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Needle in the Haystack Follow Up: Cameron Rafati

It’s been a great week with Needle in the Haystack artist Cameron Rafati! Cameron was generous enough to allow us to give away the free download “xOx” from his new album! It’s definitely a great track to have on your holiday play list! Hope you had time to check out the interview on MTVmusic.com. If not, no worries you can link to it here. We also conducted a phone interview with Cameron the other day that we’ve put together in a video below. Check it out and let us know what you think of this well respected OurStage artist!

The Life and Trying Times of Kanye West

There’s famous, there’s infamous and there’s Kanye West. The hip hop star embodies both while somehow transcending them, too. What other rapper in the history of the world can claim to have brought about the worst moment of a US President’s term as, according to George W. Bush, West did when he accused him of not caring about black people following the national government’s delayed response after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the US Gulf Coast in 2005.

Like Eminem and Jay-Z, West is a rap rarity, successfully negotiating the tightrope that connects commercial and critical success with street cred. Pop Star Kanye has sold millions of albums and in seven years, made a dozen trips to the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, produced music for Brandy and Mariah Carey, and collaborated with Madonna and Maroon 5′s Adam Levine. Meanwhile, Critical Darling Kanye has won fourteen GRAMMYs and seen three of his first four albums nominated for Album of the Year. His fifth effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released on November 22, has received unanimous praise, and Rolling Stone gave it a rare five-star review. And Street Kanye, as producer and/or performer, gets to keep company with the likes of Lil Wayne, Eminem and Jay-Z—with whom he’ll release Watch the Throne in 2011—on record.

Then there’s a fourth side to West, the one that too often overshadows all the others: Troublemaker Kanye. He’s the poor sport who doesn’t know how to lose gracefully, or silently, and stormed the stage at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards when Justice and Simian’s “We Are Your Friends” won Best Video over his “Touch the Sky.” The conspiracy theorist who screamed racism and threatened to never again attend the MTV Video Music Awards in 2007 when Britney Spears was chosen to open the show over him and he lost in all five categories for which he was nominated.

He’s the controversy-baiting narcissist who posed as Jesus Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone in January of 2006 (complete with a crown of thorns) and whose latest album cover features an animated nude West being straddled by a winged female, also naked. The outspoken challenger of authority who slammed President Bush on national television during the live broadcast of the Concert for Hurricane Relief benefit for victims of Katrina. The reportedly drunken fool who most famously (and infamously) interrupted Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video acceptance speech (for “You Belong With Me”) at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to anoint competitor Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” clip “one of the best videos of all time.”

West wouldn’t be arguably the most complicated guy in hip hop if he could take it and dish it out in equal measures. He took his lumps after the 2009 VMAs when he was criticized by the likes of Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Katy Perry and called an “asshole” off the record by President Barack Obama. And even as the three singles released prior to Fantasy failed to make much of a chart impact, he kept his cool.

But on November 12, West finally lost it. The man who raised his blood pressure past boiling point?: Today show host Matt Lauer, who, during a sit down with West, dared to show clips of the Taylor Swift incident and the interview in which Bush declared being called a racist by West to be the “all-time low” point of his presidency. Complaining (via Twitter, of course) about the “very brutal” interview during which he admonished Lauer for running the clips, West pulled out of a Today performance scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving and tweeted, “I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the source of West’s misconduct. Perhaps he’s one of those temperamental talents, capricious and unpredictable, a volcano always on the verge of erupting. Or maybe he’s just a bully with extremely thin skin, who screams and runs for cover when the tables are turned against him. There have been rumors of a drinking problem (which some say led to his antics at last year’s VMAs). He’s had to cope with the sudden death of his mother, Donda, in 2007 due to complications following cosmetic surgery. And after the Today show blow-up, he found himself without an official mouthpiece when his publicist resigned after just three days on the job.

Of course, there’s a new record to promote, so the Kanye West Show must go on, temper tantrums, contradictory behavior, brilliant music and all. “I don’t hate Matt Lauer. We don’t promote hate. That’s the whole point!!! I promote love and truth! … All positive energy … all smiles. Much love to Matt and the whole Today Show,” he tweeted after his showdown with Lauer. He might never practice what he preaches or do unto others as he would have them do unto him, but then if he did, his beautiful dark twisted fantasy wouldn’t be so compelling.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is in stores now.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Punk on the Rocks: Is Epitaph Records The New Black?

If you’ve been keeping up with the punk news cycle this year, you may have noticed an interesting trend. While it’s not unusual  to see major label acts switch to indie labels in these times of industry turmoil, it is unusual to see multiple bands leaving their labels and congregating on one roster. The biggest trend in punk music this year? Leaving your label for Epitaph Records.

