As champions of new music discovery, we often feature neophyte artists in this slot; artists just starting their careers, making new, intense, and immediate music of all kinds. Artists with serious longevity are harder to come by. Bands that stay together for a long time often lose that spark, even when the material remains good.
Then there’s The Figgs, who just celebrated their 25th year together (they formed as teens in Saratoga Springs, NY), and who are still making vibrant, creative, and constantly evolving pop music that transcends time and age, putting many a young, hyped-up indie band to shame.
Having recently released The Figgs Anthology: 1000 People Grinning, the band can look back at a career that includes 12 studio albums, two live albums, several EPs and singles, and a slew of side projects (members have played with Soul Asylum, NRBQ, and Tommy Stinson, and the group has had a long-running stint as Graham Parker‘s backing band). Remarkably, the last few records the band has released have been their best. Where other bands become complacent in time, The Figgs have become a lean, confident, powerful unit, taking creative risks to achieve frequent moments of pop perfection. Their sound is clean and simple, but not unadorned. The lyrics are entertaining, insightful, funny, ironic, self-referential. They are indeed known as a pop band, because the songs are most often quick and to the point, but few bands playing live today rock as hard. Most importantly, they know the groove intimately – feeling it is obviously priority one for The Figgs. And that is timeless.
They are not a new band, but you might not know them. So we invite you to discover The Figgs.
We know a lot of you out there are gamers of varying degrees. And a lot more since we ran the Superstars Game Trailer competition last year with our frequent partner, Intel. Well, we just wanted to announce that our friends at Slimstown Studios have announced their newest game, “Dragonbites: Smokin’ Bunnies.” The game, coming soon for smartphones and tablets, features an eclectic cast of characters, lewd & crude humor, enemies that fire back, and the ability to choose any type of bunny-based projectile for any shot. Check out the trailer after the jump and go to iTunes for download.
OurStage, Guitar Player magazine, and Ernie Ball are teaming up this summer to offer aspiring guitarists a chance to win the ultimate Grand Prize. Enter the Guitar Player “Take The Lead” Competition by August 17 for your shot to win your very own feature in Guitar Player magazine, a year’s supply of strings and accessories from Ernie Ball, and more! Throughout the competition, we’ll be bringing you exclusive editorial content, fresh from guitarplayer.com—enjoy!
“Certain people are very mental, ” says legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, “they need to have rules and concepts and directions and scales and theory in order to play. But that’s not what music is about. Music has the same significance as beams of light coming out of the clouds and giving information to plants. Every note should be like a beam of light. You’re giving information to the listener, and you’re reminding them they also have light and significance. That’s improvising to me. The other stuff is just like going ‘da-da-da-da-da.’ It’s nothing.”
Over the course of writing this column, I’ve come across some pretty sensational vocalists, and I had the chance to pick many of their brains about the most important aspects of being a professional singer. I’ve also observed many of the biggest voices in music, and the way that their voices have developed and changed over time. Getting up and singing for an audience, whether you’re a professional singer or just someone who loves to sing, is not easy. So, here is a list of some of the advice I’ve encountered while writing Vocal Points that may help the aspiring singers out there:
Everyone can sing. This is probably the most important piece of advice I’ve encountered because so often we feel that only certain people are blessed with a beautiful voice. As vocal therapist Mark Baxter said in his OurStage interview, “Singing came before speech. Humans are instinctively wired to send and receive melodic passages of emotional statements.” So if you love to sing, don’t let anyone else stand in your way.
Nobody is perfect. Its important to remember that our favorite vocalists got to be so good because of hard work and practice. As Kevin Devine explained to me, “I think I’ve embraced my limitations as a singer and tried to re-frame them as strengths. “
For our last installment of Vs, we’re doing something a little different. Instead of comparing an OurStage artist to an artist in the mainstream, we’ll be taking a look at OurStage’s Best Of The Best Charts. Specifically, we’re taking a look at the Number 1 artist in four categories, Pop, Rock, Urban and Country, and examining what makes them great along with what makes them standout from their peers on OurStage.
