Exploring Life’s Complexities in Foreign Colour’s Debut Album, Weight of a Rose

Fall has personally always been a relentlessly nostalgic season, pelting a world of memories in your brain synapses…kinda like that particular scented candle that brings you back to a specific space and time. In this case, I think the latest release–and debut album, Weight of a Rose–from Raytheon Dunn’s Foreign Colour embodies that same feeling.
The ten-track album encapsulates a horde of emotions colorfully painting a beautiful but complex picture of life displayed and imagined through the existence of a rose. The rose is the symbolic crux of the album, fulfilling its ordained role of carrying the burden in representing life, joys, passions, struggles, doubts, and love—like Atlas holding the weight of the world…this is Weight of a Rose.
Read my track-by-track take on Foreign Colour‘s debut album along with some insight from the artist himself.

Your Heart, My Flower

Jasmine Rodriguez: Pivotal in setting the tone and mood of the album, “Your Heart, My Flower” exists almost like that time-lapse your bio teacher would play when learning about the genesis of a flower in the plant kingdom. “Your Heart, My Flower” is that flower bud—that love and life ready to bloom.

Foreign Colour: I knew I wanted this song to be the intro. I used to play this song in-between breaks with my old band. I was inspired a bit by The Last Bison after seeing them live for the first time some years back. In the background, there is an older man speaking. That sound comes from a recording we had during one of our jam sessions, and when things got quiet, we heard this old recording coming out of my amp.

My amp was sort of old and not the best, so it picked up a radio frequency, and we thought it best to keep for future use. When I got to this song, I felt like it needed something underneath the music to help give it a dreamy feeling, so I added that recording. The beginning of the song is my old friend David recording himself walking and hitting his tape recorder.

Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)

JR: Moving on from the previous track’s somber melody, “Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)” opens up both in a musical and figurative sense with a bright shimmering sound matched with a colorful array of percussive instruments. The track symbolizes a new beginning, a new life that brings along with it bittersweet emotions. This can best be understood in lyrics ‘I heard the days have changed / It gives us new life to gain / But when your problems they grow / We all know how the story will go.’ Exuding child-like energy, Dunn manages to temper naive expectations while also uncovering all of the possibilities that life brings forth. The flower is in bloom.

FC: This is probably the oldest song on the record, going back almost nine years. There are probably eight versions of this song floating around the internet somewhere. Musically, I wanted this song to be a bit festive/colorful. I was listening to a lot of Washed Out albums, Paracosm and Purple Noon, which had just come out. I would like to add that I don’t know about anyone else, but I get a rush of inspiration when I hear new music from musicians I really enjoy. I just have to create while the energy is there; it’s too powerful not to do so. I remember that feeling riding my bike late at night last summer and hearing the entire song in my head, so when I got home, I got to work, and a few days later, it was done!

Lyrically, this comes from a relationship I was in many years ago where the person I was with was very prideful, which caused many problems in our relationship. Too stubborn, you get in your own way; too stubborn and there will be no room for you to grow. More or less, it’s a song about agreeing to disagree about how to grow a flower.

Sundancer

JR: Like you always do‘ is the core sentiment of Foreign Colour’s debut single, “Sundancer.” Approached similarly to “Goodnight…,” a light and airy nature consume the five-minute track, playing out to a cyclical scheme of rhythm and lyrics, which is kind of genius of Dunn. In an interview earlier this year, Dunn gave some insight on the origins of the song, noting heavy existential questions that would make any nihilist nod their head–or really anyone during 2020. Despite the hardships and growing pains that life presents us, Dunn reminds the listener that at the end of the day, you’re still moving, breathing, and accomplishing things, no matter how big or small. And that is something to dance for.

FC: This was the first song I wrote and completed for this album. Originally, this song was much darker and moody, which is how it usually goes when I write on acoustic, but when I brought it to my studio, I realized I might have something bigger here. The rhythm guitar is a rendition or inspired by my old band’s song, “Sleepy River,” but with more groove to it.

I battled a lot with my friend/mixer & mastered engineer Severin about how the song would end because for some weird reason, I wanted the outro to play for an obnoxious length, and he quickly told me, ‘Don’t do that!’ I just enjoyed how it sounded, and I was proud of it, so I didn’t want it to end in a weird way. Once I got the music right, or the sound I was looking for, I sent it out to some friends to get reactions. After hearing [the song], I felt like this would be the debut single whenever I put out this [album].

This takes inspiration from my wife sort of having a mid-life crisis questioning ourselves as humans and our place in the world. In the midst of lockdown, we talked about a lot of things, what our purpose was, and honestly, the meaning of purpose. After many late-night conversations, it all came down to no matter where she goes in life, I will love her just trying and figuring out what life means to her—to love someone without being possessive of where their future will go.

The Flower

JR: “The Flower” is the comedown from the former high-tempo songs, replacing the youthful, exuberant energy with something more grounded and mature—perhaps signifying that the flower is now fully developed. Reassurance in lyrics ‘I’ll wait for you / The flower as it blooms ‘ paired with the sweet and soft lulling melody assures the person on the other end that all of their worries and aspirations are valid. Because regardless of how things turn out, “the flower” will be cherished for all of its qualities and for simply being. This is the calm before the storm.

FC: This song was written sort of out of the blue but for a good reason. I found out while recording this record that we were going to have a baby. I was extremely emotional about it. My wife suggested this was a perfect song to write about and something for her to listen back on. So I tried to bottle everything going [on] when I first found out [and] let it out over this song.

