Monday, June 28, 2010

Show Preview - Sleigh Bells - Brillobox - 7/3/10 - Pittsburgh


Bells will be performing at the Brillobox this Saturday, July 3rd. Derek Miller and Alex Krauss makeup the duo based out of Brooklyn, New York. The band is just over a year old, but has created quite a buzz from online and mainstream publications. Pitchfork, Washington Post, New York Times, etc. have all written praising reviews of the group before they even put out a proper record. One of the more interesting details about Miller and Krauss is their first ventures into the music business. Krauss was in an all female teen-pop group called RubyBlue, while Miller was in the post hardcore band Poison the Well. It’s a change of pace from the music they are producing today.

Infinity Guitars by Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells creates what could be described as an electronic noise with pop vocals. Their debut album, Treats, collects a few of the demos that created the buzz, plus several new tracks. The record is full of hooks, driving guitar rifts and a percussion section that would make a symphony orchestra shy. The music itself is heavily distorted to the point where you wonder if your compact disc or album download is defective. Miller creates all the music by using a Mac and Logic Express incorporating many samples from hardcore to hip hop. Krauss provides the vocals with a sharp edge; at times they are muddled by piercing bass and high treble. When audible, the pop voice of a trained singer shines through with a pitched squeal. Sleigh Bells mixes the proper sound of indie rock, punk rock, hip hop, and noise, creating a fresh dynamic and worthy of all the praise they receive.

Riot Rhythm by Sleigh Bells

Their live show is more of an event than simply just playing the album. Comprised of just the two members, Miller plays a ravishing guitar over tracks of grinding samples of hip hop, noise and punk. Krauss is the main visual attraction onstage bouncing about while barking over the music, sometimes indistinguishable. She often wears spandex outfits and thrift shop necklaces to bring a different aesthetic for one who used to prep for an hour before a show. In watching videos, she reminds me of Karen O with her mesmerizing movements and attractive appeal. Though some might want to see an entire backing band, the duo actually fills up their sound in a unique and satisfying way.



Sleigh Bells are definitely one act that you should try and see in the flesh. A majority of other acts that come through town don't bring the energy and live interaction that the duo presents. The show begins at 9:30p with Popo and Nerve City opening.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spotlight - Pittsburgh Local Artist - The Slant - Edition 5

I am doing the July local spotlight a little early. When I started the 'spotlight' series, one of the first bands I reached out to was The Slant. I have praised these guys in the past here and here. They were seriously one of my favorite local acts. I say were because after I received their answers to my questions they informed me they were breaking up. A big disappointment for me.

Below is the interview; the last 3 questions are followup I did with the band upon hearing the news. They really gave insightful answers especially to the ones concerning Pittsburgh and how to gain publicity. If you are in a band and are trying to make it here I would really suggest you read the entire interview.

The band will be performing one last show together on Saturday, July 17th at Olga's in Coudersport, PA. It's a small place about 3 1/2 - 4 hours from Pittsburgh. Show begins at 7:30p

How did the band come together? Were you all friends that went to school? Or?

Brad and Zach started working on music in junior high school. Through mutual friends we were playing with Mark by the end of high school. Once in college, Mark met Andre through mutual friends and so the current line-up began. In addition, Zach and Adam are brothers and the addition of Adam came after his move to Pittsburgh to attend college.

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?

We generally wouldn't. At best, we might reference a few bands we collectively enjoy and tell listeners that if they enjoy those groups they may also like our music. Describing our music in such a way would narrow the scope of listeners willing to give us a thorough once-over. Also, we'd probably get that description wrong. People generally base a band’s sound on their influences, one of which for us is the Beatles. It makes the listener think we will sound like the Beatles. When we don't, they're disillusioned and probably don't get out of our music what is actually worthwhile. Perhaps it is best to leave these descriptions up to the listener.

Are you all originally from the Pittsburgh area? Families here as well?

Andre is indigenous to the greater Pittsburgh area, Ellwood City specifically. The rest of us are not.