Austin Renfroe seems to have become a fan favorite here at OurStage. Between winning competitions left and right, he was also a finalist in The OurStage Panel Finale. While most modern pop music is becoming more electronic and Autotuned, Renfroe stands out by making music that is natural and organic sounding yet incredibly catchy. The multitalented singer-songwriter plays both the guitar and piano, but his biggest strength is his voice. His distinctive soulful style also possesses an incredible range—Renfroe often switches between a low register and a silky sweet falsetto in the same song. His song “Taking Me Under” showcases all of his vocal skills, using falsetto and vocal embellishments to create a killer hook in the chorus. Renfroe is also a gifted songwriter, blending elements of pop, folk, soul and rock into his songs. Between “Honesty,” a more upbeat pop/rock track, and “Can’t Bring Us Down,” a stripped down acoustic song, it’s clear that he has the versatility and talent to stick around for awhile.
Chasing Eden have been making waves for awhile, having been on OurStage’s Best Of The Best Chart for over seventy-five weeks and racking up a whopping fifteen Top 10s and ten Top 40s. This hard rock band forms the basis of their sound around heavy, chugging guitar riffs. However, unlike most other bands in their genre, Chasing Eden utilize a female lead singer. Andrea Brink’s voice is smooth and sweet, which contrasts with the rest of the band’s heavy riffing. However, if you listen to songs like “All I’m Asking” or “Remember Me,” you can hear that this contrast actually works really well, and it is one of the main reasons that Chasing Eden have remained a mainstay at the top of our charts.
We covered Greg Banks, one of the many talented young artists who are revitalizing R&B, on Vs.before. Banks is not only a supremely talented singer, but also a gifted songwriter who writes all of his own music. Banks creates his unique sound by using real instruments in his compositions to create a warm sound in a genre that, ironically, can sometimes lack soul. His song “Selfish” shows off his songwriting skills as well as his vocal prowess. This song begins with a riff that is finger picked on an acoustic guitar, which becomes the focal point of the song. Other instruments like violin and keyboard are added to the mix to flesh out the song. Banks’ voice is also impressive here, using his range to hit high notes that most other singers wouldn’t be able to hit.
Allen Layman is a journeyman, the perfect archetype for country music. He’s played in various bands in all parts of the country, which gives him plenty of lyrical inspiration. Layman plays a more traditional brand of country, eschewing the pop-infused sound of most modern country. Layman sings in a smooth, deep baritone, recounting tales of heartbreak and homesickness. It’s the kind of voice that sounds like it’s been through years of hardship, spending late nights in smoke-filled bars. Songs like “Reason To Live” and “If I Can Make You Love Me” not only showcase Layman’s fantastic voice, but also his great twangy guitar skills.
But what do YOU think of these artists? Do you think another artist should be at the top of the charts? Let us know in the comments!
Here at Live Wireda love of live music has led us to many different concerts, from arena shows to performances at small, intimate clubs. For us, there’s nothing better than experiencing a favorite artist or band singing their songs before our very eyes while surrounded by fans who love them just as much as we do. Of course, we’ve learned a lot along the way, so we thought we’d share our findings with you!
When attending a concert:
DO buy tickets ahead of time. This seems painfully obvious, but no one wants to be that person who waits until the last minute then finds out that the show is sold out.
DON’T cut in line. We learned this in elementary school, right?
DO bring a camera with you (if it’s allowed). It’s always nice to have a few pictures and maybe a video to document a great night.
DON’T spend the entire night taking pictures; just take a couple towards the beginning of the show. You only get to actually experience the concert once, so make sure you’re taking it all in. If your face is behind the camera the whole time, you won’t feel as connected with the night, the crowd and the performer.
DO attend shows at all different types of venues. Smaller clubs provide a unique experience where you can be close to the artist but arena shows can be equally as spectacular and epic.
DON’T be afraid to go to a show by yourself. You may not always have a friend who likes the same band as you or can drop the money for a concert, but that doesn’t mean you should have to miss out!