Weezer started the trend late last year with their departure from DGC/Interscope.  The band had been recording for DGC/ Interscope and their parent company Geffen Records for sixteen years. In August 2010, Weezer announced that their next album Hurley would be released on Epitaph. They were followed by Pennywise, who returned to Epitaph in 2010 after a one record deal with MySpace Records for their 2007 release Free to the People, and post-hardcore outfit Alesana, who left indie Fearless Records for Epitaph in November of this year.

Hurley, Weezer's first Epitaph album.

So what’s the big deal with Epitaph? Why are artists flocking there? There is certainly the cool factor of getting to work with Bad Religion guitarist Brad Gurewitz, who owns the label. There’s also good faith involved in signing Epitaph. You don’t get to be one of the most respected indie labels of all time by mistreating your artists. It’s possible that these artists thought they would get more creative control and collaboration by being on Epitaph. It seems that that’s the reason Weezer decided to go indie. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo stated “…We’ve had a really good creative collaboration with Brett Gurewitz and the other people at the label, and I’m looking forward to collaboration with other like-minded alternative music fans at the label.”

Of course, not everyone is on the Epitaph love train. Post-hardcore band Escape The Fate recently released their third album, the self-titled Escape The Fate, on major label DGC/Interscope Records, the very same label that Weezer joined Epitaph to break free from. Escape The Fate seems to be enjoying the switch from indie to major, selling 18,500 copies of their new album in it’s first week, but one can’t help but wonder if they’ll be rejoining the indie label ranks in the future.

What do you think has made Epitaph records so popular recently? Let us know in the comments!

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Thom Yorke building massive human statue to fight climate change

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is looking to recruit 2,000 volunteers to build a massive human statue to fight climate change this weekend. The statue will fight climate change by punching the clouds with its 4,000 fists. OK, not really. It’s more of a symbolic fight. Yorke’s human statue is one of 16 planned around the world to be photographed by a satellite from space. The event will raise awareness around the United Nations’ meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss an international climate treaty.

Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze unite for “The Suburbs” video

Arcade Fire has released their video for “The Suburbs,” and it’s not a cheery tale of Bed, Bath & Beyond and Applebee’s. The video is directed by Spike Jonze, and, much like his work in Where The Wild Things Are, combines youth, nostalgia, and unexpected violence. Watch it below.

The Bad

Quincy Jones gives Kanye West the big diss

Don’t tell Quincy Jones that he has anything in common with Kanye West. Them’s fighting words. In an interview with Us Magazine, Jones responded to the observation that he and West are both hugely successful producers with total disdain. “No way. Did he write for a symphony orchestra? Does he write for a jazz orchestra? Come on man, he’s just a rapper.” West has yet to respond to this ego bruise publicly, but if Twitter suddenly explodes, you’ll know why.

The Ugly

Kings of Leon looking for ugly people

Calling all pockmarked, scarred and sundry busted people! Kings of Leon are looking for individuals with physical deformities for their next video shoot. Has anyone ever made a joke about your face breaking their camera? Do horses whinny when you pass by? Capitalize on your plainness—the band is paying $300 a day. Uh … are they sure this isn’t the video for “Use Somebody”?

Miscellany

Judges Needed For MTV’s Score SKINS Music Project

Song placement in TV shows has long been a great way to expose up-and-coming artists to new audiences and, in some cases, propel these artists into superstar status. Take for instance shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, and One Tree Hill, all of which boosted the careers of artists like Bon Iver, Snow Patrol and Ray LaMontagne to name a few. Now, MTV is bringing England’s hit teen drama SKINS to the eyes and ears of US audiences, and is looking for undiscovered musical talent to include on the show. The MTV “Score SKINS Music Project” aims to give OurStage artists the chance to have their music featured when the show airs in 2011. Artists started submitting their material in the beginning of November with the hope that their song will make it to the airwaves. The competition is CLOSED to submissions and is entering the final stages of judging. Artists need YOUR votes now more than ever to make it to the ears of the music supervisors at MTV. By judging in the MTV “Score SKINS Music Project” you can be part of the process that helps break an artist to thousands of new listeners. You just might discover some great new music along the way. Click HERE to begin judging in the MTV “Score SKINS Music Project” today.

Behind the Mic: Should You Ever “Pay to Play?”

It’s a common debate among up-and-coming artists: Should you ever “pay to play?”

The term carries a negative stigma in the music world, synonymous with sketchy promoters and misleading scams. Often times, the person who asks your band to play will require you to sell tickets in advance. Whatever money is not sold through tickets to the show is money that your band will owe back to the promoter/booking agent. The key here is to be absolutely sure in either your band’s ability to draw or your ability to promote to people who don’t know your music. The last thing you want to do is end up paying $300 out of your pocket and not bringing a soul to the show.

Beware: many promoters will require you to pay for tickets that you can't sell.

