The Top 20 Underrated Artists Of ACL Fest 2014
Who doesn’t love a music festival, right? It’s all the best parts of a concert–music, friends, alcohol and drugs…just lots and lots more of them! Each year, more and more of them are popping up all over the place, over 60 happen in the U.S. each year alone. As you probably already know, one of the biggest and baddest is always the ACL Festival. Inspired by the PBS concert series of the same name, the festival is produced by Austin-based company C3 Presents, which also produces Lollapalooza (see our list of picks for The Top 20 Underrated Artists here).
The 13th annual fest is to be one of the most incredible line ups this year, and once again takes place in Austin’s Zilker Park. We’re talking about Eminem, Skrillex, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Beck, Calvin Harris, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, Broken Bells, Foster The People, Zedd, and tons more! Is it just us, or does it seem like the year that each fest is trying to out do and top each other? You can see the entire lineup here.
A few larger music websites will publish guides which present a good summary to the impressive bill, but who doesn’t already know about most of these celebrity performers? Yet one of the best reasons to go is to discover new music! For each of these well known artists, there are a ton of massively talented, vastly underrated ones they don’t get the attention they deserve. Anyone who has ever been or considered going to experience a massive event like this knows what it feels like when looking towards the bottom of the schedule. It can almost feel like reading a foreign language, seeing bands listed that you have never heard of. Almost everyone will want to watch performers like Chvrches, Interpol, Childish Gambino, Spoon, Phantogram, Capital Cities, Sam Smith, Real Estate, tUnE-yArDs and Lana Del Rey. That’s why we want to draw your attention to this list and that’s why we are here to help.
Live music festivals are still, despite all the advanced technology of 2014, one of the best methods of discovering new music. What happens if you don’t have time to catch an artist you wanted to see, or if it’s too crowded? And everyone loves an underdog! Besides, these some artists that could very well be at the top of the lineup next year or the year after.
These are artists that are already turning up everywhere this year, and others we expect to follow them very soon. The list includes everything from pop to hip-hop to EDM to rock to folk. So in our best and on going effort to cover the best in up and coming music, we present our picks for The Top 20 Most Underrated Artists Of ACL Fest 2014. The list is not presented in any logical or sequential order whatsoever. You can also see our list of picks for The Top 20 Underrated Artists Of ACL Fest 2013 here. See the entire lineup and schedule here.
1. The Hunts (Weekend 1 Only)
For Fans Of: Dresses, Air Traffic Controller, Coasts, Hunter Hunted, Bad Suns, Air Review
With a harmony-laced take on alt-folk that’s both breathtaking and sweetly ethereal, The Hunts are a Chesapeake, Virginia-based band made up of seven brothers and sisters who’ve been playing music together almost their entire lives. Ranging from ages 16 to 24, twin sisters Jenni and Jessi and their five brothers Josh, Jonathan, Jordan, Justin, and Jamison all learned to sing and play violin as little kids and spent much of their childhood performing throughout their community. After widening their following and playing at theaters and festivals around the country — and teaching themselves to play instruments like mandolin, piano, ukulele, banjo, and drums — The Hunts started experimenting with songwriting and soon brought to life a batch of songs that reveal their sophisticated sense of melody and undeniably dreamy innocence.
The Hunts’ debut EP for Cherrytree Records/Interscope, Life Was Simple, features lead single “Make This Leap,” a lilting piece of indie-folk built on layered harmonies, intricately textured acoustic instrumentation, and lyrics that gracefully shift from melancholy to triumphant. With Josh and Jenni taking turns as lead vocalist, The Hunts sustain that dynamic throughout Life Was Simple, often turning their shared memories into songs that capture heartache and wonder with a wide-eyed but wistful elegance. “Growing up the way we did, we had to learn to make do with what we had, so the stories from that time are incredibly special to us,” says Jessi, who explains that all seven members of The Hunts write each song together. “A lot of the time we write about what we remember from being young — the things we went through that have drawn us together and stuck in our hearts and really made us who we are.”
Raised in “a little tiny house but with lots of land,” each of The Hunts learned to play violin as students in the music school run by their mother (a classically trained violinist) and picked up guitar with the help of their father (an arborist who taught himself to play by ear). “Our mom and dad played together as a duo for a long time, and then they added each of us kids into the group whenever we were able to play along,” explains Jessi. “We started performing out in the community, playing everything from patriotic songs to Irish folk songs to songs from Disney movies,” she adds. As the kids grew as musicians and started exploring different genres, The Hunts began introducing new instruments to their repertoire. “If there was something that caught our interest, our mom was really quick to put that instrument in our hands,” says Jessi. “Like when Jordan realized he liked the drums, she found him a drum set at a yard sale, and he taught himself to play. She really encouraged us to pursue whatever we were drawn to.”
In 2007, after years of playing locally, The Hunts began landing gigs in other states and averaging about a hundred performances a year. “We’d pack everything into a van and drive hours and hours to whatever state, and after a while it evolved a bit, and eventually the van turned into an RV,” says Josh. Along with developing as a touring act, The Hunts began trying their hands at songwriting, gradually building up a selection of original songs true to their folk roots but infused with a fresh sensibility with elements of both Americana and indie-inspired folk. Rather than posting their music online, The Hunts created a demo CD that made its way through the music community and ultimately wound up in the hands of producer Mark Carman, who invited them down to Nashville to make an album in his studio.
Recorded live in just four days and released in late 2012, “We Were Young” features ten original songs that would soon greatly expand The Hunts’ reach. “When we put out the album, we sent a few songs to a radio station here that plays local bands for an hour every Sunday night,” recalls Jenni. “We were expecting to wait until that Sunday to see if they played us, but instead they put ‘Make This Leap’ into daily rotation, which was so exciting.” The track quickly attracted the attention of New York City-based Songs Music Publishing, which in turn paved the way for The Hunts’ signing with Cherrytree Records/Interscope.
Although their tastes now run from folk-rock to noise-pop, The Hunts hold true to a songwriting process that taps into each member’s unique strengths but remains intensely collaborative. “Everyone’s very much deeply involved every step of the way, everyone’s ears and hearts are in every single line,” says Jenni. As shown on Life Was Simple, that unified approach gives way to songs with an irresistible richness of spirit. From “Lifting the Sea” (a slow-building and soulful epic inspired by the siblings’ longing to bring their music to the world, a dream they’ve realized in part by traveling to Haiti to lead a music camp for local children) to “Remember Us” (a hushed and lovely meditation on “forgiveness and washing away old hurts and learning to let things go,” as Jessi explains), all of the EP’s songs prove artfully arranged but instilled with a graceful simplicity.
While getting seven strong-minded brothers and sisters to agree on every last note and lyric can sometimes be chaotic, The Hunts note that the synergy born from that chaos is what makes the band so strong. “I like to look at our hectic way of writing as actually really helpful to us as songwriters,” says Josh. “Each one of us is a filter, and after going through all seven of those filters, each song is so much better than it could ever be if we each just wrote on our own.” Now heading out on tour in support of Life Was Simple, The Hunts are thrilled to harmonize for a bigger audience than ever before. “One of our favorite things is for all seven of us to sing together at once, and I think people really like to see the special camaraderie that comes from brothers and sisters creating something together,” says Jessi. “Growing up, we didn’t really have much,” adds Jenni. “But we did have music, and that was the thing that always brought us together. I can’t think of anything better than growing that relationship even deeper, through making more music that comes right from our hearts.