Do you create music full time or is this more of a part time venture? Do you have day jobs?

We have day jobs. Collectively, we have various degrees from different universities. We probably have equally varying ideas of which is the day job and which is the full-time venture. Right now, we all want to continue music.

How do you create your music? What is the song writing process?

This has always been a difficult question to answer because it implies that we have a collective approach to creating music. The truth is, we have no collective approach. Or, if we do have one, it does not often become clearly evident. This has become more apparent over the years. Our answer to this question in the past often ran something like "one person comes up with something and shows it to the rest of the band. Then we all work on it together and record it". It's not completely untrue, but it isn't the norm. We weren't trying to mislead people, we just didn't know how to answer. Because we aren’t relegated to the standard “I play this instrument and that’s it” mentality, each person has his own approach to writing, and in turn, recording. Sometimes a more collective effort is sought after and everyone has a hand. Other times, a song is almost completely done before anyone hears it. It causes tension in some instances, but the intention is to create the best music possible.

What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?

We intend to grow musically with each endeavor we undertake. It is very important to better ourselves personally with each new song or project. We’d like to look back on each milestone, be it an album or otherwise, and be able to see we have progressed and to what degree. As a group, we need to tour and put a great deal of time into promotion while working to increase our library.

The most basic goal is to continually reach people on a personal level through the music, whether it be millions of people or hundreds. We just want quality fans. The next goal is to be able to sustain ourselves on music alone. This isn’t to say we want to be living in lavish houses in expensive neighborhoods, but rather just that we want to keep modest lifestyles and remain honest. We have looked and are continually looking for opportunities to make that happen, whether it be through a record label or anything of the sort.

You have a new project you are working on. Can you describe it? Are all members involved?

We’re working on a sound track for an independent film called Movie Money, a tale of two struggling actors in New York who come up with an idea to create a screenwriting contest. Andre Royo from HBO’s The Wire plays a starring role and is also an executive producer for the film.

As with most of our projects the level of involvement comes down to how much each person puts into it. We don't force each other to be involved, nor do we always ask each person to work on a specific part. The more ideas presented and the more work put into each idea generally correlate with the level of personal involvement.

Have you all toured nationally? Or do you usually stay more regionally?

A lot of shows have come and gone for this group but for some reasons that are viable and some that aren't we haven't toured nationally.

Being in the Pgh area, do you find it more difficult to try and succeed?

Pittsburgh has been good for us in a lot of ways, but it has its pitfalls when it comes to being a non-main stream band. Though it is important to note that the band is still responsible for how much work we put into succeeding in any place.

What are some of the obstacles you face trying to create some 'success' in Pgh?

Airplay, for one. Though it's true that we don't contact the various radio stations on a daily basis that are available in Pittsburgh, we have contacted them several times before and not gotten their attention. Most bands are willing to do the networking and whatnot that it requires to get played on independent radio stations in cities. College radio is more likely to play it but less likely to be taken seriously. Other independent stations seem to have the attitude that they won't play it unless they are sure listeners will like it instead of realizing that there is no way to know whether or not people will like it unless they play it. It seems to us that the independent stations have a responsibility to find new music in their cities (and we are in no way only referring to our band) and do their best to get it out there so the people can decide.

The other main issue is booking; mainly, that it's difficult to deal with the idea of having to sell a certain number of tickets where almost all of the proceeds go to the booking company. If you don't sell the required amount of tickets the band has to make up the difference monetarily. We know business is business but we didn’t get into playing music (especially the kind we are interested in) to pay money to perform for young professionals at the hard rock who would rather hear a DJ.