DO considering wearing earplugs. You can buy cheap ones and they’ll seriously protect your ears from damage.
DON’T miss the opening acts. One of the best feelings is seeing an unknown band live for the first time, and just knowing that they’ll be big.
Have some more concert tips? Let us know in the comments!
Jessie Malakouti has a story to share with everyone. And what a globe-trotting story it is. She started her career in LA and eventually landed big in 2006 with the all-girl hip hop group Shut Up Stella. But, when things took a downturn with that group, Jessie made the daring escape to Europe. After spending some time in the UK club scene honing her craft, she made her triumphant return to the States with a new approach to music along with a brand new group to go along with it. Jessie took some time out of her busy recording schedule to sit down with OurStage to give us the lowdown on her new group: Jessie and the Toy Boys.
OS: Do you have any goals for Jessie and the Toy Boys?
JM: I’m currently working like a worker bee on the album which is going to come out in early 2012. So, that’s kind of the most immediate goal, which is finishing this record. Making it sound exactly how I want it to sound and to put it out for the fans, because I know they’re tweeting me everyday, asking when it is [coming out]. So, I’m working as fast as I can to finish the album.
OS: Why did you go with mannequins?
JM: I decided to form Jessie and the Toy Boys with the Toy Boys, because I have grown up in different bands and, no shake to anyone in a band I’ve ever been with, I know exactly who I am as an artist and I have a very clear vision of what I want to do, how I want to sound, how I want to look and all those things. It changes too, with my mood. It’s difficult to be in a band with me, because I’m a creative control freak, so I decided to start a band with mannequins, or as I like to call them, Toy Boys, because they don’t talk back. They’re awesome bandmates. And also, from a visual point of view, I have so many visual ideas with them. It’s fun.
OS: Does it feel different, having a lot more control over the creative direction of the album?
JM: It’s something I’m used to doing, but it’s different for me to have a team and a label that allows me to have control. I’ve always had control over everything that I’ve done. Just maybe in the past, with Shut Up Stella, it was more of a tug-of-war about what they wanted us to be and what we wanted to be. People have an idea of who you are and it doesn’t always mirror what I think I am, so this is the first time I’ve been able to take control of everything and have the full support of my time, so it’s really nice.
OS: Have you felt like you want to go wild with it and push off from the barriers?
JM: I don’t necessarily break barriers, but if I do along the way, that’s cool. I just like to create music that I like. So, when I leave the studio and there’s a song I listen to in the car, even in a rough state, over and over, then I’m stoked. I know there’s something that I’m proud of and that I love. Same thing with the videos, because I’m involved with the creative process of that as well. Any form of art that I’m hooked on and love to watch or listen to, for me, that’s cool and I’m proud of this.
OS: Do you have any interesting stories from your time in the UK that you would directly attribute to your inspiration for this project?
JM: I have a really interesting story, which kind of unfolds on the album. Not to give away too much, there’s a short film that’s broken into five parts. It’s called This Is How Rumors Start, along the title of the album. Each episode is a song title, so I wanted to push it. It’s going to be coming out soon. Basically, as you go through the episodes, you kind of see what happened. It’s based on the truth, mostly. You see what I went through in the UK and Europe, and why I started Jessie and the Toy Boys, and how I met the Toy Boys, and how everything started to come together and why I came back to America. I don’t want to give away too much of it. I want people to check out the webseries when it comes out or mini-movie, as I like to call it. But, you can hear it in the music. Once you see the visuals too, you’ll understand more what songs are about. Sometimes people think it’s cool, because I put a song out on my EP earlier called “Running Makes the Girl Goes Round” and it was a fan/critic favorite. It’s funny, because it’s kind of turned into this strip club anthem, but it’s totally not that. It’s a song about my best friend selling me out. When you watch This Is How Rumors Start, you totally see that and you see what the songs are really about. But I like to keep it kind of open-ended, because I like for the listener to listen to my music and make their own connections about what they think songs are about. That’s the beauty of music to me.