2. Nightbox (Weekend 1 Only)
For Fans Of: PAPA, Body Language, Ghost Beach, Penguin Prison, Thumpers, Class Actress
Jacob Alexander Bitove – Lead Vocals
James Tebbitt – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nicolas Bitove – Percussion
Andrew Keyes – Bass
Nature reclaims everything in the end, and Toronto five-piece indie-electronic band Nightbox are no exception. New release The Panic Sequence allows irregular textures and organic surfaces to creep back into the gleaming slabs of pop showcased on their critically acclaimed debut EP.
Whereas once the band trafficked in clearly delineated instrumentation, it’s now impossible to decipher where guitars end and electronics begin. Lead singer Jacob Bitove’s vocals oscillate between soaring pop melody and mangled, glitchy abstraction. While the pumping rhythm section remains intact, now a warm soundscape of analog underbrush rests over its considerable muscle.
Mixed by Grammy-Award winning engineer Gus Oberg (The Strokes, The Virgins, Drowners, Albert Hammond Jr.) and produced by Nightbox themselves, with co-production from Al-P of MSTRKRFT and co-writing from Sebastien Grainger of Death From Above 1979 on the lead single “Burning,” The Panic Sequence EP is the next progression for a rising band rooted in charmingly humble beginnings.
Growing up together in the Irish countryside, the band forged friendships playing covers a decade ago. They moved to the heart of Toronto in 2010, and shacked up in a Kensington Market red-brick with a basement jam space. The music that resulted, 2011’s eponymous EP on Last Gang Records, garnered domestic and international attention, launching the band onto festival stages.
Early on Nightbox caught the ears of the BBC, which ranked their performance in the top-10 of that year’s Electric Picnic Festival. Over the next couple years, support slots on both sides of the Atlantic for Ellie Goulding, Cults and DFA 1979 followed, along with international tours with LIGHTS, Dragonette, and most recently Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. As did critical praise from UK press NME, Dazed & Confused, BBC Radio 1, Canadian media and a slew of top blogs like Neon Gold and Kick Kick Snare.
Now with The Panic Sequence, Nightbox are ready to step out from the shadow of their influences and leave their own musical imprint on Toronto and the wider world. The EP was released April 22 via Canadian label Rare Beef.
They are on tour opening for Snowmine, and have performed at Electric Picnic, Reading, and Leeds Festivals.
3. The Districts
For Fans Of: Ghost Beach, Lucius, Ages and Ages, Little Green Cars, The Wild Feathers, Desert Noises
The Districts are an impressive young four-piece from Lititz, in Lancaster County. The band channeled the rock-and-soul vibe of Cold War Kids and Spoon; singer Rob Grote’s searing voice cut across the concert hall, blending with the band’s smartly-arranged instrumental interplay. They do the very Pixies loud-quiet-LOUD thing, but in a more textured way than simply turning their overdrive pedals on and off. A thundering swell cuts, leaving a clean guitar arpeggio floating in space as Grote catches his breath; the verses build in waves, with the heaviness sometimes derived just from Braden Lawrence’s drums. Grote is an intense, emphatic, occasionally bewildering stage presence — he kicks, stomps and snarls, both at the mic and far away — but guitarist Mark Larson and bassist Connor Jacobus hold their own, shuffling and bobbing and giving the overall band a dynamic stage presence. Check out “Four and Four” from their album Telephone.
…And sometimes, it’s just as exciting to sitback and let the music speak for itself. In the case of Lancaster County rock n’ soul four-piece The Districts, it’s definitely one of those latter cases. The band recorded five songs in our studio last weekend — three from its impressive 2012 debut Telephone, one from the more recent While You Were in Honesdale EP (“Dressed to Kill”) , and one new track — the impressionistic, evocative swell of “Went To the City.” That one’s often their set-closer, the one they bring down the house with when they play live, and it had the same chilling effect in the studio, and later still in my headphones as I was editing the music to present to you today. Listen below, draw your own conclusions, and most importantly, see this band live. They have already performed at MusicFest NW (see our review here).
For Fans Of: Phantogram, The Colourist, Lucius, Walk The Moon, Family Of The Year, Magic Man
“I didn’t plan to start a new project. Furthermore, looking back on it, it was an extremely un-ideal time to make a record, as I was on a world tour with fun. Yet I felt extremely compelled to do it. Many times when I should have been asleep, or resting, or eating, I would go to the studio. In Stockholm, Malaysia, in my room recording all day in Australia, literally all over the place. When I’d have two weeks off, I’d head into the studio in New York or L.A. and sift through everything I had done overseas and figure out what was interesting and what was garbage.
Then one day I realized I had an entire album and that I had made it all over the world. My experience making albums before this was that you lock yourself in the studio for two weeks, make the album, and it’s a documentation of the art in that moment. This could not have been more the opposite. I had, in the most literal sense, a wide perspective. I would work on something in South Korea, then I’d come home and be like, “this sounds like someone recorded it in South Korea at 4 a.m. and they’re jet-lagged. But this one vocal part is really cool. Let’s build on that.”
It took me a second to find the rhythm of the album. I became fascinated with that time in culture when John Hughes was making his classic movies. The music was so incredible — all these epic, unapologetic pop songs with incredible forward thinking production. I wanted to hearken back to a time when the hippest shit was also the biggest shit. It made me mourn the happy teen years I never had. I grew up in New Jersey and went to public high school and was tortured for being gay, and I’m not gay. But that’s how things were then. I felt really disconnected in that formative time. I think we all freeze at a moment in high school in some way. Hopefully you freeze in a moment were you feel like a piece of trash who needs to prove something and be better, not in a moment where everyone thinks you’re a blast. It’s where the name Bleachers comes from. It conjures feelings of that time for me in a non literal sense. I don’t know why, it just does.
I wanted Bleachers to have a nostalgic element, so some of the emotions almost do feel a little John Hughes-y. But I didn’t want it to be a retro album. It had to be fully pushed into the future while grounded in that moment that means so much to me. That’s why I brought in the producer John Hill. He is very modern in everything he does. He’s always looking for new techniques and a way to differentiate the work. Vince Clarke, from Depeche Mode, Yaz, and Erasure, worked on a bunch of stuff as well and added the grounding in the time period I was inspired by. I mean, Vince literally made some of the albums that inspired me to do Bleachers in the first place. It was really full circle to have one of the people who inspire you to create with you.
Lyrically, I’m writing about a lot of the same things I wrote about with my previous band Steel Train, one of them being my sister dying when I was 18, which completely changed my entire existence. Right before that, 9/11 happened. Like most of us, it had a massive impact on me. Then my cousin was killed in the Iraq war. All this at once was a real end of innocence time period. I went through so much in the aftermath of all that and developed a very intense panic disorder. I had a really hard time for many years before I started to find my way a bit more. But obviously, it is a huge part of who I am. As a result, I feel like the songs are generally about loss and finding a way to pick up the pieces and move on without carrying too many of them with you. But even though they can be really dark, they always come around to something positive. Moments where I think, “Fuck it all,” aren’t what drive me to make music. It’s more like driving home at 2 a.m. and having a breakthrough about how you’re going to survive that makes it into the music.”