“The Flower” represents my daughter, Sienna, who I try to [symbolize] [as] a flower. With a taste of the sun and water, she will bloom into a beautiful human being. I wanted the music to be like a lullaby. Also, the piano in the middle of the song is called “Fairytale Lullaby.” I wanted it to be something she could listen back to, or my wife could play for her to help her sleep. It’s funny too because she said it does work! My favorite part of the song would have to be the guitar solo panning left and right during the bridge.

Under Your Spell

JR: If “The Flower” was the calm before the storm, then “Under Your Spell” is the storm. Juxtaposing the last song, “Under Your Spell” introduces a nice change of pace with a gradual build-on instrumental that carries an energy not see before in the album. I imagine if this was played live, the lighting engineer would have a field day. This song positions itself as the rough storms we weather in life and can be interpreted as the turning point in the album.

FC: In my opinion, this marks a turning point in the record where the tone is less lighthearted. This song was supposed to be on my band’s record, but we went different ways before the record could debut. I felt like this song needed to be heard by everyone, so I re-recorded the guitars, added some synths, and there it is. It’s a song I can’t way to play live. I love when bands/artists show off how beautiful and powerful their music is when there are no vocals. It can feel like an organized jam session.

A Swan Song

JR: The title immediately caught my attention for this track. Typically, a swan song is like the final bow that an artist or performer carries out. That being said, it makes me wonder if Dunn had doubts about continuing on with his passion which, in the context of this album, represents the flower slowly wilting away. Whatever the case, Dunn really shines in this stripped-back song with an acoustic accompaniment that emits a hauntingly beautiful aura. It’s my absolute favorite song from the album and one that I wish I would have written.

FC: This one is quite personal. I had the first couple of lines I sang for about three years or so, but I could never find the words to help me finish it. I was writing about something I felt inside of me, but it wasn’t clear for me to distinguish exactly what it was. It wasn’t until things took a turn for the worse that the song found its meaning, and it wasn’t about me anymore.

I found myself in my relationship where my partner lost someone extremely close to them. I have learned in the past to never put yourself in their shoes but just be there for them when it’s hard to do anything else. The emotional battles we fought would take a toll on us, and I did my best to understand it all. Our time together ended before the light could be at the end of tunnel. With this song, I wanted to tell my final feelings—a sort of wishful, ‘Goodbye, I hope you found it in the middle of it all.’

Hallucinate

JR: Continuing the darker sound in the latter half, “Hallucinate” instills an almost hypnotizing-like quality with its swaying rhythm and lyrical refrain of ‘I can’t let you go, ‘ signaling a cry of defiance against the once resigned fate drawn in “A Swan Song.”

FC: This was the last one I wrote but also the fastest. I think I finished 90% of it in a day; the lyrics came a couple of days later. This song was fun to play and write. I had this bass line stuck in my head after listening to Fontaines D.C.’s song, “Televised Mind.” That song gets me excited! The drums came naturally after [listening] [to] that!

I listened to an interview of Kevin Parker of Tame Impala saying, ‘You know you got something special when you can just play the drums and bass line on loop forever.’ That’s what I did. The crazy thing is I’m still trying to decipher the meaning of this song–it doesn’t have a huge meaning, but is something you will just have to determine.

Adorn

JR: The curveball of the album! I did not expect to hear a “jazz meets samba fusion,” but here we are. It’s the way Dunn sings ‘ How I love to, to adore you / Feel my love now, all around you‘ that makes you feel like you’ve been enveloped in the warmest embrace. Coupled with the comforting lyrics, the gentle presence of “Adorn” brings respite from the prior sullen soundscapes. The flower has been revived.

FC: This song probably took the longest for many reasons. Growing up, my mom did her best to expose us to different kinds of music [that] I really gravitate[d] towards, [like] blues, jazz, and R&B [with] artists like The Isley Brothers, John Legend, and (most of all) Sade. I’m a huge fan of Sade’s work and sound. This was originally called “Whisper,” which is an entire song itself, but out of curiosity, I changed the BPM of the drums to something faster, and all of a sudden, we had something different, a brand new feel.

There are so many elements in this song that it was a little complicated for me to mix myself [in], but I knew I struck gold with how this song could potentially be. What was also cool about the song was that I felt like I was the producer because I sent this song to a friend of mine who plays trumpet, and I knew it was the perfect element to add to the song; without it, the song was lackluster.

I think he sent me about four takes of the song. [From] [there], I picked and stitched parts together that I liked, placing them in different places throughout the song. It was a tedious process, but it needed to be done! I always knew this song would be a [feature] debut, but who would it be and would they help elevate the song? I would sometimes hear my friend Ciara singing on her Instagram stories (before she deleted her IG), and I thought she would be perfect for the job. We sat down and had long talks about the song and approach I needed from her to make this song something special. I think after two sessions, she nailed it and for that I’m eternally grateful for her giving this song so much life. People are really surprised with this song because there’s nothing like it anywhere else on the record.

The Doppelganger

JR: Jolting the listener out of the previous dreamy-like reverie is the unsettling “The Doppelganger.” Serving as a reality check, “The Doppelganger” delivers a foreboding warning to establish who you are before someone else does it for you. It’s a reinforcing track about taking back control against a world that isn’t always so kind and forgiving.

FC: This song really came out of nowhere. I don’t remember exactly how I got started on this song; if I remember correctly, I was listening to a lot of In Rainbows by Radiohead, and I wanted to make something weird and progressive. At the beginning of the song, my guitar is making a crazy feedback kind of sound which was totally done on accident. I was getting flustered with how the recording process was going, and I just started hitting the string hard and randomly. When I listened back, I said, ‘I think this could work for some odd reason.’ I tried to stray away from playing chords and lean on just playing leads throughout the song, which I think I nailed down during the chorus. I was focused on the delivery of my vocals, wanting it to be as smooth as possible like I was talking on a phone.