OS: What do you feel is the difference between the club scene in Europe and LA?
JM: The difference between the two of them is that America is very late. When it comes to dance music, we’re 100% late. I was making records that sounds like everything coming out right now three years ago. My old demos could come out right now and sound relevant. But, I personally think we go harder though in the clubs, especially when I was touring with Identity Festival and the whole electronic dance tour. The crowds were fucking out of control and really awesome. So, there’s a really cool energy in the dance music scene, but probably because we’re late. Because it’s so new over here, everyone’s so stoked and pumped and even with dubstep. Not to be like “I do everything first”, but I put out a dubstep record in 2008 and I remember everyone in the club I played it for when I came over for Christmas was like “What is this?” I was like “Just wait, it’s gonna explode.” But, I like that it’s all happening over here now, because everyone seems so much more enthusiastic about it where I think in Europe, they’re starting to flatten out on dance music a little bit. I mean, who knows? But I love it, I love the genre no matter where it’s popping off. It seems to be a global phenomenon, so I’m happy that it’s the kind of music I make.
OS: How do you view your collaborations with rap music and artists like Yelawolf?
JM: It’s cool. Growing up in the LA music scene, I’ve always been amazed and impressed by hip hop and people who are just awesome at hip hop. I found Yelawolf online a while ago before he signed to Eminem and started tweeting him. I thought he had something really cool and really liked his style. Basically, we became friends. I played him “Push It” one day in my car and then we drove to the studio. Five minutes later, he recorded the rap that you hear on it. That’s how I like to get down with music. I like for it to be genuine and organic and never want to do anything that feels forced. A couple of weeks ago, I met this really cool rapper named John Christopher. He’s on tour with Kanye and CyHi (Da Prynce) and I think we’re gonna collaborate on some stuff, so you can look for that. I just love hip hop and talented emcees, so it’s cool to get to collaborate with them.
OS: Are there any underground pop acts that you might be interested in working with?
JM: I don’t know how underground she is. I think she’s started to take off in a major way as well. But, her name is Winter Gordon and she’s a friend of mine. We both [were at] Miami Winter Concert this year together and we became friends there. She’s come to LA a couple times and we’ve hung out. We’re gonna do something together. There’s this cool new group called DWNTWN. I met them because they’re co-managed by DJ Skeet Skeet and he’s a friend of mine. They’re really rad and they’re working on a remix for me for the song that just dropped “Let’s Get Naughty”. It’s cool, they’re going really industrial with it. I don’t know how to classify what they do, but it’s definitely pop though. You should check it out. They just played CMJ. I’m excited about that project, so I want to do more things with them too.
OS: Are there any stereotypes that are really strange that get applied to you?
JM: I don’t think so. Not any that I can name. I guess, in general, pop music has a stereotype that it’s disposable and there’s no substance there. I think that’s true with some songs, but I’m looking forward to introducing to the world the entire body of work I’ve been creating, because I feel like there’s a lot of depth to this record and there’s a lot of songs that I’m really proud of and hope stand the test of time. I think pop doesn’t have to be just disposable dance music, and even if it is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think everybody likes to have a good time. But, there’s some songs on This Is How Rumors Start that thematically run a little deeper, so I’m excited for that to come out.
Be sure to check out Jessie and the Toy Boys’ official web site for all the latest news on This Is How Rumors Start. And watch the official video for “Let’s Get Naughty” below!
Let’s face it, much of popular music these days is cookie-cutter stuff—melodies that are easy to sing along to with mediocre lyrical content and little to no emphasis or inclusion of the intricate vocal harmonies which make music so interesting. Layering these harmonies add a really cool, depth to music which allow listeners to discover something new about the music with every listen. But now that the lifespan of a hit song is much shorter, and music tends to be more shallow, much of the importance and depth of vocal harmony has been forgotten.