Bleachers is the side project led by Fun.‘s lead guitarist Jack Antonoff. They also performed at Lollapalooza.
For Fans Of: The Academy Is, Sleeper Agent, Cobra Starship, Royal Teeth, Fall Out Boy, Bear Hands
With their newest album ORPHAN, Empires climb to rare heights. Their vivid rock ‘n’ roll is now fused with an imaginative and open-armed approach. Born of singer Sean Van Vleet’s fascination with contemporary popcraft, songs like “Please Don’t Tell My Lover” and the night-driving “How Good Does It Feel” see the Chicago-based band adopting time-honored romantic idioms, both musical and lyrical, to mask deeper and darker personal truths.
Van Vleet put pen to paper and began to write in a wholly free space, with no expectations or endgame in mind. He explored a musical language that was quite literally out of character, imagining his songs performed not by Empires but by some indeterminate modern pop thrush.
“It was really freeing,” Van Vleet says, “just trying to put myself in somebody else’s shoes, another artist’s voice. I stopped overthinking what I was trying to say and started saying it much more clearly.”
Van Vleet also immersed himself in classic post punk and indie rock ‘n’ roll circa 1989-1991, his mind’s eye reeling as he delved into the canons of such sonic adventurers as My Bloody Valentine, Wire, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Songs like “Orphan” and “Shadowfaux” emerged as Van Vleet accessed previously untapped springs of melody, lyric, and meaning. He eventually played his demo recordings to his fellow band members, who surprised him by validating his efforts, demanding Empires tackle this divergent new material themselves.
“I was just showing them to Max,” Van Vleet says. “I had no idea it was something he’d be into. In my mind, it was this extreme pop but the songs really resonated with the band, which for some reason, I didn’t expect to happen.”
While prior Empires recordings had been produced, engineered, and mixed by Steger, the band agreed the time had come to see what an outside influence might bring to the table and in September 2013, traveled to Dallas for three weeks of sessions with producer John Congleton. Known with his work with such dissimilar artists as St. Vincent, The War On Drugs, Sarah Jaffe, Mini Mansions, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Amanda Palmer, The Districts, The Walkmen, Explosions In The Sky, Angel Olsen, Cloud Nothings, and The Black Angels, Congleton proved the ideal midwife for Empires’ aesthetic rebirth, assisting them as they shed deeply rooted means of expression.
“John took ideas that we thought were golden and threw them away,” Van Vleet says. “He said, ‘You need to let the song be what it is and you need to live with it.’ And that’s what we did. He taught us not to hide our songs, to let it all shine through.”
Stripping Empires’ already expansive sound to its essence exposed far more range and emotional heft to songs like “Lifers” and the cutting “Hostage” – the guitars sound richer and atmospheric, the rhythms subtle and fluid yet more powerful at the same time. Throughout the album, Van Vleet’s raw croon rises to match the band’s musicality, conveying anxieties, secrets, and a heartfelt longing for transcendence.
ORPHAN serves a forward-thinking landmark as Empires continue to grow and venture towards unprecedented terrain. “Now we’re going to go deeper into this new direction, see how we evolve within it. We’re just scratching the surface on who we are.” They were recently on tour as the opening support for The Chain Gang of 1974, and are currently on tour opening for Augustines.
6. Snowmine (Weekend 1 Only)
For Fans Of: Ski Lodge, Painted Palms, Superhumanoids, On An On, Gem Club, Vacationer
Snowmine are set to release their new album – Dialects – through their own imprint Mystery Buildings. Dialects, Snowmine’s second album in their three year history, was entirely written and produced on their own, and recorded by Jake Aron (Grizzly Bear), and Yale Yng Wong (Here We Go Magic) in a church in Uptown Manhattan. The album chronicles a disoriented period in singer Grayson Sanders’ life, when after the band’s first record, he spontaneously left his job, and spent the following year wandering with a single bag. The lyrics are pulled entirely from the journal he kept during his travels. Dialects is about communication. With the self. With the lover. With society. It’s about its breakdown, it’s triumphs, and it’s misgivings. Growing off of the band’s previous release, Dialects marks a subtle shift in the band’s sound, from the optimistic, tribal undertones of Laminate Pet Animal, to a more ambient, meditative nostalgia. Recording in a church afforded them the opportunity to record real reverbs, and gather true ambiances one can feel in their headphones. Combine a stronger presence of vintage synthsesizers with the beautiful 1960’s cinema-inspired string, woodwind, and choir orchestrations, and you are left with a surreal retrofuturism beckoning you inside for a fireside chat.
In the band’s leadoff single “Rome,” we experience this juxtoposition firsthand, with a hypnotic post-punk drum groove pushing us forward through a mist of sweeping strings and classic synth sounds. “Columbus,” an echo from the past, starts with distant, seductive sirens beckoning us into their sepia-toned love story, driven forward by Fleetwood Mac inspired drums and an irresistably memorable chorus. “Safety in An Open Mind,” a purely instrumental track, highlights the entire ensemble on the record, with glistening choral textures soaring in and out of an organic percussion landscape. This piece is a testament to the band’s originality, as they utilized zero foreign samples on the album, and recorded every single sound effect and note live. The album’s soaring, melancholic third single, “You Want Everything,” caps the record’s message by urging us to accept who we really are. “You could try to be your best, but don’t you know it’s suicide to want? You want. You want everything…I won’t let you have regrets, no way.” It’s this message that has guided the band’s release strategy. Having been disatisfied with lengthy label discussions, the band decided to forego the system altogether and turn to their diehard organic following. Staying true to the DIY methods they have adhered to since the band’s inception, they created an entirely custom crowdfunding project via their website Snowmine.Com. Not only can fans choose what they want to buy for the money they can afford to give, but the band has created milestones that allow the fans to be a part of the art, by submitting information or photos of themselves to be included in album artwork and other pieces of content. It’s this type of attention to their supporters that has turned a once self-released Bandcamp bedroom project into a beloved musical presence.
They are currently touring with Nightbox as their opening support, and they have themselves toured as opening support for both Wild Belle and Small Black. They are already getting attention from Bullett Magazine and Brooklyn Vegan.
For Fans Of: Hey Marseilles, The Districts, City and Colour, Mutual Benefit, CHVRCHES, Banks
Lucius knew from the start they were on to something special. Centered around the powerful voices and compelling songwriting of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, the Brooklyn band has evolved from a promising duo into a dynamic quintet whose 2013 debut LP WILDEWOMAN (Mom + Pop) is lauded by The New York Times as “an art school take on girl group soul.”
Hailed by The Boston Globe as “the most welcome addition to pop music this year” WILDEWOMAN has landed on numerous critics’ year-end best of lists. Ranked #25 by Amazon, admired by Paste for its “strong song structures, substantive lyrics and precise playing” and included in NPR’s top 50 albums of 2013, Lucius pairs the synchronous vocals of Wolfe and Laessig, who play synth and keyboards, with guitars and drums from Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri. Together, they make music that evokes classic girl-group pop and iconic rock ’n’ roll with a modern twist, that belongs solely to Lucius. But none of it happened overnight.
“We’ve been singing together for almost nine years,” Wolfe says. “We never wanted to rush anything. We never looked for a record deal before it felt like we needed one, and we never wanted to be on tour until we felt like we could sustain ourselves on the road. It was important for us to hone our craft.”