Another big influence on this song was HRVRD. They have a demo floating around the internet that inspired a bit of lyrics in this chorus. This song [came] to me after reading this book called Supermarket. It was a short but twisted book about a man losing his own mind in the effort to be successful. After reading it, I thought about myself in this man’s situation and how I would be if the person I feared the most was myself.

Sound of Your Dreams

JR: Closing out the album is the mystical, “Sound of Your Dreams.” Despite the track’s tranquility, it doesn’t pose itself as the deus ex machina. Instead, there’s an air of unfinished business strewn throughout that screams “to be continued.” Maybe it’s because of the song’s short length, or maybe it’s because the song just fades out with no clear ending. In any case, the closer is the epitome of life being a mixed bag. The ups and downs…lessons learned and personal victories earned…all make life worth living.

FC: I was attempting to build this song into something very whimsical, something orchestrated to where you could feel the world around you while listening to it. However, I think I was towards the end of the record feeling the need to just surrender what I have and really take the time to make something like that on the next go around. I feel like you need to look at each instrument like it’s its own character, and you need to find where they belong in your story. I have always liked the phrase “Sound of Your Dreams.” It’s something that I carried with me in several different projects, so I thought it was time to give it a home. Besides, I did feel like it sounded like a dream.


Featured image artwork courtesy of Severin Di Croce; edited by Raytheon Dunn.

Thank you to Raytheon Dunn of Foreign Colour for providing a behind-the-scenes look into each song. Weight of a Rose is out now on all streaming platforms!

The Journey to Finding Peace in Shaolinn’s Blackstone

Tap into your inner self tonight with the help of rising VA artist, Shaolinn as she premieres the latest in her soul-gripping musical collection with the “Blackstone” EP, out now on all streaming platforms. The show, specially curated by Shaolinn herself, will be held at the Bunker Brewpub in Virginia Beach, with doors opening at 8 PM and the show starting at 9 PM. Other featured artists joining the night’s celebratory events include Gee Litt, Boris the Lucid, Brooklynn, Tson, Khi Infinite, and DJ J-Rok. Read Sumone’s short and sweet conversation with the Heir Wave artist below.

Your release show for your upcoming EP, “Blackstone,” is [tomorrow]. What are you most excited about for the show since it will be the first show you’ve personally curated?

Just seeing all the talent and working with a band for the first time.

What were your thoughts working through the curation process when developing the lineup for the show?

Seeing my favorite local artists peeps and performing with a band for the first time.

Did you find growing up in the 757 to be influential in your creative process or musical style?

Yes, in the process, but not in a musical way. A lot of the artists I listen to aren’t from the 757, but more from the world. I do work with a lot of talented people from the 757, though.

How did you find time to record music prior to being signed to Heir Wave? Was it difficult recording during those times, or do you look back at those moments more fondly?

It wasn’t really different; because to get there, I already had a process in place. It can get expensive, but I had supportive people around me to lend a hand.

When do you feel you create your best work?

On nights when my mind is clear, and I can really dive into the music.

In “Heavy Heart,” you repeatedly mention “being free,” “letting go,” and “finding peace.” What are some words of encouragement that you or someone else provided that ultimately led you to let go and find your peace amidst your self-love journey?

I’m actually still finding my peace. It’s something we all need to work towards. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps a lot.

In a previous conversation, you stated that you did not think people would like “Heavy Heart” “but surprisingly listeners did.” Has your mindset changed when it comes to writing or releasing music after seeing a lot of people gravitate towards your music?

Yes. I didn’t think people wanted such a “talky” song. It’s not a catchy melodic song. I didn’t think people would care about me talking about my life. When I perform it, so many people come up to me and tell me how they relate to it. After that, it made me feel more encouraged to be open about my personal life.

On your IG live minutes prior to the visual premiere of “Vivian,” you expressed surreal excitement. What message did you hope fans would receive when watching the video?

The perspective of a drug addict and how hard it is for someone going through the struggles of it all. The harm isn’t malicious. It’s hard on everyone.

What are you most proud of thus far in your career?

I’m just proud to be here and have this opportunity and the inspiration from all of the people around me. I just want to keep going and, along with myself, make everyone around proud of me.

What do you hope listeners get from your music?

Anything. Anything that they feel. I speak my story, and I hope it makes people tap into their own story and bring something special out of them.


Featured image by: @playknows

Thank you to Shaolinn and her team for the interview, you can get your show tix here. “Blackstone” is out now on all streaming platforms.

The Road to “Tom Sawyer”

by jerome spencer

i love pickles

and you

you love pickles

and not me

“The cool thing about poetry ,” Joey Grantham tells me, “-or at least a lot of this poetry that we’re talking about- is how little is actually given to you on the page, but how much you feel like you can take away from it.”

There’s a lot to take away from Tom Sawyer. It’s a weird little collection of poems and Joey really disarms the reader with dry wit and clever observations before going right for the gut with relatable and heartbreaking sentiment. And the sadness that sneaks up on you while reading Tom Sawyer only seems to hit harder once it’s been filtered through such gloriously humorous musings. Tom Sawyer is comprised of nothing but raw honesty, whether it’s random observations from the bus, an assessment of the inconsistency of Stereolab or fragments of a lovelorn inner monologue, Joey offers nothing less than genuine and relevant poetry. The work is sweet without being hokey and powerful, but not overbearing. Tom Sawyer explores depression without feeling hopeless, while simultaneously celebrating the tiny beautiful things that are routinely overlooked; it’s the poetry of the mundane filtered through an uncanny intellect and presented as (mostly) minimalist poetry with no affectation or bluster to speak of.