The last thing we’d like to note is that this city is creating a new image for itself, going green and basing its economy on education and healthcare (among others). As it goes through this process, the people of Pittsburgh are bound to change with it. In terms of what that means for the music scene, we really hope that music coming out of this city will have a distinctive sound or identifiable newness that people nationally can pick up on. That said, it’s not just the responsibility of a band to make music that brings that kind of exposure. It takes the existing network of booking agencies, promoters, radio executives, and the whole music industry “community” at the local level actively seeking out new music. We just don’t understand, really, how the independent music in this city goes largely unnoticed when there are really great existing outlets available. When a booker or venue puts absolutely no effort into helping the band promote a show, they should not be surprised when there is not a huge turnout. This is the case with a lot of venues outside of Pittsburgh as well. Maybe instead of letting any band play any time, there ought to be more venues that take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach so that the music coming out of this city may someday have some unique and distinct qualities. While this might be wishful thinking, it makes too much sense to dismiss the notion that as more people work toward a goal, it becomes more likely the goal is attained, leaving more people to benefit from it.

What are the positive benefits of being in the area?

It's really easy to meet people who listen to you, and they remember where and when they came across the music. We also have become friends with several other bands in the area. It's easy to play shows in the city and still be 20 minutes from home afterward. In addition, no one bothers us when we record and practice out of our home in the south hills - even our neighbors (Thank you).

Is there a venue you have enjoyed playing more than others in the area (liked you at Club Cafe, Brillo not so much...too many people talking over you)?

That's interesting. We actually like playing both of those venues. Club Cafe has great sound and a nice environment, but not a lot of foot-traffic. The Brillobox seems to have a built in crowd and we felt very well received there. We had a lot of fun that night but I personally would like to apologize to you and anyone else who felt that way about the Brillobox show. None of us can stand people talking over music. Why go to a show if you don't want to hear the band? Though maybe that's the downside of built-in crowds. Either way, we hope it was due to things outside of our control that offended you and not our playing. We care very much about putting on a good show - we love it and want you to love it as well.

How did the movie score come about? Is this a definite?

Brad contacted a friend of his from his days at Penn State looking for footage to include for a video for our song "Pennsylvania!" During the conversation, his friend mentioned some filmmakers in New York were interested in using some of our music for the film. After speaking with the editor and a producer for the project, Brad mentioned our willingness and eagerness to write a movie soundtrack. The people involved liked the idea, and since we were between projects at the time, we moved ahead with it. The film is currently finished and should be shown at festivals this summer and fall.

You voiced concerns about not receiving local support from radio, promoters, etc. What do you feel would be a solution to this? Have you heard of bands in other areas that are able to work with local promoters, radio, etc in a successful manner?

Pittsburgh has produced many great acts over the years who have been able to do this kind of thing, but the general feeling amongst those in the 'underground' scene, without speaking for them, seems to be similar to our own. As with anything, getting ahead in this part of the business depends largely on how creative you can be in getting your name, and music, in the ears and heads of those who can spread it amongst the 'masses'. It isn't because we feel our band has suffered more hardship than others that we chose to raise this issue. We hear similar stories very often from groups we feel are deserving of attention in our city. Each band is responsible for putting in as much effort as possible in getting their name out to those people who are capable of pushing them to the next level. But when we can name a handful of bands without batting an eye that are marketable and have a fan base, we start to wonder where the problem truly lies.

Our band, for some reason or another, has actually had more success with airplay on college radio stations in places no one has heard of us, across the country, than on independent or college radio in our home town. As far as a possible solution is concerned, as a music community, all we can do is continue to make the best music we are capable of and continue to be as innovative as possible. As the quality of music is raised to a higher standard, so will everything else - maybe. Who knows.

In addition, while searching for the best way to answer this question, we stumbled upon an online article written by Scott Mervis (who incidentally did an article on our band awhile back) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written in 2004, but is still very relevant. The article adds some depth to what we very briefly described, and shows that we aren't the only ones who have experienced difficulty.

http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/20040226localrock0227fnp2.asp

Three years is a relatively young time for a band, especially for one who has such talent. Was everyone okay with disbanding? Did any of you want to keep it going?