Wolfe and Laessig met in college in Boston, bonding over a love of old-school soul, David Bowie and the Beatles. They sing as though each is one half of the same voice, with riveting, resonant unison parts on songs like “Hey Doreen,” the propulsive first single from WILDEWOMAN; and harmonies that feel instinctive as their voices diverge and then meld together on the ineffably catchy title track.
“We started singing in unison because we were always drawn to doubled vocals on recordings,” Wolfe says. “We figured it couldn’t hurt to try it in a live setting and it just felt like our voices were supposed to be sitting together – an automatic vocal kinship. In truth, many of our intentional decisions, when it comes to sounds and arrangements and even band setup, have been happy accidents.”
After their initial musical gathering, the pair started writing songs together, exploring a sense of otherness that each had felt growing up, and pairing it with arresting musical arrangements: from bright acoustic guitars and heartbroken vocals to layers of irresistible rhythm and bold melodies.
“Jess and I have shared unusually parallel experiences,” Laessig says. “We were both bullied during adolescence, which lit a fire in each of us. We have both experienced relationships and love on a similar timeline, so when we write songs together we have a natural empathy. The themes that run through this record reflect the struggles and realizations of becoming an adult, and of being a bit of an outsider sometimes, but embracing it. I think that’s something people can relate to.”
In 2007, Wolfe and Laessig moved to Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park, taking up residence at the Bromley House, which had, unbeknownst to them at the time, been a music school and recording studio for more than 60 years prior. Wolfe and Laessig established an open-door policy for the strong local community of musicians. First came Molad, a drummer, producer and engineer whom Lucius sought out for some early recording sessions (he also co-produced WILDEWOMAN). He introduced them to Lalish, his former bandmate in the indie-pop trio Elizabeth and the Catapult. Later, Molad met Burri while working on a different recording project, rounding out the Lucius family.
At the same time, Lucius was developing the memorable visual look the band employs onstage — “dressing the sound,” they call it. Taking inspiration from strong visual artists, and citing Bjork, Bowie, Warhol and Prince as style icons, the women are bedecked in a seemingly endless array of identical head-to-toe ensembles, complimented by the men’s sharp, tailored style.
Fresh off a year of acclaimed performances and rave reviews, Lucius’ steady ascent shows no signs of retreat. 2014 brings Lucius to a worldwide audience with WILDEWOMAN’s release in Europe, the UK, Australia and Japan (PIAS, March 2014), plus tour dates throughout the UK and Europe, appearances on some of the biggest U.S. summer festivals and more.
8. Spanish Gold
For Fans Of: PAPA, Kitten, Skaters, Cayucas, J Roddy Walston and The Business, Hunter Hunted
The debut album from Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere, was released May 27 on BMG/Del Mar Records. The trio is made up of drummer Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket), guitarist Adrian Quesada (formerly of Grupo Fantasma) and guitarist and lead vocalist Dante Schwebel (City and Colour, formerly of Hacienda).
Rolling Stone recently premiered the album’s first single, “Out On The Street,” praising, “…every once in a while, you come across the real deal. Such is the case with Spanish Gold’s ‘Out on the Street,’ a heady number that slinks along like Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me,” trading in synth-goofiness for tight bursts of Black Keys guitar.” Texas Monthly calls the band, “…groovy and muscular—like a cross between the Black Keys and the Black Angels—with an undercurrent of sixties soul and early hip-hop.”
South of Nowhere was produced by the trio along with Collin Dupuis (JEFF the Brotherhood, Bombino) and was recorded by Dupuis at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studio in Nashville and at Lalaland in Louisville. Additional recording was done with Jim Eno (Spoon, Poliça) at Public Hi-Fi in Austin and Sam Patlove (The Octopus Project) at Big Orange in Austin.
Of making the new album, Schwebel comments, “We kept finding that we had a lot of the same reference points during the recording. It became evident that we were still children of the MTV era. We grew up with MTV when it was still a music channel. The way that the programming crossed genres from R&B to hip hop, rock, soul and pop music is how we approach records. It’s an album of all those styles. Like watching a random hour of MTV programming circa 1986-1996. It’s a nod to Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, Madonna, the Beastie Boys or Tom Petty, all with a Texas border town setting. It all adds up to a fun listen that you can keep on repeat.”
9. The Chain Gang of 1974
Photo by Shane McCauley
For Fans Of: Miniature Tigers, Reptar, Geographer, Sleeper Agent, The Naked And Famous, Penguin Prison
“My brothers and I were surrounded by music growing up,” explains Kamtin Mohager, the genre-jumping singer/multi-instrumentalist behind The Chain Gang of 1974. “Not Beatles albums or anything like that; more like the Persian records our parents played all the time. And when we got older, it was up to us to discover everything.”
Born in San Jose and raised in Hawaii, Mohager spent his first 13 years playing inline hockey and dreaming of being drafted by the NHL. His thoughts shifted to music soon after a move to Colorado, however. All thanks to the sinking feeling he felt after seeing the final scene in Real Genius. That’d be the part where “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” kicks in, tugging at the audience’s collective heartstrings like only the finest Reagan era records can.
“That’s definitely been the goal with my music all along,” says Mohager. “The emotion isn’t just in the vocals or the lyrics. It’s in the songwriting itself.”
That’s abundantly clear on Wayward Fire, a record that’s nearly as restless as The Chain Gang of 1974’s last two self-released LPs, White Guts and a collection of early cuts called Fantastic Nostalgic. The way Mohager sees it, his debut was “all over the place, from a piano ballad to songs that sound like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Primal Scream or Justice.” And while White Guts funneled three years of instrument-swapping, sample-splicing experience into a lean, focused listen, Wayward Fire melds the standout moments from that release onto Mohager’s most fully-realized vision yet.
“From Phil Collins to Fleetwood Mac to the Stills, all of my favorite artists have put out albums,” explains Mohager. “I wanted to do the same thing, not just release a record you kinda skip through.”
No wonder why the laser-guided synth lines of “Undercover” and the rather epic “Hold On”—crowd pleasers that hint at everything from LCD Soundsystem to Talking Heads—make perfect sense alongside such shifting soundscapes as the shimmering keys of “Don’t Walk Away,” the hands-in-the-air hooks of “Taste of Heaven,” and the choruses that cut through the rain clouds in “Matter of Time.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mohager balances his minor-key melodies with bold, bloodletting lyrics.
“Lyrically, it’s a dark record—all about fear, jealously and love,” he says. “Even the parts with hints of happiness have some doubt thrown in.”
Some closure came with the final cut, though, as Mohager moved to L.A., severed the ties of the two-year relationship that fueled Wayward Fire, and raised the curtain on what’s next, proving that this particular film has just begun.
He released his latest album Daydream Forever earlier this year via Warner Bros. and it was produced by Isom Innis (Foster The People) with additional production and mixing from Tony Hoffer (M83, Phoenix). The record is the anticipated follow-up to The Chain Gang of 1974′s widely acclaimed 2011 debut Wayward Fire, which Esquire declared “one of the summer’s most surprisingly fantastic new records,” earning similar praise from the likes of SPIN, MTV, FADER, NYLON, RCRD LBL and more. They have shared the stage with the likes of Foster the People, Big Audio Dynamite, Tapes N Tapes, White Arrows, and The Naked and Famous, as well as a lauded performance at 2011′s Lollapalooza, which Yahoo proclaimed “a fabulous onstage display.” He has already performed at SXSW, Governor’s Ball Festival, and Houston’s Free Press Summer Fest.