But there are still bands who “get” harmony. A great example is Grizzly Bear, an indie band whose four members, Chris Bear, Daniel Rossen, Ed Droste and Chris Taylor all contribute unique vocals to their music. Both Droste’s and Rossen’s tenor voices are different, but the way that they come together with the upper-range voices of Bear and Taylor is truly stunning. Grizzly Bear’s phenomenal attention to details in music is so well done, making for a sound unlike anything else. And in live performance by this band succeeds at an even higher level. Grizzly Bear makes these complicated harmonies come together seamlessly, channeling a choir while still being full of life and fun to watch.
For a new artist, playing a sold out show in front of thousands of fans isn’t a regular occurrence. But for country artist Levi Hart, this dream became a reality when he beat out all the other competitors in the “Kid Rock Opening Act” Competition. His deep, soulful voice and impeccable songwriting skills earned him the opportunity to travel to Denver, CO and open for Kid Rock at the Fillmore Auditorium. We caught up with Levi after the show about his experience, and here’s what he had to say!
OS: Tell us about the performance. How did the crowd respond to your set?
LH: The crowd was phenomenal. They were so hyped about the show that I was instantly welcomed with applause and cheer when I hit the stage. I started out with a new song to be on the NEXT album and they erupted into a cheer again! This crowd was awesome. They were pumped and totally ready to for a good show and I gave them the best fifteen minutes I could offer! It was great!
OS: Have you picked up any new fans from the show?
LH: Absolutely! I had emails within hours of playing. Technology is fantastic. It was totally weird. But right after the show, I did meet a lot of people who enjoyed the show and I must have made an impression as I heard from some of those [people] the next day. Totally cool.
OS: Have you performed to an audience of that size before? Did you change anything about your performance to cater to a larger crowd?
LH: I’d performed for a little over 25,000 a few years back, but had been so used to playing 2000 people and under over the last few years in the club circuit in Nashville and surrounding states. It was a nice change and I forgot how awesome it was to play for a larger crowd! Continue reading ‘Levi Hart Opens Sold Out Kid Rock Show!’
If you need any proof that indie music is quickly becoming mainstream, look no further than Arcade Fire. The band first burst onto the scene in 2004 with their debut album Funeral, which garnered much critical acclaim and is now regarded by many as one of the best albums of the last decade. 2007′s Neon Bible continued the band’s success by debuting at Number 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The band then cemented their status in the public’s consciousness by winning last year’s prestigious GRAMMY Award for Album Of The Year with their third album, The Suburbs. Arcade Fire stand out from the plethora of other indie rock bands through their use of baroque influences and varied instrumentation; using anything from violins to accordions to xylophones and many more. Their music can best be described as “anthemic,” and their headlining slots at huge festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo this year have proved that their music is intended for the masses. Luckily, OurStage’s own Bethesdashare Arcade Fire’s penchant for making stadium ready indie rock.
Like Arcade Fire, Bethesda is great at creating slow-building songs that lead to epic conclusions. Their song “Dreamtiger” is a perfect example of this formula, and it bears some resemblance to Arcade Fire’s song “Haiti.” Both songs begin with strummed acoustic guitar chords, but add a variety of instruments as the songs progress. While “Dreamtiger” picks up momentum pretty quickly, the song takes a drastic change about halfway through. Here, all of the instruments drop out except for the acoustic guitar and vocals. Other instruments like violin and electric guitar are soon added to create texture, followed by the entrance of a snare drum, which creates a march-like rhythm that gradually gets faster and faster. This eventually leads into the bold ending, with the repeatedly sung refrain “we are free” backed by pounding, rhythmic drums and guitars. Words can’t fully do this song justice; you really need to listen to it yourself. “Oh, How We Crane Our Throats!” is another Bethesda song with some similarities to Arcade Fire. This song also begins slowly, this time with acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals. Violin is soon added to the mix to double the vocal harmonies. However, this slow section only lasts for a short period of time, as the song quickly picks up tempo. Driven by a pounding bass drum beat and hand claps, the song sounds like it could be played at a hoedown.