But could it possibly be beneficial for your band to shell out a few extra bucks in order to get onto a good show? This week, we’re going to take a look at some of the pros and cons of paying to play, as well as some of the warning signs of a scam.

The Good

Let’s say one of your favorite national acts has confirmed a tour date in a nearby city. The venue is on the lookout for a local act or two to open the show and help bring in a local audience. If your band has the chops to impress the club promoter/booking agent and the money to buy onto the show, it may be a worthwhile investment. If the headlining band has a big following, you could potentially end up playing a sold-out show with a band you love and earning brand new fans just from one performance.

The Bad

We all know that being in a band is expensive. From merch costs to travel costs and everything in between, money is always tight for up-and-coming acts. In addition to that, any money that is made from music or merch sales is usually put right back into the band. Because of this, blowing hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to play one show is not typically a good idea. You run the risk of putting you and your band in debt and for little or nothing in return, as well as angering the person who asked you to play if you don’t follow through on your end of the bargain.

Think about it—it’s the promoter’s job to advertise the show and get a crowd in the building. Why should you be paying to do their job?

Is that promoter really a thief in disguise?

Warning Signs

Though we’d like to believe that everyone in the music industry is there to help us, the sad truth is that there are people out there who will try to use you or trick you for money. You should be wary of any potential opportunity that appears to be a scam to avoid putting your band into a bad situation.

If your band receives an invitation to a Battle of the Bands or an audition show for a festival, always read the invitation carefully before responding. Does it sound like a stock letter that could be sent to anyone? Do they name your band or song titles specifically or explain why you were selected to receive the letter? What promises are they making to your band about judges, label representation or prizes? You should always research whatever company reached out to you by visiting their Web site and speaking with other local bands who may have been invited or participated in their events in the past.

When you’re dealing with band money, you should always be overly cautious. Never take a risk on drawing for a show if you don’t honestly think you can pull through. Don’t fall for the “I can make you famous” line or trust in a company who name drops to get your money. You’re in the music business for the same reason as everyone else: because you have a dream of making it big. While it’s important to keep that dream in sight, you should always be smart and responsible about your decisions, and willing to accept any potential consequences.

What do you think? Is it smart to pay to play? Let us know in the comments below!

Tune Up: Korg Pandora Review

Guitar, bass and keyboard players are always looking for new toys and better accessories. Sure, the actual instrument is important, and the amplification equally so. However, do you need to spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on a collection of effects pedals and rack units? If you read our post about the Line 6 Toneport/POD series, you know the value of a multi-effects processor. The Korg Pandora is a multi-effects processor that comes in a compact unit, contains a huge collection of presets/effects and even allows you to string together your own presets and formations.

This unit can be used effectively to process almost any guitar/bass sound you may need. However, in this case it is compact and easy to use (similar size to a standard tuner), but often doesn’t work well in lieu of an amp (like the Line 6 did). However, this unit makes up for it in its versatility as a practice/rehearsal module.

The line contains several different models, most particularly the guitar unit. There is also a bass unit which contains some awesome effects specifically for bass use, but the unit is discontinued. To start, we’ll give you the specs/stats:

-REMS amp modeling technology (Korg’s exclusive)

-180 distinct modules (amp models, cabinet simulaters, pedal effects, studio units)

-Space for 200 presets (100 provided, 100 user-created)

-Aux In for play-along’s (with transposition capability and bass removal)

-Phrase Trainer (looping for rehearsal)

-USB for simple audio interface features

While there are a bunch more specifications, we’ve pointed these out because they really encompass the positive attributes of the unit. The amp modeling technology is really quite realistic (especially for a small unit) and the sheer number of arrangable modules allows you to easily fill up the 200 preset slots. Of course, where the unit stands out is its rehearsal/practice amp features. Simply plug in some headphones (allowing you to practice without disturbing anyone around you), and play along to a recording using the Aux input. This also allows you to transpose to a new key for easier solo’s and even gives you a bass removal option (if you’d like to play along with your own bassline). Finally, the phrase trainer allows you to loops sections and get everything perfect. The Pandora did try to include an audio interface connectibility option, but it’s not quite as versatile as, say, the Line 6 Tone Ports.

Overall it’s a great unit with awesome rehearsal features. We’d recommend being weary when recording, however, as the unit can be a little noisy and the signal a little unpredictable. At the end of the day, it’s used specifically for rehearsal and live settings. In these realms, it absolutely delivers.