The record’s enthralling first single “Sleepwalking,’” which was featured on the television commercial for Grand Theft Auto V, and also debuted at #1 on the Alt Specialty Radio Chart. Additionally it was added to Sirius XM’s Alt Nation playlist. The song was nominated for Spike TV’s Video Game (VGX) Awards for “Best Song In A Game,” and was the most popular on the GTAV soundtrack, with over 30K sold.
For Fans Of: Blue Hawaii, Class Actress, holychild, The Colourist, Pure Bathing Culture, Haim
Breakout New York City-based band HAERTS has announced the release of their highly anticipated self-titled debut album, available in the U.S. October 28. EW.com premiered the album’s standout lead single “Giving Up” and the song’s lyric video. “Giving Up” is available digitally everywhere now.
With the release of their buzzed about EP Hemiplegia last fall, HAERTS has quickly won over fans and garnered fantastic critical praise. Time Out New York named the group one of their “Rising New York City Bands You Need To Know.” In January, the band sold out their first-ever hometown headline show at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg. Sirius XMU has championed the band’s first-ever released song “Wings,” having played it nearly 500 times. And this year alone, HAERTS has performed at SXSW, Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Gorilla Vs. Bear Fest, Firefly, Bunbury and Time festivals, in addition to touring with London Grammar and Bastille. Last year, we placed the band in our list of picks for The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2013 (see here).
This fall, HAERTS will continue to tour throughout the U.S., including dates supporting St. Lucia at NYC’s Terminal 5 and Los Angeles’ Fonda Theater and All Things Go Fall Classic in Washington, DC.
HAERTS is Nini Fabi, Ben Gebert, Garrett Ienner and Derek McWilliams.
For Fans Of: Zola Jesus, Esben and the Witch, Son Lux, Warpaint, Chelsea Wolfe, Polica
Nostalghia music is best described in palate form— a vulnerable outpour of an elemental, emotional landscape married to a cinema of sound, birthing what is now coined by fans as “post-apocalyptic gypsy punk.”
The vulnerable-behind-the-veil, intimate and yet expansive sound of Nostalghia draws comparisons to artists ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Bjork, yet it is unique unto itself. On recording and in a live-setting, Nostalghia transports it’s audience into a cathartic dimension; it is a journey that not only leads its audience into a spiritual state of feeling, intensity, and passion, but also directly into the face of the unknown. Across Los Angeles, buzz is building around the performative artistry of this three-piece musical vision.
Nostalghia, through word of mouth alone, is now packing venues and creating an eager amount of excitement for it’s growing fan-base. In September 2012, the band was even selected to open for Serj Tankian (System of a Down) at Club Nokia, where they put on a captivating show that left audiences, once more, breathless. In 2013, the band played several shows as direct support for Gogol Bordello, performed at Rifflandia Music Festival in Victoria, British Columbia and toured with the Orb in California. Nostalghia closed an exciting year with a compelling performance on the Main Stage at Corona Capital Festival in Mexico City.
In January, 2014, Nostalghia took the stage again in Mexico as an opener for Thirty Seconds to Mars and then toured throughout Australia on the Soundwave Festival.
On April 8, 2014, Nostalghia released Chrysalis, its new studio album mixed by multi-platinum producer and mixer Dave Fortman released , and an undeniable personal connection with fans, the future burns bright for Nostalghia.
12. Future Unlimited (Weekend 2 only)
For Fans Of: Cut Copy, Brothertiger, Cherub, Icky Blossoms, Painted Palms, Javelin
Future Unlimited began as a duo based out of Nashville, TN. It has since evolved to become a five piece collective that infuse their love of post-punk with arpeggiators and no-wave…
Future Unlimited began as a duo comprised of David Miller and Samuel D’Amelio, after a long stint as neighbors in 2007. Only in 2010 did they begin writing music that evolved from their shared love of post-punk, no-wave, new-wave, and everything in between. What started as a boot-strap live performance and a handful of appearances at SXSW and other festivals, the band eventually evolved to the five piece it is today. In late 2012, actor/director Shia Labeouf wrote and directed “Medea” a music-video for the Future Unlimited piece “Haunted Love.” Since then, the band has focused primarily on its live performances and releasing a full-length.
The Red Bull Sound Select artists have opened for Cherub, Octopus Project, Analog Rebellion, and CAROUSEL.
13. Blank Range
For Fans Of: Machines Are People Too, Pujol, Natural Child, Cayucas, Lord Huron, Volcano Choir
Blank Range is an American rock & roll band living in Nashville, TN. With nods to great things present & past, the band stands tall as a unit and collapse wildly together in song and onstage. They are currently on tour with Gringo Star and opening for Benjamin Booker.
14. James Bay
For Fans Of: Basecamp, Josef Salvat, Bipolar Sunshine, Hozier, Wet, HOLYCHILD
James Bay is a young singer-songwriter from Hitchin, UK.
An hour or so drive outside of London, at the point where the city’s vast swathes of suburbs become the green fields of the countryside, you’ll find Hitchin, home of the Rhythms of the Worlds Festival and hometown of 23-year-old singer-songwriter James Bay. It’s this kind of environment that has the habit of breeding the very best kind of British vocalist, singers and songwriters grounded by melodic truth and raw emotion. “I’m trying to make songs that make people feel something and, if I’m lucky, even move them,” he explains.
James Bay is a singular modern talent; an old head on young shoulders, a damn good guitar player and an even better songwriter. A true soul singer, chasing “that goose bumps moment” by channeling artists such as Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen and James Blake, his music is intensely personal. “I’m trying to keep things human and emotional,” he explains. “It’s hard to know what the balance is, but you know it when you hear it. It’s such a personal process that it’s hard to share stuff sometimes.” But share he does, casting a light onto his attempts to make sense of the world, and a young man’s discovery of love and loss.
Bay’s obsession with guitars began around the age of 11, when he asked to take a look at the tatty old axe that that his dad bought from his uncle and had been gathering dust in a cupboard for 15 years. “I’d seen it two or three times in my life and I decided I wanted to get it out. I opened the cupboard and it had five rusty strings on it but I sat down with it and the sensation of holding it was the best thing in the world,” explains Bay. “It just felt really fucking cool.” The idea of creating and listening to music tapped into a whole new level of emotion being felt by the pre-teen Bay. He marched his father off to a local guitar shop to spruce up the instrument. “We didn’t know what we were asking for – we just said make it work better than it does!” Attempts to learn how to play with an instructional CD were quickly spurned in favor of learning how to play by ear, with Bay putting on Van Morrisson and Derek and the Dominos’ ‘Layla’ and strumming along. “I was just putting on things that sounded cool,” says Bay, who plundered his parents’ record collection for Greenwich Village folk and Motown to learn along to. The hobby swiftly turned into an obsession, with the neighbors constantly asking him to turn down his amp. “I was cranking it up!” he remembers. “I was trying to make the windows shake!”