Written mostly while living in New York and working at the independent bookstore McNally Jackson, Joey started Tom Sawyer organically enough:

 Tom Sawyer is out now via  Civil Coping Mechanisms
Tom Sawyer is out now via Civil Coping Mechanisms

“Sometimes I just felt trapped in that bookstore. And that’s why I would write these poems,” he says, “I wrote the majority of Tom Sawyer while I was at work. I wrote them on bookmarks and loose scraps of paper we had. Anytime I was stuck sitting at the register or information desk I would try to.”

Before McNally Jackson, though, Joey attended Bennington College in Vermont, which he describes as “a weird hippie school where you create your own major.” So Joey decided to major in writing.

“I’m sure I made up a fancy way of saying I want to write stories,” he confesses, “But really I just wanted an excuse to read and write. Bennington was where I built up the confidence to send out stories. That’s where I first wrote to Scott McClanahan and I kinda just reached out to people. And people were nice enough to reply back and help me.”

It’s at this point where the Joseph Grantham story turns into some kind of surreal independent literature fairy tale.

“I met Bud (Smith) through the press that I run with my sister because we published one of his books called Dust Bunny City.”

Oh yeah, Joey also runs the exceptional Disorder Press with his sister Mikaela, a fiercely independent press that champions some of the best contemporary authors.

“After I graduated from college and I moved to New York I was close to Bud,” Joey continues, “We were working on his book and I would call him and talk about edits. It made sense to finally just meet up in person and hang out. So I started hanging out with Bud every once in a while and after his book came out I threw a reading for him and I just started hanging out with him a lot more. Scott ended up writing to me when I was working at McNally Jackson. I remember getting an email from him saying like ‘hey, I like everything you’re doing with your press’ and he just started asking me questions like what are you reading and blah blah blah. When he came to New York to do The Sarah Book reading – him and his wife, who I’m sure you know is a really good writer, Juliet Escoria – they were like ‘you should just come live with us and work at Walmart’. And I was planning on being out of New York when my lease was up anyway.”

There’s a poem in Tom Sawyer, ‘poem for scott mcclanahan,’ that is so casually startling that I had to read it at least 3 times before I really absorbed the profundity of it. A lot of Joey’s work is like that, it just eases into the dark parts without warning. He just kind of pulls you down into the depths with his words and it’s hard to tell how you got there.

“As it got closer to the end of my lease Bud was like ‘Joey, why don’t you work at the bookstore for another month and just live in my guestroom and save up paychecks?’ So I lived with Bud for a month and then he drove me to West Virginia and dropped me off at Scott’s and I lived there for like a month and a half.”

 Joey and his kitties. He’s holding Tammy Wynette. The lil one in the corner is Possum.
Joey and his kitties. He’s holding Tammy Wynette. The lil one in the corner is Possum.

There’s a poem for Bud Smith in there, too. It’s a bit more light-hearted, but still meticulously frank and unadulterated. It’s sort of a light at the end of the tunnel, which Joey tends to pepper throughout the entirety of Tom Sawyer.

After a stay with Scott McClanahan, Joey ended up back in his parents’ house in a suburb right outside of San Francisco – a situation no one wants to find themselves in. He eventually landed a job at another well-known bookstore, City Lights, and got an apartment in the city.

“It was just recreating my New York experience, but with less friends and less stuff going on,” Joey laments, “So that felt like some sick fucked up joke that I played on myself.”

Throughout all of this moving and getting to hang out with other brilliant writers, Joey was turning his poems into a book.

“Michael Seidlinger, who owns Civil Coping Mechanisms, asked me if I had a manuscript when I was working at McNally Jackson,” Joey continues, “I think I had maybe 40 or 50 poems and so I said ‘yeah I have a manuscript I’ll send it to you in like a week’. And I think I sent it to him two weeks later. I started finding every poem I’d written in the last year.”

So, at this point, Joey knows he’s got a publisher and he’s got the content; he just needs to turn it into a cohesive book. This part is the most interesting to me so we’re going to get into the details:

“Some of those are exactly the way they were written on the bookmarks or whatever and then others I ended up working on a lot. I started finding every poem I’d written in the last year. And things I didn’t know were poems like the beginnings of stories. And I thought ‘that’s a poem’. I’d go through the notes in my phone and think ‘this could be in my book’. And I sent it to him and it was probably 90 pages at that point. 90 poems. A week after he got it he said ‘yeah, lets publish this. Let’s do it in like a year’. So I had a year to just look at this thing. I definitely had some time to do some editing. Anytime I was bored or not working on something I would go back to Tom Sawyer and I would fuck with it and move something around. And I’d write poems for Tom Sawyer once I realized it was book. And I really paid attention to the order of the poems. That really mattered to me.”

At a sparse 119 pages, it’s easy to see how much attention Joey paid to detail while writing Tom Sawyer. Each poem is scrupulously crafted and possesses a certain type of charming, if a bit discomfited type of beauty. It becomes obvious that Joey is spilling his guts in this work and he’s not pulling back or hiding behind any of the usual pretenses. In sad poem he writes:

we live in a world

where i write poems

about one person

who made me sad

a long time ago

It’s hard to miss the simplicity in that, but the candor and disaster are just as obvious. Tom Sawyer isn’t a traditional poetry collection because it’s so much more. It’s something that feels so instantaneous and urgent, like sleep-deprived confessions in the pitch-black darkness. Many of these poems read like something you weren’t supposed to see, like you know too much. Tom Sawyer is Joey’s life, but the inner-monologue of Joey’s life, the part of other people we don’t usually get to see.

