Archive for October, 2011

Sitting down with Sóley

Before writing up Sóley for a post on NPR’s Song of the Day, I decided to get in touch with her to ask a few questions.

Sóley (photo Sigfús Már Pétursson, artwork Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir)

Here’s our discussion:

I’ve seen you play a few times since I’m a Seabear/Sin Fang fan. Are you still with these other projects or are you exclusively focusing on your solo career now?

Seabear took a break after last year. We were a lot on the road so it was really important for us to take a break but I think we will try to start meet early next year and start to compose some new material. All the members are just working on their own project or in other bands now. 

I just came back from Sin Fang/sóley tour few days ago. We were in Europe and it was awesome. I opened up for Sin Fang and also played with Sin Fang. Very nice.

Can you explain what made you decide to start writing and recording your own music? Has it always been something you wanted to do?

It just happened. I was not thinking about it when I was asked if I had some songs to send Morr Music because they wanted to see what I was doing. Then I was in school and as soon as I got the opportunity I jumped on it and made some new songs to send them. I´m really really happy that it happened because in my dreams this was what I wanted to do!

How has the transition been for you? Did it come easily? How do you feel about being in the spotlight now?

It´s nice. I like being on stage and being the front. It´s nice.

Where do you typically get inspiration for your songs? Do you sing about things that happen to you or are your songs more like stories?

The songs are more like stories yes. I don´t want to talk about my daily life in my songs. For me, my solo project is my escape from being myself and becoming the other sóley who thinks differently and lives in my mind. It´s another world which I try to make up in my mind, kind of a dreamy world. It does not exist in the real world.

Me: From the first time I heard “I Drown,” I loved it. What can you tell me about this song? What story does it tell? Who is the man in it? What did you use to get the muffled tapping noise that runs through it?

Sóley: This song is a kind of a love song but let´s say in a surreal way. As I visualize the song and the story it´s about an old man who lives alone in this house which is far away from everything. Somehow this girls (who is telling the story) is at his house, no one knows how she got there. So it´s kind of about their relationship there. The album title (we sink) is sung in the end of the song so I guess now you know what happens to them!I used a lot of “percussion” that isn´t really percussion, it´s more like my fork and some stick I found outside. This song is the first I recorded for the new album and I think it´s like a sweet homemade pie. I can hear my old apartments sound there.

Is it just me or are their dark undertones to this album? Where does this come from?

It all comes from the other world. From the other sóley who makes up these stories. It´s dark and dreamy and scary but still it has a bit of humor in it. It´s funny because it could not happen anywhere else than in your mind. Our mind is so weird and crazy so if you want you can make up really strange and surreal things in your mind.

Do you have help on We Sink or are you playing all the instruments? How long have you been playing the piano?

I played everything except drumset, bass in some songs and electric guitar in some songs. But most of it I did myself, piano, organs, guitar, percussion and voice.

I started playing piano when I was eight! That is almost 17 years… wow…

Then, just out of curiosity, what Icelandic artists would you recommend?

Sin Fang, Kimono, Hudson Wayne, múm, Ólöf Arnalds, Prins Póló, Fm Belfast, Gus Gus, Kippi Kaninus, Mr.Silla, Mugison, Ojba Rasta, Prins Póló, Samaris, Snorri Helgason… I think I am forgetting something…óó

To read the piece and hear the song “I Drown,” head over to NPR Music


CMJ picks from the other side

Well, I managed to see about 46 bands last week. (47 if you include the 30 seconds I saw of Idiot Glee.) You can read about it here, on Brooklyn Vegan. But you can listen to it here.

At the end of the week, these are the artists that stood out to me the most:

(First, the weird)

Chelsea Wolfe – easily one of the most talked about artists all week… and one of the most interesting to watch. Wolfe sang from behind the veil of her long black hair. The next Zola Jesus / Austra? We’ll see.

Chelse Wolfe (photo Eliot Lee Hazel)


Young Magic – the balance this Brooklyn group strikes of hip-hop and dark electro pop had me transfixed.

album art for Young Magic (someone get these guys some press photos)


Tropical Popsicle  – This San Diego group embodies the popular lo-fi, shoegazey garage rock of the moment… but they do it better. Instead of boring me, Timothy Hines’ deadpan delivery sucked me in.

Tropical Popsicle (photo Marissa Parsons)


John Maus  – Seeing Maus was like stepping back in time to a place when people still cared about music and really felt it. That can’t be conveyed in an audio clip. See him. The crowd’s allegiance to this man is truly cult-like.

John Maus

(Then the lovely)

Sea of Bees – I simply cannot get enough of Sacramento’s Jules Baeziger. Her honesty, earnestness, and charm are so refreshing. And her lyrics! I love it all. (And how good does this recording sound, right?)

Jules Baeziger of Sea of Bees (photo Nick Miller)


Gem Club – a heart-meltingly beautiful three-piece out of Somerville, MA. Totally unlike anything else I saw all week. Instead of rushing out to catch another set, I stayed and wanted more.

Christopher Barnes of Gem Club (photo Charlie Engman)


Who did you fall in love with?

CMJ picks, round one

Oh man. Is it that time again?