Starting bands with his brothers and friends when he hit his teens, Bay was never the front man, but he knew it wouldn’t always be that way. “I always had it in my mind that I’d do something where I was at the front one day,” he says. Then, when he was 16, he decided to branch out alone, with the idea of playing his songs “to some drunk guys in a pub to see if I could get them to shut up.” His first solo gig saw him opening up for his and his brother’s own band. “I shut up a few drunks and some of them kept talking, but I enjoyed it enough to be desperate to do it again”.
At the age of 18, James Bay moved out of Hitchin to study guitar in the seaside city of Brighton. It was here his solo venture really kicked off. A talented and accomplished painter and drawer, he’d long planned to study fine art, but made a last minute decision to study music instead. “I couldn’t put down the guitar and say it was just a hobby, I couldn’t justify it,” he recalls. Almost as soon as he moved to Brighton he was busking and playing open mic evenings five nights a week in the town’s many small music venues. “If it was bad there was always the opportunity to walk down the street to the next place,” he says. Bay managed to secure himself a residency and though he didn’t make it to the end of his three-year long course, it was at the college’s showcase night that he was spotted by his management company, who’d scouted him online the previous evening. They initially reached out to the college to ask when he was playing next and after being infor med it was the next night, they drove down immediately from London to catch Bay’s one song set in a show of 25 performers.
From Brighton, the next step was a move to London. “London was always in the back of my mind. In America, they talk about LA, they talk about New York, but here they talk about London.” Building up a solid live reputation in the capital, prestigious support slots started flooding in, including a life changing opening set for none other than The Rolling Stones at their gigantic Hyde Park show in the summer of 2013. “I almost fell off my stool when I was told,” says Bay, who was on his first trip to Los Angeles when he heard the news. He’s also toured with the likes of ZZ Ward, Kodaline, Tom Odell, John Newman and Beth Orton, playing some of the most prestigious venues in the world in the process, including Los Angeles’ Troubadour and San Francisco’s Fillmore.
One evening would prove particularly life-changing. While performing a solo show in a Kentish Town pub a patron was so impressed by Bay’s set that he took a video and uploaded it to YouTube where a couple of weeks later it caught the attention of a Republic Records A&R executive, who was blown away by what he saw. “That kicked everything off,” he exclaims. “The label flew me over to New York a week later, and I met everybody and ended up signing with them on the spot. It was like they were in that tiny club with me even though they were thousands of miles away.”
Almost one year after Bay began work on his debut album, the final product is on the cusp of release. Recorded in Nashville’s prestigious Blackbird Studios with Kings of Leon’s long term collaborator and Tom Waits engineer Jacquire King, whom Bay found after flipping over a Kings of Leon CD and finding his name, “He was at the top of the list,” says Bay. That same live video of Bay performing in the Kentish Town pub was emailed to the producer, who immediately responded and said he’d love to work on the record. “It knocked my head off,” says Bay. “Suddenly I’m Skyping with Jacquire King from my little flat.” Bay visited Blackbird on and off, in-between tour dates in both the UK and US. “It was ridiculous,” says Bay of the high spec studio, which is often cited as one of the best in the world.. “It still hasn’t quite sunk in. Willie Nelson would be pulling up in the drive!” It was here that he also recorded his Let It Go EP, a stunn ing collection of five impassioned folk-rooted songs that includes the compelling ‘If You Ever Want To Be In Love’, a song that flits from gospel to drive-time rock, a modern soul-drenched stunner.
This year James Bay will be hitting a run of UK festivals, including his Glastonbury Festival debut, as well as slots at Scotland’s “T in the Park,” a show opening up for Stevie Wonder at London’s Clapham Common, as well as opening for Hozier on tour in the U.S. this fall. He also just performed at the iTunes Festival. He hasn’t ditched his love of art either, and still sketches and draws when on the road. “Music came along and then we fell in love, but art was way before that,” he states. Bay recently bought his first canvas in years and is currently painting his favorite author, James Baldwin. “He’s one of the coolest looking guys,” he says of the ‘Notes of Native Son’ writer. James Bay admits that he doesn’t bother with landscapes and still life, preferring to draw people and faces. His art, like his music, is all about that very human connection.
15. Young & Sick
For Fans Of: Lo-Fang, Sylvan Esso, Great Good Fine Ok, Waterstrider, Basecamp, Mapei
This fall LA’s artisan turned musician Young & Sick is slated to take to the streets, opening for Chicago’s own prominent talent, Chance the Rapper during the 2014 VERGE College Campus Tour. Dates commence on September 26th. This year the artist also known as Nick Van Hofwegen put out his highly anticipated, self-titled album Young & Sick, released via Harvest Records earlier this year. His music has received commendation from taste-makers throughout the industry including those such as FADER, Wall Street, Forbes, and Stereogum for it’s forthright ballads and uptempo instrumentals which combine the influences of soul, pop, and jazz music.
“…Young & Sick is a remarkably polished debut, with each song boasting careful, painstaking arrangements and adept uses of space. It’s charming, undeniable music that bops its way out onto the dancefloor with relaxed charm, and it shimmers with the seductive murmur of a lounge staple.” – Pitchfork
“we’re hooked-his sound is smooth, sexy & exciting…” – Interview Magazine
“Fucking magnificent” – Stereogum
16. Night Terrors of 1927
For Fans Of: Bad Veins, ASTR, Royal Teeth, Panama, Ghost Beach, Blondfire
Blake Sennett and Jarrod Gorbel had no intention of being in a band together when they started writing the songs that evolved into Night Terrors of 1927. They were just trying something different. “I think we each had let go of the idea of being anything we’d ever been before,” says Sennett, whose previous projects include The Elected and Rilo Kiley. “I had given up the band dream in a way that has been kind of reborn in me. I had put it in the ground and buried it and was like, ‘Cool, I’ll just write and produce and that’s where I’ll go.”
“We were like two people with broken hearts that came out of bad relationships, in a way,” says Gorbel, formerly of The Honorary Title. They met through mutual friends in 2010 and Sennett produced some of Gorbel’s solo material. “Back then, we talked about writing together, but I wasn’t open to that at the time,” says Gorbel. “But I think I went through a year of turmoil and realizing that I wanted more help, more than just production. I wanted to create something with someone, not just on my own like I always had. When I moved to LA, I called Blake and was like, ‘Hey, can we just get together and write a song. I don’t know for what or why.’ And that was that.”
They started getting together casually to work on songs that fell out of their comfort zone. They tried to push themselves to explore their poppier creative instincts, to blend their styles without judgement. After all, they weren’t trying to be a band, so why overthink it? But then something unexpected happened.
The pair met up in Todo Santos, Mexico for an impromptu songwriting retreat, to finish some songs they’d started, and to brainstorm some new ideas. It was a short trip — just a few days — but it was a revelation. “Todo Santos was such an easy-going atmosphere, and we had acoustic guitars and everything just flowed,” says Gorbel. “We started writing a couple new songs and we were just excited about them in a way we hadn’t been before.” Adds Sennett: “There was just no noise and the only thing left was songs. We had a house on the water that was all tile, with very little furniture, so everything we played sounded so magical and reverb-y, bouncing around that cool beach house. Once it was just us and some guitars and my iPad serving as a drum machine, we were having fun and the songs were working and it suddenly became clear to me: This is actually very simple, when you strip away everything else. I felt like, ‘Wow, I want to do this.'”