First, thanks for the kind words. We appreciate the fact that something we care about so deeply can generate positive feelings amongst those who hear it. That being said, on to the answers:

A good deal takes place over three years, regardless of how short a time it may seem to observers outside the group. For us, these three years have been spent in closer contact with one another than with our immediate families; the time normally spent with friends, we spent together. At a certain point, the line between professionalism and personal life becomes so blurred that each suffers as a result of the other. In addition, we have individually developed deep-rooted stylistic preferences that range from song-writing, to production, to actual lifestyles. In some instances our ideas work very well together, yet in others they become serious obstacles that are not overcome without further straining the aforementioned connection between personal and professional life.

The scenario involved with the final decision to disband consisted of a group meeting in Pittsburgh. At first, the idea was met with some small resistance; though it was more sentimental than practical reluctance. We unanimously agreed, in person, to end The Slant as a functioning entity. In addition, the decision was made to make a public statement approximately one week after our meeting.

As with any decision of this nature, it is difficult to tell what each individual felt as the door shut on our time together. The best way to describe the overall feeling of the discussion is to recall a calm, collected discussion. No seriously harsh words were spoken, and no one verbally objected to bringing things to their logical, and much needed ending. The problem we face now is how we each approach the process of talking about what happened. Once word gets out to people who truly care about the inner-workings of a group like ours, more and more details are sought after to explain what went wrong. As this gains momentum, people often resort to using explanations that shift any possible connection between their actions and the final outcome onto another. Then, instead of perpetuating the message we all agreed on, we run the risk of pointing fingers at one another and worry more about self-preservation than what we should have fans remember us as. It is important for anyone reading this to realize that, regardless of what rumors and half-baked explanations reach their ears, we made this decision together and for our own good. And we need to remember it, as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Furry Weekend Pittsburgh


This weekend the Furry Convention takes place in Pittsburgh. It's a fun time to be downtown and people watch. Some wonderful sights.

Evil Winged Furry with a Blackberry

Furry Drinking a Beer

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Show Review - Josiah Wolf (of Why? fame) w/ The Choclate Horse - Morning Glory Coffee House - 6/22/10 - Pittsburgh - Concert Review - Live Review

I had the pleasure of catching Josiah Wolf and The Chocolate Horse at Morning Glory Coffee House this past Tuesday. Josiah is a member of the band Why? who was performing with his wife Liz. He just created his first LP entitled Jet Lag on Anticon Records. The opener for the evening was The Chocolate Horse, fronted by fellow Cincinnatian Jason Snell, who was touring with JW on the last leg. Both Josiah and Liz assisted Jason by creating the backing drums and vocals. For never hearing TCH I was really impressed. Usually you hear an opener and just end up talking over them (especially in pgh). Even if there had been a larger crowd, I doubt this would have happened. His latest album is entitled We Don't Stand on Ceremony.





Josiah Wolf played the second half of the show with his wife. They shared vocals on various songs off their debut album Jet Lag including a few covers. One of those was a Sinatra cover of "All of Me" but I really didn't catch the other two. Josiah played guitar with a kick drum and high hat while Liz was on bass. They play a bit of catchy lo-fi music that has a definite melancholy feel to it. It's very minimalist composition with instruments and sound.



The great thing about the show was how nice they were with the audience. Before, during and after the show all 3 touring members talked with the crowd who came to see them. They were very gracious throughout, even with a low attendance. My battery died so I wasn't able to record as much. I can't say enough about their outlook and sunny disposition. I hope both bands make their way back here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Show Review - Beach House - Diesel - 6/16/10 - Pittsburgh - Concert Review - Live Review

It’s always a good idea to get to Diesel early if you can. And by early I mean when doors open. All the shows are prompt and finding a spot in a ‘club’ environment is definitely challenging. I was able to get a clear spot of the stage upstairs with no real issue unlike others. Beach House is not a band you listen to while working out or trying to get ‘pumped up’. Most likely you will find yourself laying in the summer sun and drinking a cold beer. Hence, I was wondering how this band would translate live.



