Monday, February 27, 2012

Cold Specks: Holland

23-year-old singer-songwriter Al Spx aka Cold Specks calls her music "doom soul" and dreams of recording with Tom Waits. She is based in London, but will be touring her native Canada in March, May and June (click link for show dates).

The tracks 'Holland' and 'Old Stepstone' were released digitally and as a 7 inch in December 2011.

A full debut album is in the works and will be produced by Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi).

M83: Midnight City

French band M83 fronted by the very prolific Anthony Gonzalez keeps releasing stellar tracks. The video was directed by Fleur and Manu in 2011.

Chromatics: Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)

Portland, Oregon band Chromatics' 2009 cover of Neil Young's 1979 song.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Turboweekend: Drums In The Dark (Featuring Coco)

Superb performance by Danish band Turboweekend recorded in 2011 at top Copenhagen venue Vega in the borough of Vesterbro with Coco of electronica/soul duo Quadron as featured vocalist. Her vocals were also featured on the studio version of this Peter Gabriel-like track which can be heard on Turboweekend's latest EP "Bound", downloadable for free here:

My interview from November of 2010 with lead vocalist Silas Bjerregaard of Turboweekend, as well as several of the band's music videos can be found in the thread here:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

R.I.P. Whitney Houston 1963-2012

Yet another bright star has burned out: Whitney Houston died today at age 48, leaving behind an 18 year-old daughter (as did Teena Marie in December of 2010 when she passed away at age 54.) Houston also leaves behind her mother, singer Cissy Houston, 78.

One of the greatest vocalists of our time and a stunningly beautiful woman, Whitney was an immense influence on a number of younger and now very famous female singers, including Jennifer Hudson, Pink, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna and many more.

She battled drug and alcohol addiction for years, but it is ultimately her voice she will be remembered for. And thanks to the Internet, with a few clicks and a few key strokes we can enjoy some of her best songs and music videos, starting with her live version of "I Will Always Love You" from the 'VH1 Divas' show which aired on April 13, 1999 from New York City's Beacon Theater. Houston, who turned 36 on August 9 that year, was introduced by German 1990s supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview with Anon of The BeatMasons

Singer/guitarist Charles Wright, whose funk classic 'Express Yourself' has been sampled many times over the years, picked numerous stellar musicians for the various configurations of his legendary Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band’s arguably most memorable lineup featured Melvin Dunlap on bass until 1971 when he and several other members left to join Bill Withers for recording and live gigs. Dunlap has since then worked with Quincy Jones, Joe Cocker, Beck, Justin Timberlake, and more, has produced and written songs, and is still very much active to this day. Fortunately Melvin has passed on his musical talent to his son Domonic Dunlap aka Anon (i.e. Anonymous) of Los Angeles based production duo The BeatMasons.

Anon and co-founder Odin are currently working with singer/songwriter/producer/engineer Shan Emery on an upcoming EP. I wrote about Shan Emery here:

Here are a few links for The BeatMasons:

Q & A with Domonic Dunlap aka Anon of The BeatMasons

The Nightfly: What is your first memory of your father in terms of music?
Anon: My first and probably most recurrent memory is just waking up every morning to my dad thumping out some tunes in his studio. He would wake up early, and start jamming away. His musical inspiration would often hit him at odd hours; there were moments when I would hear him playing away at 3 am.

The Nightfly: Your mother was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria. Did she expose you to music as well?
Anon: My mother did expose me to music; however, most of her musical knowledge and exploits came once she made it to America. She was into a lot of classic rock, pop and metal. If I wasn't listening to any of those genres, I was listening to classical music or world music which was a result of my father's diverse ear and musical influence.

The Nightfly: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to make music or did that come later?
Anon: Music was something I've always been interested in; other passions of mine were drawing as well as sports. I always figured if I didn't make it in the arts I would thrive in football or basketball. However, as the years went on I became much more intrigued with the art of sound: I was fascinated with combining certain melodies and creating an artistically creative "soundscape" that transcends thoughts and ideas.

The Nightfly: What are the origins of The BeatMasons?
Anon: Odin and I have been friends since 6th grade; however, we didn't collaborate musically until the end of high school. I took some beats to Odin's house; he was instantly inspired and began playing along with the material, jumping on guitar, piano and finally the drums, playing to each beat. By then I knew that we could mesh well musically. We eventually built a catalog of material over the years, and sure enough, The BeatMasons were born.

The Nightfly: Your eclectic taste in music is evident in your production. Any genres you would love to play around with in the studio in the near future?
Anon: I've been venturing into a lot of Indian, Arabic, Irish and Bulgarian music lately, and meshing it with classical and dubstep. What can I say - I'm a sponge for music and seek inspiration all over.