Back in LA, they set about building on the songs they started in Todo Santos, recording in Sennett’s Echo Park studio and beginning to flesh out their vision for their new band. They decided to call themselves Night Terrors of 1927, after a phrase Gorbel had found scrawled in his grandfather’s old journal and which had stuck with him ever since. “Everything we ever loved spills out into this band,” says Sennett, citing things as diverse as 80s goth and 90s hip-hop, plus contemporary artists from Crystal Castles to The Weeknd to Lana Del Rey.
“Pop and indie are influencing each other more than ever, which is exciting because it opens up possibilities for the kind of music you can make,” says Gorbel. “But no matter what, I’ve always loved anthems. Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi — that’s what I grew up on. Even though Night Terrors is on the darker side of that spectrum, I think the goal for me is trying to find a masculine way to express an anthem that’s dark but still accessible.”
Sennett says he thinks the strength of the duo lies in their opposite extremes. “Jarrod comes from a suburban upbringing and his parents are still together, and he loves these anthems rooted in the traditional everyman experience,” he says. “And I’m this LA child of, like, five divorces and random New Age ideas and hip-hop and weird, cut-up sounds.”
Without including any biographical details, they posted their first couple of finished tunes on Soundcloud last year, and the response was immediate. “Watch The World Go Dark” drew raves from the U.K.’s Guardian (“an impending apocalypse never sounded so good,” and taste-making blogs including All Things Go (“The most polished songwriting and production we’ve heard from a relatively obscure group in a long time”) and Neon Gold. Released a couple months later, their song “Dust & Bones” earned plays on powerhouse Los Angeles radio stations KROQ and ALT 98.7, as well as Sirius XM’s influential Alt Nation. On the strength of those songs and their dynamic live performances, Atlantic Records signed Night Terrors of 1927 last summer, releasing their debut EP, Guilty Pleas, in November.
Gorbel and Sennett are currently working on a full-length album, teaming with producers Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, Fun.) and Ben H. Allen (Washed Out, Walk The Moon, Cut Copy). Though the early attention came quicker than they’d have expected, Gorbel and Sennett are settling in for whatever hard work it takes. “I feel like this is the project of my life,” says Sennett. “I’ve never worked this hard on a project and I’ve never cared more.”
They are currently on tour opening for The Preatures. They just released a brand new EP called Anything To Anyone and their new song “When You Were Mine” features Tegan and Sara.
17. Emily Wolfe (Weekend 2 Only)
For Fans Of: Desert Noises, Seryn, James Bay, Little May, Hey Marseilles, Madi Diaz
Named one of NPR’s 5 New Bands To Watch At SXSW in 2014, Emily Wolfe’s creative nucleus and songwriting power-duo is Wolfe and keyboardist and backup vocalist Hannah Hagar. Instrumentally indispensable are Sam Pankey (bass) and Jeff Olson (drums), the band’s rhythm section who provide the solid groundwork to allow Emily’s lyrics and guitar-work to glide atop.
After releasing two stirring EPs in 2013 – Mechanical Hands and Night & Day — the “dream rock” singer-songwriter-guitarist showcases an ability to slip from delicate folk and slide effortlessly into a more aggro atmosphere. Featured tracks in PASTE magazine, MTV Buzzworthy, and The Vampire Diaries has led to sold-out shows in New York City and Austin, TX- sharing stages with the likes of Allen Stone, Robert Ellis, Bob Schneider, Wild Child, and The Boxer Rebellion.
Emily Wolfe returned to the studio with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Patty Griffin) in April to record another EP- Roulette– which is out October 7th, 2014 just before their debut performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival.
5 New Bands to Watch at SXSW 2014.”- NPR Music
“…strikingly different, yet completely honest…”- PASTE Magazine
“A growling, erotic inhale…feels like Ingrid Michaelson after a few whiskeys and wouldn’t feel out of place couched between Metric and Muse.”- MTV Buzzworthy
“A ‘dream rocker’ from Austin, Texas with a captivating voice…A badass guitar player.” – American Songwriter
“Emily Wolfe’s about to break out. Big time.”- Austin Chronicle
“Ones To Watch: SXSW 2014” – KUTX
18. Arum Rae (Weekend 1 Only)
For Fans Of: Ivan & Alyosha, White Sea, Kopecky Family Band, James Bay, Big Scary, Noosa
Arum Rae, formerly known as White Dress, is a modern day siren based in Brooklyn, by way of Austin, TX. Arum’s music and her voice is here to inspire… it is honest at its core so that you can do with it what you please, with no regrets. Everything Arum has lived through and all of the songs that have been born from it, are not meant to impress. They are meant to lead. Her ability to transcend styles allows the music to complement country, resurrect the soul, feel the blues, and ruin then re-invent rock, through her deeply rooted foundation as a singer-songwriter.
Arum’s name is derived from a water lily (Arum lily) in Latin. Growing up, her family moved often, so at every new school, she always found shelter in the music programs. At her third high school, her choir teacher heard her potential, and took Arum under his wing and helped secure her a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.
During her last semester in Boston she started writing original music, learning to play guitar to accompany herself so she wouldn’t have to depend on anyone and find her own voice… artistically and literally, studying the vocal stylings of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
After relocating to Brooklyn, Arum was introduced to producer Sanford Livingston, and the two hit it off immediately. They began recording together in August 2013 and are pleased to present their first EP, Warranted Queen. With a minimal use of instrumentation, combined with Sanford’s heavy beats tailored around Arum’s dynamic voice and lyrics, the EP is a brilliant fusion of their mutual influences.
Arum has toured extensively over the past several years, opening up for, and sharing stages with legends like Willie Nelson, BB King, Dan Auerbach, Gary Clark Jr., Peter Bjorn & John, and The Civil Wars, to name a few. She also co-wrote the song “If I Didn’t Know Better” with John Paul White of The Civil Wars that eventually found its way to the season one theme song on the NBC television show Nashville, and charted as a hit single on iTunes and Billboard.
With renewed energy and passion, Arum looks to 2014 and beyond to place her mark on the industry that has given her so much. A mark she hopes will embolden artists and singers like herself to pursue their passions without pause or regret or fear.
She is currently on tour as opening support for Generationals.
19. Colony House (Weekend 2 Only)
For Fans Of: Grizfolk, Bad Suns, Saints Of Valory, Panama Wedding, The Colourist, Bleachers
In a relatively brief span of time, Colony House has emerged as a vibrant creative force, as well as a beloved fan favorite with a passionate, fiercely loyal fan base. That audience is likely to expand substantially with the release of When I Was Younger, the Nashville, TN trio’s first full-length album, whose 14 compelling original tunes fulfill the abundant promise of the band’s three widely-acclaimed, self-released EPs.
It’s not surprising that Colony House has struck a resonant chord with listeners. The threesome maintains a balance of craft and immediacy that reflects its affinity for the sound of such alt-rock outfits as Interpol and The Killers, while echoing the influence of such alternative icons as U2 and New Order. They’ve assimilated their multiple influences in a manner that’s wholly distinctive, adding tight harmonies, strong instrumental chops and a keen melodic sensibility that’s all their own.
Lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Caleb Chapman writes effortlessly infectious tunes that resonate with personal experience and emotional authority. The songs’ messages of faith, hope and perseverance are matched by the organic musical rapport of Caleb and his bandmates, brother Will Chapman on drums and Scott Mills on lead guitar and harmony vocals.
