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Get Lyrical: Kristen Marlo’s “Is It Real”

Kristen Marlo defines her sound as folk, acoustic or indie pop, which is fitting given the prevalence of plucky guitars and lo-fi ukulele that most often fill her songs. That is, until you get to “Is It Real,” a driving electropop gem that’s been burning up the Electronica charts on OurStage. But why would a singer-songwriter delve into the electronic realm? There’s no real lyricism there, right? Wrong! In the hands of this capable, Maine-based singer songwriter and collaborator DJ MaRLo, the bloops, blips and simple lyrics of “Is It Real” take on an ethereal, otherworldly life.

“Is It Real” started life as an acoustic ditty—not unlike most of Marlo’s material. That is, until Australia’s DJ MaRLo came across the track while searching for artists that shared his name and decided to give it his own spin. Plenty of the repetition that makes electronica so enjoyable is here, but Marlo’s song is much more than one chorus repeated over a synthy backdrop. She opens the song by singing, “My lungs collapse/I cannot breathe anymore/I cannot breathe.” And that’s not the only physical ailment our singer-songwriter is experiencing on her electropop tune, as she also sings, “My vision is blurred/I cannot see anymore/I cannot see.” Eventually, we learn that Marlo “cannot speak anymore,” nor can she sleep. Sounds like this girl has quite a few problems.

“When I wrote this song,  I was basing my feelings and emotions about being separated from someone you love,” Marlo says. “The very first title for this track was ‘An Exaggerated Love Song’ but I changed it to ‘Separation Anxiety’ after I started playing it out at shows.” You can see why “Separation Anxiety” made a fitting title for the song’s acoustic counterpart, because by the time Marlo gets to the track’s echoing chorus—“Is it real (is it real)/What I’m feeling (what I’m feeling)”—the song’s infectious beat has already gotten under your skin and you can hear the wavering uncertainty in her voice. Her loneliness echoes throughout the track, causing the song to resonate through your ears long after she repeats the chorus one more time and its last notes fade away. And it’s no surprise that this duo reworked the song so masterfully, given that the themes of “Is It Real” are ones that Marlo frequently works with. “My favorite thing to write about is love. The good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Give “Is It Real” a listen below to hear how the right words can elevate an electronica song from fun and dance to interesting and haunting.

Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at!

Q&A With Kimberley Locke

Kimberley Locke is no stranger to the spotlight, placing third on season two of American Idol, putting out hit songs like 2004′s “Eighth World Wonder“, making TV appearances on VH1′s Celebrity Fit Club and earning a feature in People Magazine. But she’s no one trick pony, either—the Idol alum has a new single on the way, a new ABC show co-host gig alongside Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn and a recently-founded entertainment company. We sat down with Locke to talk about selecting the new single, the challenges of balancing her television and musical careers and her plans for I Am Entertainment.

OS: What sparked your decision to have fans vote on your songs to determine your next single?

KL: I think I was just trying to engage my fans, and I think a lot of the time when it comes to music selection the fans get left out of that process. That decision is left to the powers that be, and sometimes even the artist doesn’t get to have a big say-so in that, depending on the situation.…So I was thinking I’d have to pick the three singles that I really liked, and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just engage the fans and let them help me really narrow it down?” So that’s kind of how we came up with that whole idea, because I think the fans like to be engaged and they like to be a part of that process.

OS: Do you have a favorite that you’re hoping the fans pick?

KL: I have to say not really, because the three that I’m putting up I’m big fans of. It’s one of those things where you can’t decide which one, so it’s like, “Okay, if either one of these make it I’ll be completely satisfied.” [Laughs]

OS: So tell us about I Am Entertainment—what are your plans for that company?

KL: Well, I Am Entertainment is an entertainment company. One of the reasons I wanted to create the company is a) for artists–whether it’s consulting with artists on their project or helping them figure out what the next steps are, and really giving artists great, sound advice about the business of their career. I think that a lot of artists are out there trying to figure it out on their own, when we all can use a little guidance. I think that I can give some good advice, considering that I’ve been in the industry now for eight and a half years. I’ve learned a few things. I’m not saying that I’ve learned everything by any stretch of the imagination, because I am still learning things. But I wanted to create a company that is for the artist….because the sky is really the limit in terms of the different areas and genres that you can go into….I kind of want the company to just be what it is, about entertainment, no matter what capacity or genre of the business it’s in.

OS: When you released your most recent song through Dream Merchant 21, there was a “singles clause” in your contract and you were very conscious of the fact that we live in a singles-driven industry these days. How does that effect you when you’re working on new material?

