterns to heal our world and ourselves".
From the contagiously sweeping sonic feast of "You Can't Give Me" to the careening and addictive "All and All", (possibly one of the more wrenching and beautiful rock ballads since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Maps" shattered male dominated rock radio over a decade ago), their new record grasps its listener tight and refuses to let go. NME has written that, 'The Joy Formidable has always sounded so much bigger than the stages they inhabit'. With the release of AAARTH later this year, we are poised for the moment where the size of this band's stages, may just yet, catch up with their sound. For a band who never coveted nor chased mainstream success a much wider audience awaits and, as always for this Welsh trio, it arrives on their timeline and will be met on their own terms.
There is a stretch of road that runs through the Adirondack national park, just a few miles of houses and barns and truck stops and trees, that makes up Woodgate, New York. But just off from this road is a rough track that leads down to a lake, and a beach, and a cluster of old buildings. “And that’s where I spent my summer,” says Ali Lacey, better known as Novo Amor. “On a really deep lake with a dock surrounded by tall evergreens.”
That summer was five years ago now. But for Lacey, it remains a pivotal moment in his life and his music. Employed as a music teacher at a summer camp, he spent his days holding classes among the pews of an old chapel. “It was otherworldly,” he says, and the details are still keen in his mind: the bats that found their way into the chapel lanterns at night and in the daytime cast strange silhouettes against the walls; the scent of fresh pine; the unexpected greenness of that land. “It’s a really serene place,” he says. “It’s so far from anything that at nighttime you could lie on the grass and look up and see so many stars you didn’t know existed.”
It was that summer that a lot of things changed for Lacey. He put away his interest in rock and heavy metal and film scores and began listening to what he describes now as “Music with a lot more emotional depth than the music I was listening to before.” He fell in love with a girl, and suddenly he found that “as predictable as it sounds, a lot of songs started meaning a lot more to me, lyrically.” And he realised too that the relationship he began by the lake in Woodgate was in some ways as much about a place as it was about a person. “Going there, and then coming back from it is something that has played on my mind for five years,” he says. “How that place changed me. It did feel like a turning point in my life.”
When he returned from America, it was to a period of uncertainty. With no job and no plan, and his relationship now over, he moved back in with his family in Wales, back to his old bedroom, taking a job in an ice cream parlour and spending his free time writing songs. “I felt I was going through a massive state of change in my life,” he says. “I’d finished university and didn’t know what I wanted to do other than make music. So it was kind of a lack of direction that led me to writing songs. The name Novo Amor means ‘new love’, and it’s really cheesy in hindsight, but it reflects exactly why I started the project - because I was lost and I needed to find a new love, and I just put it all into making music.”
Lacey had been playing music since his teens, and had studied music technology at university with the intention of writing film soundtracks, but the idea of being a songwriter was new to him. “All the music I’d made before was orchestral scores,” he explains. “I’d never really written a song with lyrics just on the guitar before.”
His early efforts he dismisses as painfully emo, but in 2013 he volunteered to write the score for a friend’s feature film. “I did it as a favour,” he says, “just because I want to be involved.” For the climactic scene of the film he wrote a song he called ‘From Gold’, conjured unexpectedly late one night when he returned from his shift at the ice cream parlour. “What I liked about it was that the whole song was one crescendo,” he explains. “It’s a building piece, but it had delicate subtleties on the guitar and vocals which bring a bit more of an emotional element to it. Though it’s just four chords repeated over again for three and a half minutes, it’s the simplest thing, and simplicity is key sometimes.”
‘From Gold’ seemed to unlock something in Lacey, and he began writing a collection of songs he would release as the ‘Woodgate EP’ the following year — songs inspired by his time by the lake in upstate New York, that were tender and honest and lovestruck.
He quit the ice cream parlour and took a job making karaoke backing tracks. “It would be Kate Bush songs, and Conor Maynard, and weird Swedish pop,” he recalls. “You’d have to remake the song as close as possible but without the vocals. Seventy pounds a track. It was horrible.” He also produced somewhat unorthodox sound libraries for composers. “A project where I took apart random objects like baths and cookers and I recorded them at different velocities, hitting them with different mallets, and turned them into instruments on the keyboard that composers could play,” he explains. “It was just a good way of getting original sounds and different recording techniques. But that led into me doing sound logos - the things you hear at the ends of adverts. They were just ideas I’ve wanted to do, and they’ve ended up paying off.”
What this slightly peculiar musical trajectory allowed Lacey to do was to simultaneously continue writing and performing his own songs. “Music’s been a crutch for me to lean on these past five years,” he says. “It’s been my main thing and helped me to build my own studio and travel around playing different countries and meeting people.”
Among the people he met was the songwriter and producer Ed Tullett, with whom he forged an immediate bond. “It was nice to be around somebody who was so musically focused and who is so confident in his own ideas,” Lacey says. “It was great to just sit there and make music with him.”