“It started to become chronological,” Joey says, “It’s amazing when you gather all this stuff from like a year of your life that you don’t think you’ve been writing as one cohesive thing how much of it fits together. And how much of it is about the same kinda stuff. Still when I flip through my book I’m like ‘oh shit that thing relates to that other thing’ or I repeated myself in that poem and this poem over here. And I’m still kinda realizing that, but that’s kinda cool.”

I’m not sure what’s next for Joey and he’s not sure either. He recently moved to rural North Carolina with Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, who happens to be – you guessed it – another brilliant writer. They met through Bud Smith, started talking online and decided to be roommates. This next part has nothing to with the creation of or the content of Tom Sawyer, I just think it’s really fucking cute:

“It wasn’t like romantic at all,” Joey assures me, “I was attracted to Ashleigh, but I made it a point to not fall in love with this person. It was just stupid of me to think that I wouldn’t fall for this person. And when I got here it took me like two days before I was like’ oh fuck, I really like this person and if she doesn’t like me back I’m gonna end up writing another book of sad poems.’ It seems to be working out right now.”

“Something Bright, Then Holes” Filled with Profundity and Connotation

by Jerome Spencer

After garnering national praise for 2009’s Bluets and 2015’s stunning The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson has become a household name (in literate households, at least). And we all wait patiently for her next endeavor, (she’s been releasing poignant literature since 2001, and it’s all worth revisiting). Soft Skull Press has released a gorgeous reissue of Nelson’s Something Bright, Then Holes and, despite being originally published in 2007, it’s easily one of the best books of 2018.

A true master of her craft, Maggie Nelson elicits genuine awe with each turn of the page. Something Bright, Then Holes is an essential 76 pages, but I’ve easily earmarked 70 of them, struck by the passion and control of such a bold display of words. The poems within these pages are so full of profundity and connotation that I’m inclined to go back and read them again yet forced to stop and remember to breathe before my entire chest caves in.

The narrative of Something Bright, Then Holes is candid and heartfelt, blurring the lines between poetry and storytelling fluently and with thoughtful contemplation. There’s real being in Nelson’s lines and while it’s tempting to dissect her craft and praise such illustrious technique, I’d rather dive into the depths of her observations and the elegant aspects of life she finds symbolism in as she expresses them until they’re palpable. These poems swathe their reader and craft a voyeuristic sense of empathy; it’s as if you’re not supposed to be there. Yet, here you are.

When Nelson describes brushing the broken teeth of her teacher/mentor in the hospital after a devastating accident, you can smell the impersonal sanitation and feel the unreasonably white sheets. When she laments a summer spent on the polluted and neglected canal, you can hear the cackling of the wayward seagulls and the whirr of the propellers. It’s next to impossible not to get enveloped in Something Bright, Then Holes as Nelson creates a world so poignant and vivid that it almost feels as if you’re intruding and stealing from her, but Nelson’s remarkable vision and rumination on love, lust, loss and letting go dissuade any guilt or hesitation and invite you in.

In honor of #PrideMonth, email Soft Skull Publishing your shipping address and a donation receipt for $25 or more towards Transgender Law Center, and they’ll ship you a copy of the book.

Send it over to contact@softskull.com before June ends!

Love, Life, and Letters: White-Knuckled Noir in “How To Set Yourself On Fire”

by Jerome Spencer

“I can’t remember the last time I cried. But I can remember the first time I definitely didn’t.”

In the literary world, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” is what they call a page turner. Gripping in its terseness, Julia Dixon Evans’ novel has the pull of a crime-noir without the crime. And instead of a two-dimensional protagonist with a murky past, it boasts a fully developed anti-hero whom invokes unrestrained empathy. And, like all good noir, there’s still plenty of moral ambiguity.

The novel’s mystery centers around its narrator, Sheila, and a newfound fixation on a box of love letters addressed to her recently deceased grandmother. Sheila becomes intertwined with her one-sided perspective of the love affair as her life continues to fall apart around her. She befriends her neighbor and his twelve year-old daughter, reluctantly and haphazardly filling in as a surrogate mother. As the mystery unfolds and the past collides with the present, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” pulls the reader along, white-knuckled and wide-eyed.

The novel’s emotional levity relies on its economy of language. Cramming 56 chapters into 306 pages; each paragraph is entirely necessary, each sentence gets straight to the point and, more often than not, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that it burns. The emotion is inexorable while the humor is palpable and the story is skillfully acute. “How to Set Yourself” on Fire could almost be a “beach-read” if it were more acceptable to cry on the beach.

The novel’s ending, while unpredictable, is not surprising; showcasing Julia Dixon Evans’ aptitude for foreshadowing and character development while avoiding the always unsolicited “plot-twist”. Too honest for answered questions and resolutions all tied up in a pretty bow, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” is noir about the disarray of existence and the mystery of everyone around us. And it nails it.
 

Concert Diaries: St. Vincent @ the National 6/3/15

 Image via @seoul_less
Image via @seoul_less

by Shannon Jay

Walking in, I knew the night was gonna be great. My being surrounded by good company & little sobriety weren’t the only outliners – I saw Annie Clark on tour for Strange Mercy with some friends a few years prior. I was graced with their presence once again to watch Annie perform.