KL: I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think there’s much of a difference…even when you’re only recording a single. When I first started this process and I didn’t really know exactly what my next move was going to be, I basically was like, “Okay, well I’m just going to write every day.” So what happened when I did start the company and I did decide that I was going to go independent and release the next single, I looked up and I already had ten songs recorded. So I’m like, “I have to pick one single, A, and B, what am I going to do with the rest of these songs?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had enough songs for an album, so do we release an album or do we only release a single? I think doing the singles only thing kind of works in the respect that it gives you time to see what the single’s going to do… I think in another respect, it keeps the fans on their toes.  They know that next single is coming every six to eight months, they don’t have to wait two years to get another single. I think it’ s a great way to keep the artist out there on a consistent basis with new, fresh music and new sounds or something different. But at the end of the day, you can say, “Hey, I’ve got ten songs, let’s do an album,” and that gives you a little bit of flexibility I think in how you want to work it and what your plan is and what your goal is.

OS: You’ve had more and more co-writing credits as your career progresses. Do you find yourself becoming more comfortable with songwriting as time goes on?

KL: Yeah, absolutely. I went from not writing at all to writing five days a week. I think what people don’t understand is the writing process is so mentally exhausting some days. Some days are better than others—some days you go in there and you have these great ideas and it just kind of spews out of you, and then other days it’s a little more work and it’s a little more taxing. Especially when you’re writing from the heart and writing from your experience. But I think you get better at it, and you find out what you’re strengths are. Then it’s all about being partnered with the right person that makes you even more comfortable…

OS: In addition to your music, you’re also lined up to co-host a new ABC show—The Revolution—can you tell us what that’s going to be about?

KL: I’m so excited! The Revolution—which by the way, that’ s a working title, I don’t know if they’re completely sold on that title yet—basically is a lifestyle transformation show. It’s going to be on five days a week. When you talk about health and lifestyle, it kind of encompasses everything. I think it’s a feel-good show, it’s an uplifting show. It’s about giving people takeaways on a daily basis that they can actually transform their lives. I think sometimes we get overwhelmed with biting off more than we can chew, and we want a quick fix, and we want it to happen overnight. Change takes time, and that’s what our show is about. We follow our guests for a total of five months, and watch them transform their lives in a way that the viewing audience will be like, “Oh my gosh, I can totally do this.” That’s what we want to leave people feeling, whether it’s their health, their finances, their bedroom, their family—whatever it is they want to do, and however they want to transform their life, we’ll give them daily takeaways… and those things will set our viewers up for success instead of setting them up for failure. That’s what the show is about.

OS: Helping people must be something that’s important to you, don’t you do a lot of charity work?

KL: I do a lot of charity work with one charity in particular, I work with One Heartland. I’ve been working with them for six years—seven years maybe—and I recently became a member of the board, which was very exciting. When I first started working with the organization their focus was pediatric AIDS, mainly focusing on mother to child transmission. And because of wonderful research, mother to child transmission is really down. It’s actually something we can prevent from happening. So we recently revamped our program to include children who are socially ostracized, the LGBT community, children who have other terminal illnesses or just have life-threatening illnesses or who just have liveable illnesses that they’re dealing with. Because what we do is we send kids to camp every year for free. What we’ve learned is that camp is such a healing process, and our camp is a safe camp where they can go and meet other kids who are in the same situation and understand that they’re not in this world alone. Working with them has really changed my life, it’s been such a positive experience… I love it because I love to watch the organization grow into something bigger.

OS: This isn’t the first time you’ve been on television, you’ve appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, Family Feud and of course, Idol. What are some of the difficulties of reconciling your music career with your television appearances?

KL: You know, I don’t see that as a difficulty at all. All the jobs feed the greater good, and they all kind of feed the same dream. I think that being on television five days a week is only going to help grow my music career. People will always know me as a singer, because that’s what I do. That’s my talent, and that’s how I came onto the scene. I think that now, it’s just about me broadening my career and the scope of my career into different areas.

OS: Idol alums Matt Rogers and Kimberly Caldwell have also tried their hands at hosting TV shows. Is there something about the experience on Idol that predispositions you guys for television hosting?

KL: I think there’s a lot that prepares you for that role, I just think that it’s recognizing that. A lot of contestants get off the show and they only focus on the music, and they only focus on singing. And that’s great, if that’s what they choose to do. But there’s a plethora of opportunities out there that you can take, and one of them is being a personality on television. Because that’s where your audience came from—you just spent seven months on television in front of the world, basically.

OS: With the show, the production company, and singing, you must be the type of person who just can’t sit still for too long.

KL: [Laughs] I love it, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Voting on Kimberley’s new tracks ends today, so hurry on over to her Facebook page to help pick her next single!