“The songs I write have always come from deep places, whether they’re deep places of joy or deep places of hurt, and it can be hard inviting people into those places with you,” Caleb states.
That openhearted attitude is reflected throughout When I Was Younger, both in Caleb’s expressive vocals and in the band’s vivid performances of such personally-charged tunes as “Silhouettes,” “Second Guessing Games,” “Keep On Keeping On,” “Waiting for My Time to Come” and “Won’t Give Up,” which exemplify the combination of sharp lyrical insight and indelible melodic craft that makes Colony House special.
As When I Was Younger demonstrates, much of Colony House’s appeal lies in the three bandmates’ powerful rapport, which extends into every aspect of their lives—and which has defined their approach towards the music.
“Our musical and personal chemistry goes hand in hand,” Caleb affirms. “The three of us are best friends, which means that at any given moment we are each other’s worst enemies as well. Being in a band is like being in a marriage—it’s a constant reminder of your own pride, and a reminder that you have to be willing to sacrifice in order for it to be successful. We’ve made a conscious effort to build the foundation of the band on our friendship, and then letting that spill over into our creative relationship.”
As the sons of Contemporary Christian pop superstar Steven Curtis Chapman, Caleb and Will Chapman have been steeped in music for their entire lives. They began making music together in early childhood, playing with their dad as well as their own combos. In 2009 they joined forces with Scott Mills, who they’d met through a cousin. Although initially known collectively as Caleb, the trio rechristened themselves Colony House in 2013, borrowing the name of an apartment complex in their hometown of Franklin, where Will and Scott as well as Caleb’s future wife had all lived prior to the band’s formation.
The new combo quickly began to win attention, bringing its charismatic live shows to fans via diligent touring, while earning critical raves with a series of acclaimed EPs: Colony House, Trouble and To the Ends of the World. Along the way, the band members found time to pursue other musical adventures, with Caleb collaborating with Will’s wife, singer Jillian Edwards, as the In-Laws, and Will moonlighting playing drums on tour with noted indie combo Ivan and Alyosha.
But Colony House remains the focus of their musical lives, as When I Was Younger makes clear. “We labored on the album for a long time,” Caleb notes. “We began recording it in September 2012 and finished it in July 2013. We had our dear friends Joe Causey and Ben Shive co-produce it, which made it a very special experience. They knew that this was our first full-length project, and I think that they felt the responsibility to help us tell our story the right way.
“Creating this record had such a strong set of contrasting emotions: joy, hope, frustration, sorrow, uncertainty, confidence,” he continues.
“These songs are questions that I have been wrestling with for months, sometimes years,” Caleb asserts. “They’re stories I had been trying to write in the dim light of my 100-square-foot room long before they were ever brought to life in a studio. We created the album conceptually, trying to keep in mind the rules of telling a story. There must be a dramatic arc, a beginning, a middle and an end. So in that way, every song is a piece of the equation. The front half of the album is a bit more lighthearted and fun, and then the back half gets a bit heavier. And the last third, starting with ‘Won’t Give Up,’ is very important to us.”
Perhaps the most startling aspect of When I Was Younger is the band’s forthrightness in addressing some deeply personal, emotionally raw issues, most notably the accidental death of Caleb and Will’s 5-year-old adoptive sister Maria Sue in 2008. That tragedy is addressed on several of the album’s songs, including “Keep On Keeping On” and “Won’t Give Up,” underlining the songs’ recurring themes of faith and family.
“It has been a difficult thing to do, sharing your family tragedy when telling your story or singing your songs,” Caleb states. “But I think that it’s important to tell. Everyone has a story of pain, of heartbreak, of a letdown or failure, and that is a thread that ties us all together—the ones on stage and the ones in the crowd. We were dealt a painful hand, but it’s what has bound us together so tightly. We want to create honest art, and this is the most important thing that has happened in our lives, so it would be a hard thing to leave out of our story.”
That heart-on-sleeve honesty is just one of the qualities that make Colony House a special band, and make When I Was Younger such a remarkable musical statement.
“We believe that we have a story to tell—a story of hope and perseverance—and that’s what we want to leave people with,” Caleb concludes. “We are not in the business of writing tragedies. We have experienced tragedy, but we’ve also seen hope triumph. Our faith is woven throughout everything we do musically, just as it’s woven into the foundation of our lives.”
They are currently touring with Knox Hamilton.
20. Lake Street Dive
For Fans Of: Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Head And The Heart, Lucius, Jim James, PHOX, Lord Huron
Lake Street Dive find themselves on the cusp of stardom, though they insist they will always be the same people whose stage outfits once consisted of matching sweater vests. “We realize this could all go away tomorrow,” says Rachael Price. “But that won’t change what we do. We want to continue to do this for a long, long time. This is what we love. We just want to make sure we keep enjoying ourselves.”
Lake Street Dive have been performing for nearly a decade after meeting as fellow students at the New England Conservatory in Boston. The band was hand picked by Minneapolis trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and named after an actual neighborhood of seedy bars in his hometown. Vocalist Rachael Price came from outside Nashville, Tennessee, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney was an Iowa native, while drummer Mike Calabrese called Philadelphia home. “I wasn’t only impressed with their musicianship,” says Olson, who acquired the nickname “McDuck” while at the conservatory for his reclusive ways. “They were also a lot of fun just to hang out with. The first four years of rehearsals were more like glorified dinner parties.” Lake Street Dive has come a long way, but this just could be the start of something even bigger.
It took a casually made video featuring the band gathered around a single mic, performing a cover of Jackson 5‘s “I Want You Back,” shot on a Brighton, Massachusetts, street corner to grab the public’s attention‚ its YouTube views now hurtling past a million views. What followed was nothing less than a modern-day music business success story‚ Bone Burnett tapping them to perform on the Another Day, Another Time show at Town Hall featuring music from and inspired by the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, taped for an upcoming special on Showtime. The New Yorker raved of their Town Hall performance: “I can’t imagine then, that Lake Street Dive quartet led by an amazing young singer, Rachael Price‚ won’t be getting some air time soon.” Rolling Stone called the band “unexpected showstoppers,” while Hollywood Reporter noted the group “delivered one of the show’s best moments with the swinging ‘You Go Down Smooth,’ with stirring vocals by lead singer Rachael Price.” The New York Daily News was similarly enthused, saying Lake Street Dive “was the evening’s wild card,” and noting Price “has the soulful howl of a young Etta James.”
And just like that, Lake Street Dive went from playing for a small devoted following, to selling out venues and planning an initial European tour, with dates on several late-night TV shows in the offing.
While “I Want You Back,” a track from their six-song Fun Machine EP, which included five covers and an original track, was spreading like wildfire on the Internet, the band had little idea what was happening. They were ensconced at Great North Sound Society, a recording studio located on an 18th century farmhouse in Parsonsfield, Maine, two hours from Boston, with producer/engineer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter) a location so remote, cell phone reception was spotty and web access non-existent. The new album, Bad Self Portraits, which is being released by the Northampton, Massachusetts indie label Signature Sounds Recording as the follow-up to a selftitled debut and subsequent EP, is a microcosm of Lake Street Dive’s evolution of the band from “a weird alt-country jazz group to a pop-soul juggernaut, that turns ’60s.”
They are currently on tour opening for Lucius.