The Nightfly: How do you and Odin decide on which specific sounds to incorporate when you build a track?
Anon: We tend to create based on thoughts and emotion. As cliche as it may sound, we gather instruments based on the overall concept of a track, then we record the melody. If the sounds do not mesh, it then becomes trial and error. Usually we try to grab from the most obscure and unique sounds, and we like to tinker with adding subtle effects or in some cases playing tracks in reverse.

The Nightfly: Is there a greater need for American producers, both famous and unknown, to
generally be more open minded and not do whatever is hot at any given moment in time?
Anon: I think that is a question which when answered can certainly dictate the direction a producer is headed in. Their overall mindset could be based upon whether or not they produce what is currently trendy versus discovering their own unique sound. Most producers who enter the industry solely for monetary gain often replicate whatever is hot at that given moment. I
personally believe a true artist expands and thinks outside of the box. So yes, I think there is a greater need, not just for American producers but producers all over to take some chances. Do not be afraid to "evolve", or, as I like to say on Twitter: #BeEvolved.

The Nightfly: Are The BeatMasons ultimately aiming for a signature production sound/style instantly recognizable to listeners or do you see your role as primarily tailoring the sound to fit the artist?
Anon: We are looking to create our own signature style. Let's be honest, the most notable producers are the ones who create something different and unique. When Timbaland first stepped on the scene, his syncopated drums are what caught everyone's attention. He and Missy Elliot both brought something original and a signature sound that was true to them. When the Neptunes got popular, they presented a new sound as well. Even Lil Jon managed to cast a stranglehold upon the music industry with Crunk Beats. These are producers/teams that will never be forgotten due to the fact that they brought something new to the music industry.

The Nightfly: How did the collaboration with Shan Emery come about and is he also still recording under the moniker Konscious1?
Anon: Shan Emery is family; he's like a cousin to me. We have always meshed very well musically. I learned how to produce on my first production program called Pro Audio 9 . He is like my mentor to an extent; I learned so much about being creative and being different simply from his unique sound. We collaborated on a project called The Elemental Prophets, which originated in Sacramento and spread with members through L.A.. (it was a family
project.) Shan Emery - Konscious1 at the time - set the project up, and we recorded and collaborated on several tracks. Eventually the project took a slight hiatus, and Shan and I began working on his upcoming project which has been more than fun. It's just a creative journey into sound and imagination.

The Nightfly: Music videos are experiencing a real renaissance and are a powerful creative and promotional tool. Any chance of a Shan Emery/The BeatMasons 'Firestarter' video being made?
Anon: As a matter of fact, yes, we are looking into creating a video for 'Firestarter'. That track alone has garnered a lot of rotation on the Internet and is creating some heavy buzz. So naturally, I think it will be the first single and video we end up shooting for.

The Nightfly: Who are some of the other artists you and Odin are currently producing or will be producing in the near future?
Anon: At the moment we have some collaborations in line with a group called BulletTooth. We also have two artists, Shame and J. Kotic that we will also be working with, and as always we collaborate with Bambu of Native Guns. We have an open door policy though; we are open to working with artists from all over. All we care about is that you have the desire and the passion to follow through with your musical dreams, are willing to work hard, and most of all that you are receptive to new ideas.

The Nightfly: You have at times used a skeleton-like face mask as part of your Anon persona. Could you elaborate on this?
Anon: The skeleton is my way of saying: I'm stripping myself down to the 'bone' and allowing others to see what I'm about as an artist. I'm true to myself and my style, I move against the grain, and it's exactly the persona I want others to get familiar with.

The Nightfly: Who are some of the artists on your current playlist and/or in your CD/record
Anon: I often say that you can learn a lot about a person based on their playlist. If you listened to my iPod, you would definitely get an idea of how diverse I can really be. I have everything from Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, to Metallica, Led Zepplin, Yanni, Cusco and Deep Forest. I have Hans Zimmer, Jay Z, several video game soundtracks, Enigma; the list goes on and on.

The Nightfly:  Do you see yourself collaborating with artists from other countries, even travelling abroad to record?
Anon:  I definitely see us collaborating with artists from all over the world. I believe that artists and consumers outside of the U.S. tend to be far more open minded in terms of musical diversity and creativity. The BeatMasons bring a relatively unique sound to the music industry which has been a bit tough to break in the American music market, and we tend to get our greatest response from artists and consumers from the U.K., Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The Nightfly: In a world with seven billion souls there is a boatload of creative people. How can an artist/a producer/a songwriter find his/her distinct voice in such a crowded field?
Anon: I believe Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said it best ''Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear, but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.'' An artist has to be willing to be open to new ideas and creativity that pushes the envelope, challenges others, and forces artists to think outside of the box. As a writer, you may have to attack the writing process in a different way. Sometimes it can be simple word play or story telling. Content is certainly key. As for production, you have to be willing to think outside of the box in terms of sound, unique instrumentation and overall melody.