However, this was no similar experience, in the best way. the great thing about Clark is her inability to stay the same; not so much changing but evolving, not so much better but different. With every album she brings a new twist, and with every tour a new energy, confidence and persona.

The show began with Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire. Her dreamy violin melodies were a delight to watch from the balcony of the National. The acoustics were appreciated, high ceilings bouncing the melodies of Neufeld’s strings.

Clark emerged in a shiny and tight leather jumpsuit that complimented all of her guitar switches – whether it be a classic black-and-white or seafoam green axe. This is not the Annie that toured with Sufjan Stevens and released albums named inspired by lines from Arrested Development.

After her Grammy win, she’s taking center stage and making a name for herself. The release of St. Vincent’s self-titled made a bolder statement than any of Clark’s other overall obscure rock albums. While critical darlings, none of her previous records cemented her as a bonafied rockstar.

Strobe lights and beams of bright purples, yellows and blues were perfectly disorienting following Annie’s sonic distortions. Carefully placed lighting cast a shadow on Clark and her bandmates faces, which flashed back and forth and created a trippy visual effect.

What all of us feared in the days leading up to the concert were if Clark would even been well enough to play. Suffering a speaker-climbing malfunction days before, the crowd was questioning if she was okay, much less if she would attempt it again. Shocking everyone, Clark scaled the sound system again, continuing a long string of badassery that was constant throughout the night.

Clark was more theatrical this time around. For “The Party,” she disappeared from a dark stage and, as the lights rose, she emerged from sidestage, sprawled on a stretcher. She made breaks in between songs a storytelling session.

One tale outlined an experience with a Virginia Storm; much different, Clark pointed out, than a Virginia Slim. Impending doom, Annie recalls running into her closet and clutching the first things she finds that are dear to her heart; one of them is the new D’Angelo record. When the story is finished, the stage turns black and Clark proceeds to melt our faces once more with her sheer star power.

I remember these quirky little stories last time, but this time the way it was presented felt less like small talk, her tales now felt more constructed, each story adding a dramatic flair to the gaps between tracks.

She eloquently and gratefully gave her backup band a heartfelt introduction. Her bassist, Toko Yasuda, needed no introduction; the whole audience took note of her slaying alongside Clark on guitar. Yasuda and Clark carried an electrifying chemistry on stage.

She dedicated her show to all the goth kids, or those even slightly and generally strange. As an inherit rockstar who clearly fits in no perfectly shaped box, Clark’s empathy with her audience is made clear through her flamboyant stage antics and alluring, over-the-top but just right performance pieces.

Where You Go, There You Are: Talking with Frankie Rose

by Shannon Jay

Frankie Rose replied right back to my direct text message request to be interviewed — going as far to say she just gets excited to even be asked anymore. Despite being a major player in the indie scene for over a decade, the the former Vivian/Dum Dum Girl doesn’t need all those fancy managers, or anyone else for that matter.

 Photo by  Matt Lief Anderson
Photo by Matt Lief Anderson

“When you’re steering the ship, I think things go a lot more smoothly more often, you’ve only got one person that’s deciding – ME! And i like that.”

“Everything!” Rose responded when I asked what has changed in the music industry since she got her start, “I feel like a grandma now.”

“These young bands, they talk about their ‘brand’ or whatever, that’s not something we were thinking about, it was about the music you were making. There wasn’t this gross capitalist slant of ‘I’m trying to sell you something,’ it continues to not be a part of my conversation. I’m just gonna make what i’m gonna make,” she said, “and if you can wrap your head around it and you like it that’s awesome; I don’t know how affective that is at reaching people, maybe it’s not, but i’m also okay with that.”

“Our first tour we didn’t even have a cellphone in the car, we used an atlas to get places,” she said of life on the road with punk band Shitstorm, far from the “very luxurious” situation carrying her from Kansas to St Louis when I called. “we’ll play 3 nights and then take time off,” she said of opening for Alvvays, “I’ve never been so rested in my life.” 

Rose deserves to rest, working odd jobs throughout her career, the worst during her attempted escape to LA a few years back. “I was working out of an ice cream truck,” she said, “it was really dumb.” Personal tragedy, financial hardships, and uncertainty in her musical career might’ve been the dumbest part, because Rose actually likes sacrificing free time. Too much and she said “you start to take advantage of that, you think you have all the time in the world to do things.”

“There’s been years where I could have not had a job but I like having something to do that’s very structured.” In early 2000s New York, she tended bar while making music. “During the day, like a ‘Cheers’ happy hour bartender — I don’t like drunk people,” she specified, “I’m not the most social person, I won’t go out a lot, so to be behind a bar keeps me social.”

HEREIN WILD by Frankie Rose

Introversion may have drove Rose to go solo, and made LA all the more alluring. “I think I had some idea that I would have this space when I went to LA, and time, and isolation — but in a positive way, which turned out to be in a negative way,” Rose said. It was the time on her own she could’ve been alluding to on the opening track of what she thought would be her last release, ‘Herein Wild.’

“I was reaching my decade of being in New York, and it was after a kind of dark record cycle,” she said of time surrounding the 2013 release, “I was really disenchanted and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna make another record again!’ I felt trapped in New York.” 

She fled to her hometown of LA to be free, but expectation of paradise turned into an entrapment of her own creation. This feeling inspired her latest album’s title, ‘Cage Tropical,’ her first in 4 years. “It started out there just at my house making demos and recording stuff in my closet that I turned into a vocal booth,” she said, concluding recording after taking refuge in New York after being out west a little over a year. “It’s great there and it works for a lot of people, but not for me.”