Out of that friendship grew a musical collaboration, with a first single, ‘Faux’, released in 2014 (premiered on NPR and featured on the TV series’ ‘Bones’ and ‘Pretty Little Liars’), followed by second, ‘Alps’, two years later, and, this year, a full-length album, ‘Heiress’, released via All Points/Believe.
Working with Tullett did much to bolster Lacey’s confidence. “It gave me an insight into how other people write songs,” he says. “And it’s just nice to have ideas from other people sometimes, rather than me being stuck in my narrow-minded thinking of ‘I’m not really an artist, my songs have to be about a certain period of time… that’s all it is’.”
But that ‘certain period of time’ has lingered. Earlier this year Lacey released the ‘Bathing Beach EP’, a kind of sister EP to ‘Woodgate’. “Because four songs didn’t really encompass all that I was writing about,” he says. “It just felt like things weren’t over in that sense, and this feels more like a closing — a wistful nod to a certain period of time.” The songs, he says, “feel in the same vein as the first EP — the first song, ‘Carry You’, is similar to the first song from ‘Woodgate’, ‘From Gold’. But it feels like a more mature reflection on the same subject.”
The ‘Bathing Beach EP’, took its name from a postcard of the lake where he spent the summer of 2011. “It feels like a calming title,” he says, “and it captures the mood I had while I was there… But also where the land meets the shore feels like the perfect place to let something go.”
Lacey is still just 25, and life, he says, continues to change. “But things have changed in a good way,” he says. “A lot of people I grew up with wouldn’t expect me to be doing what I’m doing now.” What might they have expected? “I remember when I was growing up and I wasn’t from a wealthy family at all and one of my slightly richer friends told my girlfriend if that when we grew up he’d give her 10 grand a year if I couldn’t provide for her,” he says after a moment’s contemplation, and then laughs. “So I feel like having musical success is such a rare thing, and it’s not like I’m Ed Sheeran but it’s something I can do every day, which is amazing for me.”
He has his own studio in Cardiff now, a space big enough to keep his piano and drums and recording equipment in one place. “It was all bedroom music before,” he says. “Everything I’ve recorded was done when I was living in a house with four other people and a bunch of cats. And I have a lot of song ideas written down, but I’ve never really had a space to do anything with them. Now I can just spend time making stuff and experimenting and seeing what comes out of it. It feels like a new chapter.”
Aretha Franklin was a trailblazing icon and virtuosic musician whose voice cut straight to the heart of things. She was, in the words of Billy Preston, “the best f*ckin’ singer this f*cked-up country has ever produced.” An extraordinary talent deserves no less of a tribute than a full-on dance-your-ass-off party experience—a revue that harkens back to Motown’s Motortown Revue or The James Brown Show. An event!
On November 24th, 2018, Chicago honors her departed majesty with Soul Spectacular: A Tribute to Aretha & the Classic Soul Era, featuringa star-studded line-up of the city’s best young singers, all paying tribute to the Queen and the music of her era. Sam Trump, Meagan McNeal (The Voice), Adam Ness, Daniel Kyri, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Angela Alise, and Emily Woods (Dead River Revival) are sure to keep you grooved and your Julie Nichols & The Epic Sound—a funky-as-hell rhythm section complete with costumes, horns, and back-up singers—back this rotating revue of Chicago’s best R&B singers. And when we say best, we mean best.
After years of putting on shows with The Second City, The Kennedy Center, as well as the band he founded JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, guitarist/director Billy Bungeroth and master musical director, improviser, and Second City alum Julie Nichols started to explore the idea of resurrecting the art of the Revue: concerts that have the thought and direction of a theatrical experience. The result is an homage, a celebration, a cathartic night of music and dancing as this group bands together to send off one of the greatest Soul singers to ever walk the Earth.
The eighth album from Marissa Nadler, For My Crimes, is the sound of turmoil giving way to truth. Bolstering the intimacy of these songs is the strong feminine energy that defined their recording. Between co-producers Lawrence Rothman’s fluidity with both gender and genre (as heard on his 2017 album The Book of Law), and Justin Raisen’s track record of successful collaborations with strong women (Angel Olsen, Kim Gordon, Charli XCX), Nadler felt empowered to explore without judgement in the studio. With the exception of saxophonist Dana Colley (Morphine), every player on the album is a woman of notable pedigree and distinct style; Angel Olsen, Kristin Kontrol (Dum Dum Girls), and Sharon Van Etten all lend vocals, Mary Lattimore joins on harp, Patty Schemel (Hole) plays drums, experimental multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin adds gorgeous string arrangements, and Eva Gardner plays additional bass.
These women and others helped make For My Crimes as dynamic as it is intimate, but Nadler’s mesmerizing voice—stripped of nearly all reverb—is what sits at the center of these songs. You can hear the emotional range of her performances more than ever before, and as a singer, she has never sounded more confident. For My Crimes, Nadler’s most evocative entry in an already impressive discography, is set for release September 28, 2018 on Bella Union and Sacred Bones.