Adele Proves That It’s Talent, Not Just Sex, That Sells

We’ve been fans of chart-topping British songstress Adele since her debut album 19—she’s hyper talented, likeable and something about her just seems… different. We couldn’t quite figure out what sets her apart until last week, when XL Recordings founder Richard Russell pointed it out: Adele sells music based on the merits of her songs alone. “The whole message with [Adele] is that it’s just music… there are no gimmicks, no selling of sexuality.” Russell told The Guardian, adding that this tendency to over-sexualize—as opposed to focusing on the music—has led to “boring, crass and unoriginal” songs from female artists.

We’re sure Russell doesn’t mean to say that Adele isn’t sexy—anyone who’s seen her rock a microphone knows for a fact that she is. But the way she’s marketed her success on her rise to the top is almost exactly the opposite of the way other female stars conduct their business. Need proof? Look no further than your nearest magazine stand and check out the past several months of Rolling Stone. Rihanna graced the April 1 issue in shorts that, quite honestly, could have been painted on, and Katy Perry wore nothing but underwear and a come-hither stare in her most recent cover feature, “Sex, God, and Katy Perry.” (Yeah, why even make a mention of the music?) Either of these images would be right at home in Playboy, but isn’t RS a music magazine? Shouldn’t the focus of these cover stories be on these ladies’ songs and not their other, um, assets? Not to get all neo-feminist on everyone’s asses, but we doubt that the editors were asking Keith Richards to strip down for his cover shoot. (And actually, thank God for that.)

In an earlier interview with Q Magazine, Adele pondered her career and how sexifying it just wouldn’t work. “I can’t imagine having guns and whipped cream coming out of my tits,” she said. “Even if I had Rihanna’s body, I’d still be making the music I make and that don’t go together.” The girl’s got a point—revealing photos and ridiculous costume choices aside, her reign at the top of the charts goes beyond promotion and into the music. Like her image, the entire message of her runaway success 21 is contrary to most of the women who dominate Top 40 radio. “Rolling in the Deep” is a song of power and liberation, a stark contrast to RiRi glorifying bondage in “S&M” or J. Lo’s party anthem “On the Floor.” Come to think of it, there may only be one other Top 40 female who regularly keeps it PG while owning the charts, and that’s everyone’s favorite country sweetheart Taylor Swift.

Maybe it has to do with talent. After all, no offense to Rihanna and Katy Perry, but these are the facts: Adele is on a completely different plane when it comes to her writing ability and vocal range. Perhaps there’s a sliding scale of sexism in pop where talented female musicians prove their worth through music, and hot girls who can carry a tune get dressed up in barely-there outfits, hide behind a layer of vocal effects and rely on publicity stunts like making out with chicks onstage to promote their new material. You have to wonder: Is the world missing out on the next Janis Joplin or Chrissie Hynde because they don’t want to prance around in a thong and machine gun bra?

While we’re hopeful that Richard Russell is right and Adele will help alter how the industry markets female acts, change is slow in the music industry so it’s hard to be optimistic. But at the very least she’s stepping in the right direction, forcing label execs to look beyond the spandex-clad size zeroes for hit songs and to give consumers a little more credit. There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy pop song, and sure, sometimes it’s funny to watch people squirt whipped cream out of their tits. But maybe Adele will help spawn a new generation of songstresses who write less about getting sleazy and more about things that matter. Because while no one is arguing that sex sells, sometimes skill sells too.

PyInfamous Hits The Stage With N.E.R.D. And PacDiv

Mississippi’s own PyInfamous won big this May thanks to the “Coors Light Search for the Coldest” Competition. With the effortless rhymes and chilled-out horns on his track “Bliss (Cooler Than This),” PyInfamous took the competition’s South Channel and earned an opening slot for hip hop heavyweights N.E.R.D. and PacDiv when their tour rolled through Atlanta. We caught up with PyInfamous after his performance to talk about the show, the song and his plans for winning the Grand Prize—a performance at ESSENCE® Music Festival in New Orleans!

OS: Why did you decide that “Bliss (Cooler Than This)” was the right song for you to enter in the “Coors Light Search for the Coldest” South Channel?

PI: The “Bliss” record has a universal feel to it. My homie Colin Dunbar from Canada did the beat, which is outstanding, and when Kerry Thomas came up with the singing piece on the hook, I knew it was phenomenal. The record had been done for a while, so I thought that I would see what everyone else thought about it, plus it seemed to work well with the theme of the contest.

OS: What are some ways you promoted the song and encouraged your fans to support it?