The stage setup had the aura of a dream sequence with large sparkling, diamond shaped objects that spun around the heads of the band. The stage itself was dimmed with only red and blue colored floor lights illuminating the platform. Beach House is now a 3 piece (they used to utilize a drum machine) with main members Alex Scally on guitar and Victoria Legrand on vocals and keyboard. They utilize a drummer to bring in the soft, lush beats.



Both members have unique ways when performing. Scally stayed seated on a stool for most of the set playing guitar and occasionally lending vocals. Legrand on the other hand was a sweaty mess with a lot of animation and delivery to her music. While pounding on her keyboard she continuously pranced and flipped her hair that always covered her face. However, her vocals were often haunting and ghostly. With the minimal lighting and moving diamonds the proper atmosphere was set to how you would envision a Beach House album.



The music resonated as desired in a live setting, methodical and understated. The live drummer definitely added to the sound playing the light beats from their three LP’s with attention to the minute details. The live music was lavish and layered filling up the club with no issues. Legrand’s voice was bountiful with her raspy vocals that could hit high or down to a whisper. They sounded really well by the crowd’s reaction, even those who couldn’t see the stage.

The live show was a pleasant surprise for me. Most of the shows that utilize the dream, shoegaze sound tend to be relatively boring, even monotonous. Beach House definitely gave the sold out audience their money’s worth.



One little postscript to the show. Things got a bit interesting in our 'room' upstairs. There were 5 of us marking our spots on the railing since 6:30. Two happened to be an older couple in their 50's. They sat most of the time on the couch with a view of the stage they designated as their own. Before Beach House's set a young woman proceeded to the railing with her boyfriend in tow. The older mother asked them to please move which the girl refused and began yelling back. A verbal confrontation began that got a bit hairy. The girl didn't relent and stayed at the railing. Personally, I would have made a point of moving the girl and the bf. My point, get there early. Don't let anyone take your spot. You can play video games for an hour, talk with others, etc. I met a really nice couple and we chatted the entire time. I realize this is not a fan friendly venue but you should know by now what it's like.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Show Review - Kina Grannis - Garfield Artworks - 6/12/10 - Pittsburgh - Concert Review


You might not be familiar with Kina Grannis but chances are you have heard her before. A couple of years ago, when the New England Patriots choked away their perfect season, Grannis made her debut on the national scene. During the most watched event annually, Grannis’s video was shown in a 60 second commercial. She had won a national contest, sponsored by Doritos, base on the number of online votes for best video. Along with her national exposure, Grannis was also signed to major Interscope Records. This past Saturday she made her Pittsburgh debut at Garfield Artworks.



This was an early show probably due to the younger crowd most of whose parents brought them. However, it wasn’t your typical Garfield audience. The entire set was met with approximately 75 people never standing; all were politely sitting in their chairs the whole time. Plus, the partons never talked over the artist once. Grannis took the stage by herself and with a guitar. She is one of the most fan friendly acts I have seen. The entire show was being shown live via webcast. She even took time to wish an online fan ‘happy birthday’.

Her music is comparable to Ingrid Michaelson (who just happened to play at the 3 Rivers Art Festival the night before) with a sultry sound and a majestic voice. Even with the challenging sound structure GA presents her guitar and voice definitely shined. It felt like a sweatbox inside due to the summer heat, plus no air conditioning. Even with this atmosphere the crowd responded to every song with exuberant cheering and applause. Grannis worked the room well with her storytelling between songs. This helped take the minds off the extreme humidity with fans furiously waving ripped cardboard to fight off the sweat.



A majority of the songs Grannis played were off her new LP Stairwells. She also included several fan favorites in the mix. Grannis has a definite appeal to the casual concertgoer. First, she contains a permanent smile throughout the show letting nothing affect her. Secondly, she shares so much with the audience including what the songs mean and thanking them profusely. Last, she is an extremely attractive artist who cares how she is viewed. Through the course of the show she was asking apologizing to the audience for how her hair was hanging due to the humidity.