“You have to figure out what inspires you,” she said about bouncing back, finding music the most discouraging source “If I’m blocked, I can’t sit there and listen to music, I’ll tear it apart; it’s like using my brain and the creative energy inside my body; I need to try something else because it’s all the same manna.” 

Instead, she went to art museums, watched films, and engrossed herself in “things that were inspiring to me in another way, things that I thought made the world beautiful and made me want to make something.” Influences encompassed her “fascination with magic — things that can blow my mind or make me look at things in a different way,” citing outer space and “whales in the ocean” as sources of awe.

“Pain is a great motivator,” which she induced by binging paranormal broadcasts from the recently deceased Art Bell. Initially exploiting her existential dread, it eventually inspired her to pen a song in his name. “I never send my music to anyone ever,” she said, “but I did email him, I never got a response – wish I had now.” 

With her latest record, ‘Cage Tropical,’ she’s able to reflect on a need to escape but inability to escape yourself. “Now I’m so totally in a different space, but at the time I was confused,” she said, but the record ends on a brighter note “Ultimately I was able to get back to New York and some of that changed… there’s some pop songs on there too that are happier and on the other side.”

While the albums are being made, however, Rose isn’t sure what they’re about until years later. “Every record I make is a little bit of a time capsule,” she said, “sometimes it’s not so laid out, especially my lyric writing, it’s never like ‘this is a love song, this is what this is about,’ but it’s more a feeling of what i’m having at the time.”

“I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it — and you can’t really take that away.”

“My tastes are changing,” Rose referred to the use of synths on the record, “they’re becoming more interesting to me than guitars, they’re like an endless puzzle.” Serving as a simpler setup and less people to manage, it’s made Rose’s recent tour with Alvvays carefree.

“With touring it’s kind of like a mixed bag, there’s so many different factors that can make something a horrible tour where you decide you never want to play music again, or an amazing tour where you come back inspired and happy to be doing it — luckily that’s this tour,” she said, rearing to get back to New York and make a new record, however long it takes. “When you decide something like that, it’s like looking up Mt. Everest, you’re like ‘i’m gonna climb this mountain, it’s gonna take a long time, who knows,’ but i have the desire.”

It’s a long way from where she was roughly 3 years earlier. “I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it — and you can’t really take that away.”

“It was no easy feat,” she said of attempting to heal. “There was no one thing, I wanted to get through it so bad, I was willing to do anything it took to get through that heartbreak. That can sometimes mean doing uncool things like therapy, acupuncture, changing your diet, going to self help group — humbling things.” 

“take it easy on yourself, living’s not an easy thing to do”

Not one thing worked for Rose, but together all realms of self care got her through. “There was a time where I pushed open every door and nothing would work, nothing made me feel better, it takes whats it takes,” she said, hopefully. “Maybe someone will hear that and it will help.”
“I don’t think that you can rush healing, grief takes it’s own time,” she said, “it took what it took, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I keep throwing in these terrible chiches i’m sorry,” she interrupts herself, “I feel like I basically just wrote you a self help book,” a reflection of self criticism engrained in her process. 

“I’m my own worst enemy, I’m really great at beating myself up — ‘I feel terrible, and I suck for feeling terrible, I shouldn’t feel terrible, why do I feel terrible’ — I should, I should, I should,” her inner monologue echos, “but i say just take it easy on yourself, living’s not an easy thing.”

We end our chat on a fantasy of an all-female music festival. “I think we need a giant festival that’s not run by crazy conservative whackos, but where the women do everything, and I don’t mean like Lilith Fair,” but where cool chicks headline and females organize, run, and engineer. It’d be a far cry from problematic organizers like Coachella’s founder. “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting,” she dictates her disgust, “luckily they don’t like me.” I offered assistance in her dream, met with an enthusiastic “I’m serious, I would totally do that.” 

Thus, readers, I leave you with one question — who’s down to fund Frankiefest?
 

“Animals Eat Each Other” Finds Sympathy in Shitty People

by Jerome Spencer

“I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.”

There are so many moments, passages and insights In Elle Nash’s powerful short novel, Animals Eat Each Other, that it’s easy to get lost in the story and forget to breath. It’s a penetrating account of a young girl’s three-way relationship with a volatile couple; A relationship so unyielding that the young girl’s real name gets lost in the surrender as the couple dubs her “Lilith.” This isn’t some quaint story about an innocent victim tormented by a Marilyn Manson-obsessed white trash couple, though. Animals Eat Each Other is a shadowy exploration of obsession, manipulation and the ruins of love and sexuality (even deeper, the fine line between the latter two). The stripped-down prose cuts through the clutter and the façade and tears you open like a dull, serrated steak knife.

Nash writes with precision and passion, narrating the tale like a retrospective and a confessional diary. Her insights are sharp and honest, exploring her own thought process with an almost bemused culpability yet showing little to no regret or remorse. Not to imply that she should feel any type of guilt, per se. Not one character in this book is what you’d call a “good person” by any standard. What they are, though, are real, complex and fully-developed people that illicit something resembling compassion and empathy. What Nash has done with this book is weave a story about shitty people doing shitty things to other shitty people that is somehow relatable and sympathetic, forcing its reader to exist in that hazy place in which right and wrong are subjective and perspective is the biggest lie and the only truth.