YOU Help Decide Which Artist Becomes The Next Intel Superstar

The Intel “Superstars” National Finals Competition is comprised of 120 artists; the combination of the Top 20 ranked artists from six genre-based competitions in the Intel “Superstars” Latin, Urban, Singer-Songwriter, Rock, Pop and Country Channels. The Top 5 artists in each channel walked away with PCs equipped with Intel® Core™ Processor technology and Cakewalk music creation software. The competition is in its final stages and the Grand Prize of $10,000 is at stake. Now more than ever, your votes are needed to help the best up-and-coming artists make it to the top. In January, a panel of music industry judges including Bruce Tyler, former EVP of Sony Music, will choose the Grand Prize winner from the Top 20 artists in the channel, and you can help them get there. Head over to the Intel “Superstars” National Finals Competition now, vote for your favorite independent artists and discover some incredible music along the way. Stay tuned to the OurStage blog in January to find out which OurStage artist is crowned the next Intel “Superstar”.

Drive-By Truckers Gear Up to Deliver ‘Go-Go Boots’

The Drive-By Truckers are ready to deliver the band’s next album, Go-Go Boots, less than a year after releasing The Big To-Do.

So what’s the rush?

“It is going to be our Valentine’s Day record,” Chief Trucker Patterson Hood says. “We are really excited about it because we think this is the one that’s hopefully going to take it to the next level.”

Not that Drive-By Truckers have been any slouches. The Big To-Do debuted at No. 22 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and No. 1 on the Indie Chart. Credit Hood, co-founder Mike Cooley and their band mates for not wavering from the band’s distinctive three-guitar line up since the band’s 1998 formation. The result has been an ultra-loyal fan base that has propelled the alt-country, southern-rock band up the charts and onto a growing number of critics “best of” lists.

“You know, I wouldn’t trade [the song] ‘Birthday Boy’ for a dozen of ‘Faithfully,’” says Hood mentioning a top-charting ballad by the rock band Journey. “The thing about the ballads is that you play them at those moments when you have an arena full of screaming girls. We don’t have either the ballads or the screaming girls.

Perhaps not now but we’ll see what happens when the fan base grows even stronger especially now that the Truckers’ spent part of the summer touring with their personal musical hero Tom Petty.

“That was a great experience and I think everyone really enjoyed it,” says Hood noting that at one time the Truckers’ had vowed not to take more opening gigs but quickly relented when Petty came calling. “I think it made us a better band, too.”

Fans will see that during the tour for Go-Go Boots when the band’s set list will draw heavily from the rock sounds presented on The Big To-Do and what Hood calls “the country, soul, murder ballad record” Go-Go Boots.

“We’ve worked real hard and I feel like it’s been rewarding and rewarded, too,” says Hood. “You know the economy is stuck right now and….we have built up a good enough set that people feel a little better spending their hard earned [money] to hear us. You know, we’re pretty consistent. Our show changes every night..and there are a lot of things about it that are in constant flux. We take it pretty seriously to make sure it’s 100% every night.

Most of the songs for both records were recorded at the same time, says Hood. The band decided to make two albums out of the works rather than leave some songs out or release a “ridiculously long, sprawling record.”

The songs on Go-Go Boots were influenced heavily by the band’s love for the music of Bobbie Womack, Eddie Hinton and soulful music often classified as the “Muscle Shoals (Alabama) sound.”

“Those influences loom very large on this record,” says Hood. “We have all been obsessed Eddie Hinton fans for years.”

In fact, the band covers the Hinton songs “Everybody Needs Love” and “Where’s Eddie?” which Hinton wrote and the British singer Lulu recorded in 1969.

“‘Everybody Needs Love’ doesn’t sound like something I’ve ever written, but it sure sounds like something I wish I could have written,” says Hood. “I feel as strongly performing that song as anything I’ve written. It’s kind of fun shining a light on [those songs] and hopefully encouraging more people to check Eddie’s music out….It was a labor of love recording those songs.”

[Editor’s Note: The Drive-By Truckers will release a 10-inch record with the songs “Thanksgiving Filter” and “Used to Be a Cop,” on November 26 in celebration of Record Store Day. Both songs will be included on Go-Go Boots.  The band will also release a film, The Secret to a Happy Ending, about how the American South shaped rock ‘n’ roll. For more details, check out the band’s Web site.

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Riders on the Storm


Come Wind has successfully saddled the ol’ music-beast, and it is with true vigor that they must now hold on for their dear lives.” That’s just one of the many head-scratching statements you’ll read on Come Wind’s bio. It’s best to skip straight to the music, where the band’s euphoria translates to an intense, ambitious and visceral rock odyssey. “All The Same” feels like a war cry, where piercing guitars and galloping bass effectively shock and awe the listener. Come Wind’s arrangements are complex, multi-rhythmic, mathy tempests. “Life and Life Only” is jam packed with parts: sinewy guitars, battering drums, rolling bass lines. Their fitfulness is contagious—it’s impossible to listen without feeling both anxious and elated. With Come Wind, the ol’ music beast might rear and kick, but at least there’s never a dull moment.

 


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