The Nightfly: What might the future of music look like, creatively and business wise?
Anon: From a business perspective we can already see that album sales are not what they used to be. We live in a society that lives on a 'quick fix'; consumers want their music right away so online distribution and downloading will only get bigger over the years. I foresee full-length albums becoming a thing of the past. I wouldn't be surprised if artists just release a group of singles on a monthly basis. Sonically, I believe the sound will eventually go in a full circle. In my opinion, as music tends to become more watered down and very basic, I believe that artists and consumers will become much more nostalgic, and eventually take music back to an era when it was much more authentic, with true heartfelt expression and story telling.

The Nightfly: What inspires you besides the obvious, i.e. music?
Anon: I'm inspired by people. I listen to others and their stories. Life tends to throw us so many curve balls that it has become one of my greatest inspirations. I tend to grasp onto some of the smallest details sonically. I can be jogging in the park, listening to birds chirping, and get inspired by their harmony. I truly find inspiration all around me.

The Nightfly: Have you ever collaborated with your dad, and if not, any plans to do so?
Anon: I co-produced his last album 'Music for the Millennium Highway'. He has been composing under his project called Watt Alectrik for several years now, and is currently in the process of finalizing his next release entitled 'The World of Holistic Funk'; it is a unique exploration in sound. Plenty of my inspiration certainly comes from him.

The Nightfly: And the classic job interview question: You turn 29 in July - where do you see yourself ten years from now, in terms of musical goals?
Anon:  I see myself and The BeatMasons still composing and pumping out quality music. In addition, we will be going strong with a talented roster of artists under our indie label and production company. We have big goals, and we have done nothing but accomplish many of them along the way.

The Nightfly:  If a company made an Anon action figure, what would it look like?
Anon:  For starters, I would be very flattered! I think the action figure would certainly have a dark and mysterious look to it, with a signature mask. I grew up loving comics and wanting to be a comic book artist. Spawn and The Black Panther are comic book characters that I could see my action figure overall resembling.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Teitur: You Never Leave L.A.

Singer-songwriter Teitur Lassen aka Teitur was born and raised in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, but splits his time between his hometown Thorshavn and Copenhagen, Denmark where he arrived at the age of 17 having established himself at home.

A big name in Scandinavia, he has also gained a following among other singer-songwriters, incl. John Mayer, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann, and Glenn Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

His first album "Poetry and Airplanes" was released in 2003 on Universal; his latest collection of songs entitled "Let the Dog Drive Home" was recorded in Copenhagen and dropped last year on the small indie label Arlo and Betty which he co-founded.

Teitur is currently doing an extensive February-March tour of the US, incl. a show at Largo in Los Angeles on February 10.

Apparat Organ Quartet: 1 2 3 Forever

Icelandic electronia group Apparat Organ Quartet was founded in 1999 by the very versatile composer/producer Johann Johannsson; their latest album is last year's "Polyfonia".

Sebastian Lind: Never Let Go

One of my favorite videos/songs from the past few years was Danish singer/songwriter/producer Sebastian Lind's "Wait and See".

A new 7-track mini-album, "I Will Follow", was released last September; "Never Let Go" was the first single. A full-length album will follow this spring.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Adele: Set Fire To The Rain (Live At The Royal Albert Hall)

Far too many recording artists are not able to deliver live. Here, Adele more than delivers the goods and has the audience in the palm of her hand. Outstanding, goosebump inducing live performance from last year's concert at The Royal Albert Hall in London that is ample proof of her immense talent. And she's only 23.

Temu: Keep On Dancing

Multi instrumentalist/songwriter/producer Temu Bacot aka Temu hails from New York City, but is currently based in Sweden and Denmark, performing all over Scandinavia as a dancer, solo artist, and DJ. He also does back up singing for Danish rapper Negesh Ali and was a featured vocalist on Ali's "We Get By".

(I posted "We Get By" a year ago here:

This highly effective black/white music video for "Keep On Dancing" was directed by Morten Kuhl Christensen and edited by Kasper Helms Thors√łe and is a very good example of what can done with relatively simple means: two dynamic figures (Temu and Sara Jordan) dancing against a bright white background + crisp footage + excellent editing. Voila!