Well, the schedule is finally up, and man is it overwhelming. Instead of big, must-see showcases this year, it seems like the majority of the festival is populated by uknowns and trendy artists on the rise. I haven’t started looking at times/locations closely yet, but I have started to do a little research. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Headless Horseman – a New York-based duo whose name I’ve been seeing around a lot lately, and apparently for good reason. Their sound is kind of weird, glitchy, and folky all at once – kind of like a more hip version of Loney, Dear on uppers. I dig.

Show times: Tuesday at Cameo (9:30 p.m.), Wednesday at the Delancey (11:45 p.m.), Thursday at Cameo (11:30 p.m.)


A Lull – For having such a light, whimsical sound, this Chicago-based five piece also packs in a surprising amount of confidence and competence.

Show times: Tuesday at Pianos (9:15 p.m.), Friday at the Knitting Factory (8:00 p.m.)


Casiokids – They’re Norwegian, so pay special attention! We can’t see these kids play on any old Thursday night. Tribal-flavored electronica with dreamy Norwegian lyrics. Who knows what they’re saying half of the time, but it sounds beautiful.

Show times: Wednesday at Public Assembly (1:35 p.m.), Thursday at Pianos (12:00 a.m.), Saturday at Spike Hill (12:00 a.m.)


That’s all for now, but there will be more! Stay tuned…

Laura Marling’s Experiments in “Awkwardness”

As I reported a few weeks ago, I managed to score a ticket to a special one-on-one show with Laura Marling (all right, so technically it was two-on-one, and it was just one song… but still!). You can read about my experience here on the All Songs Considered blog.

But what isn’t included in that post is the audio I took on site. As I tried to collect my own thoughts about the experience, I went around and interviewed a few people to hear what they had to say, and I thought I’d post that here.

My favorite response came from Riley Fields who went in shortly after me:

Then there was the more collected duo, Julia Ramsey and Ben Kupstas:

And finally, I sought out Jennifer Barckley who had never heard Marling’s music before:

To hear the song she performed for me, check out an earlier post.

Feist’s Secret Show: Crypt Edition

Well my stint of small, intimate shows continues this week with a surprise Feist show.

It started with a Brooklyn Vegan post:

         Feist playing a church in NYC TONIGHT

And well, you know me and churches. (1) After a few moments of deliberation and a quick Google image search, I headed over to Sound Fix in Brooklyn to pick up a ticket (along with a voucher for the new album, Metals).

I mean really. Get a load of this place.

The crypt at the Church of the Intercession

After making the hike to Harlem via the D train, I stepped out at 155th Street and immediately started walking in the wrong direction. Luckily, I ran into someone who was just as confused as I was, and together we eventually figured it out. Though the walk from the train to the church seemed simple, it involved climbing something like 5 flights of stairs of an overpass. Out of breath and eager to be on time, we sped to our destination.

After a painfully long wait in line outside the church, we were finally ushered into the crypt to join the other small groups that had already gained admittance. Immediately upon entering the room, I gasped. The space like something out of a movie. The small rotunda was teeming with people, camera crew, and instruments – more instruments than I had seen on a stage in quite some time, let alone in such a small space. We’re talking violin, cello, upright bass, flute, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, sax, timpani, vibraphone, xylophone, drum kit, piano, keyboard, and of course, myriad guitars. I had heard rumor of a string section, but this was seriously crazy.

After another few minutes of anticipation, in walked Feist and her impressive backing band (the Mason Jar Music artist collective) through an old wooden door I had previously not even noticed, and I was delighted to see that included in the group were the lovely ladies of Mountain Man!

Feist (Photo Jill Mapes)

Feist and her gaggle of musicians kicked things off with a couple of songs from her new album before reaching all the way back to 2005’s Let It Die to pull out a moody, rhythm-heavy version of “Mushaboom,” an old favorite. (Mountain Man really add a lot on those harmonies near the end, yeah?)

As I stood near one of the stone columns, watching, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like I was interrupting something. It was such a surreal experience. Admittedly, Leslie was a bit out of practice as far as banter went, but when you’re playing in a space like that, banter is really only incidental.

Though I can’t really offer an assessment of the new album since I have yet to pick it up (it wasn’t available yesterday at the store), her new songs seem darker. Here’s “Caught a Long Wind.”

But the song that may have stuck out the most for me, the song that really became the anthem of the evening was the aptly named “Graveyard.”

Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better is more of the songs were unplugged. But it was still a fantastic experience – well worth the trip to Harlem.

Setlist (* = songs from new album)
*A Commotion
*Undiscovered First
*How Come You Never Go There
*The Bad In Each Other
*The Circle Married The Line
So Sorry
*Bittersweet Melodies
Woe Be
Sea Lion
*Caught A Long Wind
*Comfort Me
*Get It Wrong, Get It Right

Pine Moon
Young Girl
Let It Die

(1) See exhibits A, B, C, and D.

Reason #27 JFran and I should be BFFs

I went to hear Jonathan Franzen speak as part of the New Yorker festival yesterday.

Someone in the audience asked him about his relationship with music.
Here’s his thoughtful response:

This is perhaps one of my favorite Sufjan songs (and songs in general). Nice, JFran.

Not sure if this is the Cocteau Twins song he was talking about, but I always have liked this one.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being