PI: Ironically enough, I didn’t promote the song at all. I’ve done well in the past in regular OurStage Channels with several Top 10 finishes, and I never really promoted the songs. Plus, I honestly figured that the type of music I make, being less “commercial,” wouldn’t do well in a national contest like this one, especially since it doesn’t sound like anything that’s currently getting burn on the radio.

OS: How did you react when you heard that your song was the winner of the South Channel?

PI: I didn’t really believe it. It didn’t really hit me until I got to Atlanta. I was definitely appreciative of OurStage, the fans, Coors Light and everyone else involved, but it took quite awhile for me to take it all in.

OS: What was the experience of opening for PacDiv and N.E.R.D. like?

PI: It was insane. I’ve done shows with large crowds before, but nothing with two national acts that were as popular as PacDiv and N.E.R.D. It was almost like I was splitting time being an artist and being a fan. Both PacDiv and N.E.R.D. absolutely killed it. I had never seen Pharrell live, and I was quite surprised by the way he rocked. I also have to shout out the crowd in Atlanta. They rocked extra hard with me, which was definitely a plus. It’s always great when the crowd is responsive and having a good time.

PyInfamous and PacDiv

I had only heard a little of PacDiv’s music, but what I heard was dope. I’ve been a fan of N.E.R.D.’s music for a while. I appreciate and respect the diversity in their music and their willingness to make the type of music they want to make, regardless of what is trending in the industry.

OS: How did you like playing in Atlanta? Have you played shows there before?

PI: Atlanta was extremely dope. I had rocked there a few years ago at Apache Café, but it’s been a while since I’ve been back to perform. The crowd was tremendous when I was on stage and afterward. I made my way through the crowd and talked to quite a few folks who said they felt the performance, which was good to hear.

OS: What was your favorite part of the experience?

PI: Performing. The best part of music is performing. I love interacting with the crowd—call and response, feeling their energy. There is nothing like it the world. And it’s always great when you have a chance to talk to folks after the show one-on-one to hear how they felt about the set.

OS: What are your plans for promoting yourself to earn that Grand Prize—a performance at ESSENCE® Music Festival in New Orleans?

PI: We have a couple of tricks up our sleeve for that, but I don’t want to ruin it for the fans. We will use a mix of traditional and nontraditional marketing methods though, all of which will be focused on engaging fans on a high level.

OS: What kind of impact do you think this will have on your career?

PI: That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know. I have seen other artists win contests and nothing happen, so I can’t say. I just plan to enjoy the moment and do everything I can to pull out a win. Whatever happens, I still plan to give the fans great music and great live performances, wherever those shows are.

OS: Any shout outs for the fans who voted for “Bliss (Cooler Than This)”?

PI: I would like to shout out to everyone who voted for the record and want to ask for your support again when voting resumes. I definitely want to shout out to the judges for selecting the record and all the folks who came out to the show in Atlanta or watched it on Ustream. We’re almost there! We just have to push toward the finish!

Check out highlights from the Atlanta show featuring PyInfamous, N.E.R.D. and PacDiv below and don’t forget to support your favorite artist when the Grand Prize judging begins June 10th!

Get Lyrical: Calico Trail’s “Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime”

We’ve all heard the old joke: “What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your dog back, your wife back, your house back, your kids back…” Okay, sure. A lot of country songs deal with some pretty similar themes, and they aren’t always the cheeriest. But that’s why we count on bands like Calico Trail to mix things up for us. Their song “Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime” is anything but depressing. The Nashville-based songwriting collective uses it as a celebration of the joys of, well, being in a small town during the summer.

Calico Trail knows what makes us love the hot summer months, and finds a way to reference all of the things that make the season so universally appealing while rhyming them in a charming fashion. “Fishing poles” are paired with “swimming holes,” “flip flops” are rhymed with  “bikini tops,” and “lawn chairs” are matched up with “county fairs”. While there are a few southern summer standards that aren’t too familiar to us (“big ol’ tractors driving right through town” for example) the song’s lyrics still resonate. They also leave us with a few unanswered questions — such as, is the South really a place where “ice creams cones are fried”? Because that sounds right up our alley.

Much like small towns, Calico Trail’s song is enjoyable because they keep it simple. The twangy chorus is only one line, “Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime,” and its laid-back delivery begs for you to sing along. But don’t let the folksy chorus fool you, the verses of the track are so packed with colorful, sunny imagery that the seven-piece can take a break for a few lines. Can’t you just feel the summer sun shining on your skin as cool lake water laps around your ankles? Sounds pretty relaxing, no? After hearing this bad boy, we just might pack our bags and head for Tennessee. So roll down your windows, hit the highway and give “Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime” a listen below!

Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at!


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