If you have a chance and are on the fence whether to check her out or not, definitely make the attempt. She is not an artist who will let you down.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ticket Giveaway - Bamboozle Roadshow - Amphitheater at Station Square - 6/23/10


We are giving away a pair of tickets to the Bamboozle Roadshow at the Amphitheater at Station Square. To enter just email your name to pghmusicreport@gmail.com. The lineup includes Good Charlotte, All Time Low, Third Eye Blind, A Cursive Memory and many more (you can find a list here).

There is also a chance to win "meet and greet" passes with the bands. Below is information on how you can win those:

All concert goers have the opportunity to win meet and greet passes at the show – at the Coca-Cola “Swelter Stopper” tent. Throughout the day, the DJ will randomly ask questions based off info below.

Many of the factors that make a summer concert so awesome – the warm weather, bright sun and dancing – can take a lot out of someone. Enter “Swelter Stopper” - one of Coke’s secret ingredients that, when combined with the others, make Coke the uplifting refreshment that it is.

To help concert goers make it from the opening to closing acts, Coke will have the “Swelter Stopper” experience stocked with ice-cold Coca-Cola. Get refreshed with blasts of frosty air, snow falling, and a delicious Coke from the perfect serve sampling bar, along with uplifting interactive games, a DJ and a photo station. Once their “Swelter Stopper” experience ends, they’ll be ready for crowd surfing at the main stage.

For more details about Coca-Cola’s Secret Ingredient Formula, please go here: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/cocacola?v=app_122918311073218&ref=ts&ajaxpipe=1&__a=59


A winner will be selected on Monday. Good luck.

**The prize is provided by The Coca-Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Company is not a judge, administrator or connected in any other way with this giveaway.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Show Review - Les Claypool - The Palace Theater - 6/9/10 - Greensburg - Concert Review



Former (and current) Primus front man Les Claypool performed this past Wednesday at the Palace Theater in Greensburg. Below is a guest review of the show. He will soon be supporting a revived edition of Primus later this year.

Starting off, the opening band the Hot Head Show did not impress. The vocals were near indecipherable, they constantly started / stopped, and changed pace throughout the song. I had a hard time getting in to the groove. It just didn't seem well polished.

I was jealous to see that some of the Les Claypool shows later in the summer will be opened by Gogol Bordello, which is a good reason to go to Cleveland for the Aug 3rd show with Primus. The bonus is you'll even get to see Les again as part of Primus.

The Theater was a great venue, not ideal for this sort of show, but It's an old performance theater, so every seat has a great view of the stage. The sound is a little bit echoey, but pretty well done. Surprisingly, this place has drawn several metal shows as well, including a recent show by Mastadon in April.

Les Claypool's set was mostly instrumental and had a real jam band feel. There as a little Primus thrown in for good measure. Les had some interesting instruments including an electric vibraphone, a resonator bass, and a large stick like instrument which kind of looked like a scythe that was obviously a midi synth controller. The total band was only 4 performers, but it sounded like there were more. At one point, I couldn't tell whether it was the vibraphone or the cello that was belting out notes like a sax. Another time, I was impressed by hearing the cello played in the style of surf guitar.

Throughout the show, Les stepped offstage to change in several characters using a pig and monkey mask, working with the atmosphere of the music. He even stepped off the stage completely to share the spotlight with the others.

There was a lot of great solo action from the cello, xylophone and drums, with a lot of dynamic changes throughout the set ranging from slow quiet rhythms to groovy crescendos. Everyone in the supporting band had plenty of opportunities to be featured. All in all, if you can get in to this brand of moody, funky, psychedelic music and are not concerned about poppy songs, then then this show would have had you floored.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Show Review - Jessica Lea Mayfield w/ The Avett Brothers - 6/6/2010 - Ches A Rena - Concert Review



Jessica Lea Mayfield must love Pittsburgh. Maybe it's our horrible winters. Maybe she just tours nonstop. Regardless, since opening up for the The Black Keys almost a year ago to the date at the Three Rivers Music Festival, the young 20 year old has played Schenley Park, Thunderbird Cafe, and last night the roller rink Ches A Rena opening up for the growing more popular by the second Avett Brothers all in less than a year.