Animals Eat Each Other is dark, sexy and astute, the writing so concise and raw that it makes reading such heavy subject matter seem easy and intrusive. Nash’s evocative and intuitive prose pushes the story along, creating atmosphere and suspense. It’s like that train wreck in slow-motion cliché, but the beauty in this chaos that much more relevant and much more rewarding once you dig for it.
 

Greetings from Austin: SXSW Roundup

 Photos by Craig Zirpolo
Photos by Craig Zirpolo

SXSW is a whirlwind that takes a couple different perspectives to truly grasp. From bands whose memories may be hazy from countless, back-to-back gigs, to one photographer along for the ride capturing proof, we have those viewpoints. 

Hector traveled to Austin with his band Slump, and friends True Body. “The city [was] on fire with things to do,” he sends me, cut and copied from his iPhone notes, “it was always a party.”

“The last show of this tour left my mind floating in a bubbling black lagoon,” he said of playing tons of shows in a row and feeling the toll. “My head burst and I nearly passed out. It felt like I had died, collapsing into a black hole, sucked in by my bodies physicality; no control. Confronted and simultaneously halted in the life thresher. It’s not healthy.”

“When I came to I was surrounded by friends and strangers alike. Here I am in Austin, Texas doing what I love, emptying my savings for the sake of traveling. American Psychonauts, plunging into an endless sea of crisp fur, infinite and vast hills lush with wild flowers. We’re all cackling like hyenas, gunning it on hi-way 35 for a good time.” 

 Isaac of True Body
Isaac of True Body

 Hector of Slump
Hector of Slump

His crew crashed with Hector’s childhood friend, and speaks of his eclectic, much older roommate. “Tony and Isaac stayed up until the serene blue light caressed their retinas,” talking to “John,” Hector recalls. “John bought 4 hits of acid from me – i was charging $40 for the strip – he gave me $60 because ‘he liked the mania in my eyes.’ He took them right then and there.”

“The Meow Wolf installment at Empire Control room was my fav part,” said another John who attended. “The tacos were my favorite part,” said Neal, “but I did see some good bands in between eating delicious Mexican food in Texas’ liberal oasis.” He was there for a second time with the same band under a new name, Super Doppler. “I still didn’t see half of the bands that I wanted to see.”

 Crumb
Crumb

They did catch Crumb, at the wrong location after waiting several hours. “Crumb had originally announced the show at the wrong co-op a couple blocks away, the one where I heard two guys were kayaking in the pool the night before,” Neal said, killing time by “[picking] up some beers from the corner store nearby and [hanging] out for the evening next to a broken trampoline in the backyard.”

Apparently, it was worth the wait. “By the time Crumb came on stage – if you could call it that – the sun had started to set, casting shadows on the graffiti’d walls of the house,” Neal said, “It was a welcome contrast from the drunken hordes and corporate showcases that seem to dominate SXSW sometimes.” 

Check out more photos via Craig Zirpolo below: 

were you there? tell us your story in the comments…

A Chat With Dreampop Darling Hazel English

by Shannon Jay

Behind bubbly melodies, sweet synths and upbeat guitars on her debut, “Never Going Home,” Hazel English talks trials and tribulations with life, love, and moving across the world.

Originally from Australia, she moved to California to study abroad. Now  based out of Oakland, according to the record’s title, she’s happy here. After a chance encounter with Day Wave, he produced the debut and aided the shaping of her breezy sound. Popscure caught up with English via email to dive a little deeper into leaving home, finding a new one, and what drove her here.

When did you move to the U.S. & What lead you to choose California to study abroad oppose to other countries?

I had visited San Francisco when I was 21 while doing some travelling and I felt a very strong connection unlike anything I’d felt before; I kind of had this intuitive feeling that I was going to live there one day. The opportunity came for me to study abroad about 4 years ago and I ended up getting into a school in the Bay Area. It was such a gut instinct thing—there was definitely a lot of doubt but something in me just knew I had to do it. It was very scary because I didn’t know anybody and I left behind a lot of comfortable things, but looking back, I can easily say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

What have been some of the pros and cons of starting your career so far away from your hometown?

The obvious con is being away from my friends and family back home but I’ve been fortunate enough to make lots of new friends in the U.S. which has been really nice. One pro I’ve found is that being in a new environment often pushes you to be more open and try new things so I think that can definitely help in any artistic endeavour.

How is the Australian music scene compared to America?

Honestly, there isn’t a huge difference other than the fact that there is a much bigger music industry in the U.S. Over here, I feel like there are lots of different paths you can take with it whereas back home, there is much more of a direct and narrow route to success. That being said there are some amazing Australian bands doing really well right now and I feel like people are finally starting to notice that there are a lot of talented Aussie musicians.

When did you make the transition from playing tuba in the school band to writing your own dreampoppy music?

I stopped playing the euphonium when I reached grade 7 so there’s been quite a few years in between for me to experiment with my sound. Sometimes I think about picking it up again after all this time, I am not sure I’d even remember how to play.

You studied Creative Writing, what drove you towards that major? Any other writing you do besides songs?

I’ve always been very interested in writing and creating stories. I do write fiction too, but right now I’m pretty devoted to songwriting so that takes up most of my attention.

What are some songwriters you pull lyrical influences from?

I really love Morrissey’s lyrics because they are witty and make me laugh, although I don’t think that’s my style of writing at all. Honestly, I’m probably more influenced by confessional poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath than other songwriters but I can definitely appreciate good lyrics.

How has the shift from hometown to the unknown informed “Never Going Home”?

I wanted to capture all the emotions that I experienced when I first moved to California and the sense of wonder that I felt, moving to a completely new country and starting a new life.