Jessica's four piece band including crazy and hysterical brother multi-instrumentalist David Mayfield on the upright bass quickly gathered onto the roller rink end stage and went right to it. When Jessica, now blonde and with an American guitar strap, started strumming chords off her 2008 album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt the band started to revolve around her as if she was the center of the universe. After hearing the first bass drum kick and bass line, I assumed there was an audio problem until I realized it was the way the band intended the bass to be, deep, dark, and dreary. Staring directly into the crowd for most of evening she elegantly played through her catalog including "I'm Not Lonely Anymore", "Kiss Me Again", and "Bible Days", along with some new songs off her new upcoming album. Seldom Jessica showed any emotional gestures unless she was saying thanks to the crowd or watching her brother on his knees playing his bass, but if you've seen her show before you would have known this already.



Rounding out her unexpected 50 minute set was the appearance of Scott Avett and Jow Kwon for her song "For Today". Scott added to the chorus, while Joe played his cello next to David (who later on contributed to the Avett Brothers set by playing the drums for two songs) making sure the entire crowd was paying attention.

At the end of the song Jessica swiftly left the stage almost the same way as she had came on. One can guess the next time Jessica will play Pittsburgh, but I think it's safe to say she won't play the same venue twice.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spotlight - Pittsburgh Local Artist - Ursa Major - Edition 4



This month's local spotlight falls on Ursa Major. Below are a few streaming tunes with an interview we conducted with lead man Steve. You can find more information about the band on their site at http://ursamajorblog.wordpress.com/.

How did the band come together? Were you all friends that went to school? or?

This is a long and complicated story and not as exciting as I wish it was. Essentially Ben (guitar/keys/vocals) and Jimmy (banjo/keys/guitar/vocals) were playing music together back in eastern PA , where they’re from, during the summer. I was going to school with Ben in PGH, so we were doing our own thing. We put it together as a threesome for a tour in Summer ’08. I actually met Jimmy for the first time like two days before we played our first show. Tim (bass) went to school and lived with us here in Pittsburgh and joined on last year. It took some convincing to come along for all our grifting, but he’s the best damn bass player I know. We actually met Kyle, our drummer, on that Summer ’08 tour, when he was touring as a solo folk-punk act.

Please Dear by Ursa Major


How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?


Our sound has evolved so much since we began playing two years ago. The three-piece of Jimmy, Ben and I was pretty much straight bluegrass, cow punk, train-ridin’ stuff. Since we got our funky rhythm section I’ve traded my mandolin in for a guitar and we’ve added keys to nearly every song. While we still have our folky roots in our blood, we’ve definitely moved towards a real doo-wop sound, which we like to call New-Wop or Blue-Wop or Doo-Grass. I just made all those up, but I think that’s how I would put it. It’s a bitch to classify your sound. You is what you is. Everyone likes to tag a band as “indie” or whatever, but that holds very little real significance...that’s more about a classification of who is playing in the band more than the music.

Are you all originally from the Pittsburgh area? Families here as well?

Actually...none of us are from Pittsburgh originally. We’re all done with school n’at, but we love it here so we stayed. Ben, Jimmy and Tim are all from far-east PA, I’m from an undisclosed location in the Midwest and Kyle was reared in the depths of Hell.

Do you all create music full time or is this more of a part time venture? Do you have day jobs?

Well some of us work more than others, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in PGH who is a full-time musician. Jimmy is training to be a taxidermist, Ben is a farmer, Tim is an aristocrat, Kyle is a full-time grifter and I write commercials.

How do you create your music? What is the song writing process?

Jim, Ben and I all write songs. They all sound completely different, too (which is why it’s so hard to classify our sound). Sometimes we write a song together, but mostly it’s an individual thing where someone says, “Hey, turkeys, I got a new tune.” We’ll play it out, but it’s not really one person’s song because we all add our own styles to it, our own touches. It’s a pretty organic process of development and it works really well for us because a song rarely ends up how it sounded when whoever first wrote it.

Cabin Fever by Ursa Major

What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?

Time to plug! We actually just got signed to a local label who is new on the scene, ULJA FACTORY RECORDS (pronounced yooliya, it was Warhol’s mama’s name). We ain’t delusional about getting far on music, we just have a helluva time doing it and we enjoy putting on shows for folks, and we hope they get the same feeling from us. But yeah, baby, we recorded an album in March and it sat on the shelf because Jimmy’s taxidermist training sucked up all of our money, so we were rather broke after paying the bills for recording and then Darrell Workmen, owner of Ulja Factory and an outstanding fellow, came along and wanted to work with us on getting it out. It’s called “Great Big Light” and it’ll be out around August 1st. After all this time, we’re excited to finally put it out there for all to hear.

Have you all toured nationally? Or do you usually stay more regionally?

As a three-piece in Summer 2008, we did a short spell out east in NYC and Boston, etc., before heading through the Midwest—basically Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally back to PA. Then last summer (2009) we did a little New England ramble for a little over a week. It was a damn good time. Since then we tour what we call our “One-sylvannia” home. Basically just a back’n’forth between Pittsburgh and Philly for weekends. We actually run a house venue here in town called The Doo-Wop Mansion. We have a lot of awesome bands from Philly come and play (great bands like Da Comrade, Hezekiah Jones, Motorcycle Maus and This Frontier Needs Heroes---they’re Brooklyn, though), and then we will go do shows with them in Philly. Philly has a lot of good music coming out of there right now and we admittedly love playing and hanging out with them.

Two Eyes by Ursa Major

Being in the Pgh area, do you find it more difficult to try and succeed? What are some of the obstacles you face trying to create some 'success' in Pgh?

Pittsburgh has a funny music scene. There’s a lot of talent around, but no real “sound.” Most of the “larger” groups in the area do a lot of folk-rock stuff, which we tread on a bit, too, but the problem is that often times bands rarely work together. To be honest we don’t meet many of those acts because we don’t play constantly in Pittsburgh. There isn’t that regular music-going crowd in PGH that there is in Philly, NYC, Austin, etc. A lot of times it’s only people you know. We don’t want to make our friends come out for shows over and over again. These days we’re starting to get some recognition outside of that and get our own draw, which is a nice thing and something we want to keep pushing. But it’s awfully rare to get a big draw of people you don’t know in Pittsburgh. I think any local band will attest to that.

Is there a venue you have enjoyed playing more than others in the area?

We played at the Brillobox last week for the first time with Toy Soldiers, The Armchairs (both AWESOME Philly bands, check ‘em out!) and our good friends from NYC, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire. They are originally PGHers but moved out about a year ago (they’re perfectly in-sync with each other as a band now, the sound is just so good at this point, definitely look them up, too). It was, as far as the bill goes, the best show we’ve been a part of—every band was absolutely incredible—and we had a lot of fun. We also dig Sonny’s Tavern on Millvale, it’s right around the corner from where we live and the owner enjoys having us bring some heads in; that’s really our more intimate stuff where we gather a bunch of crazies in a dive bar and go nuts. Good times had there. We have to be partial to the Doo-Wop Mansion, though. Yes, it’s our house, but, man, when we get a whole lot of music-friendly folks to cram into our basement and hear some great bands...that’s as good as it gets.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The National - Carnegie Music Hall Homestead



Sure you might have seen that The National are coming to Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead on 9/25. Really not my favorite venue with no alcohol sales, small seats, etc. I just wonder if ticket sales are going to be like those for Wilco when they do go online. Hopefully not. Saw them last time they were here at The Rex and had a great time. Funny thing is they always say they are from Brooklyn but truth be told they are from Cincinnati. Always wonder why bands proclaim they are from NYC when most are transplants. Must be some marketing thing.