Tag Archives: music interviews

Florida’s Sweet Cambodia On Starting Out and Their Funk-Inspired Sound


A few days ago, I featured “Sky” from the Florida outfit, Sweet Cambodia.  The funk-inspired track is the perfect soundtrack to the beginning of summer. I recently caught up with the band and got to talk about “Sky” and some other things.  Check it out below.

How did you guys first get together and decide you wanted to make music together?

Well each member came to Orlando in search of musical opportunity. Eric and Savvy met unconsciously at a open jazz night in the city. Eventually running into each other in the halls of Valencia College. Once they heard each other play, they found their musical soulmates. They decided right then,and there that they were going to put a band together.  Eventually after a few drummers Donnie ended up at their audition. The same musical soul mate feeling filled the air as they Jammed together.  Not even 5 minutes after he found out he was in the band he brought up a lead singer he knew who would be perfect. Cut to several months, and an audition later, Yante was apart of the band filling the last piece of the puzzle. There was a deeper calling when we all met each other that we would call cosmic.

You seem to have a natural chemistry together that sounds like you’ve been playing together for a while.  It’s quite apparent on “Sky”, especially between the drums and the bass.  What are you thinking as you play?
We each think about our own little world, but we also think of how we are interacting with each other. It’s more about how do I make my friend sound better. If everyone thinks as a “we” and not an “I” the sound will only strengthen.

Sweet Cambodia has earned a bit of a reputation as a live act. What do you think you bring to the stage that makes it so intense and energetic?
Each of us approach the stage as our great release. We leave all the emotions we experience on that stage. It’s how we survive. Life is hard and it’s how we unwind. Also we believe we aren’t just musicians. We are entertainers. You came to have a good time so let’s party, and have a great time !

There’s quite a range of sounds here.  Who do you see an influences on Sweet Cambodia?
Each of us stem from very different places of music. Bringing together the sounds of Sublime, Chon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Led Zeppelin. There’s countless others, but those would be the main influences.

Check out “Sky” below.

Exclusive Interview With Whale Belly


A few weeks back, I posted the video for Whale Belly’s “Water Voices”.  The Brooklyn group has been dubbed as “sophisticated folk rock” and has generated a lot of buzz based on their lives performances.  Their sophomore album I Once Was a Bird will be released October 8th.  I recently checked in singer Todd Bogin.  Check out the exclusive interview below.

Your new album, I Once Was a Bird comes out pretty soon.  Let’s talk a little bit about the making of it.

This album was all about figuring out a concept and what we wanted to convey then very intently and painstakingly making it that. We wanted a very clean and clear record that had many musical changes and beautiful parts but never overdone. I am proud of our debut album but one criticism I have is there’s too much going on and much of that is not necessary to the song. We also wanted to create a world with a concept that plays through this whole album. Earth, water, feeling like you want to escape or that you are being overtaken by some greater force. Lyrics repeat themselves between different songs and so do musical phrases. we also references other song on the album in different songs. This record to me is like a mixture of old classic american song book meets a touch of folk and rock it a slight feel of classical edge. it was recorded at Saltlands in Brooklyn. Nick Smeraski our drummer produced and engineered it all. Only the 4 people played on this record. Our debut had 23 people playing on it. After writing for about a year and playing many of the songs live on tour, we had a very clear idea on how we wanted to play them on the recording. we pretty much recorded all the backing tracks, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, piano and violin in 2 days, live together. Everything else was overdubbed over a few months. all of the vocals were layered mostly at Nick’s apartment and it is all my voices. He was adamant on me exploring and expanding my voice on this record. I feel like this is a very tight, well performed and calculated record and I am proud of it. I also tried to write from a more interpersonal level. The first album has a few joke songs or songs about outside forces that have affected me, this record I tried to write about my own struggles and how it is now up to me to deal with them.

Folk-rock seems to have exploded in the last few years with the rise of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers.  Why do you think that’s it gotten so popular and what do you get out of making this type of music?

I really don’t think we are exactly folk rock nor sound anything like those bands. We never sing about the devil or the river or dress like its Civil War time. We also change times and keys and have a element of jazz and improv to us. That being said, I do see why people would claim us as folk, even though we don’t claim ourselves a folk band. But I do believe folk music will always be popular and have its revivals. There is always a need for simplicity. Whenever things get too crazy or experimental, people will always hit a wall and want to hear three chords on an acoustic and a few voices harmonizing together. It feels earthy and natural and easy to consume. That sort of stuff also attracts to people’s sense of spirituality and soul and I believe hearing natural instruments vibes with the blood flow and movements of people. I do feel though, that although folk is timeless, many of those time tested tricks and glitches are pretty much recycled over and over again. we try not to do that, we try to hint at them then when you think you have the song figured out we change it up.

 You guys are known for your live shows and have received quite a few accolades for it.  What makes a great Whale Belly show?

We started off not sure what were as a band. We had like 10 people on stage singing along and playing random instruments, no matter how sloppy. That was fun and we were able to entertain based solely on the energy we could throw onto the crowd. I got really sick of that fast though. It wasn’t playing music, it was just making out of synch noise and trying to win a victory on trickery. So before we recorded the new record, we got rid of a lot of wasted space and stripped us down to a 4 piece (were now a 5 piece). I started listening to a lot of classical movements and pieces and I began to really love the idea of a live show being a classical indie music piece, if you will. So like instead of playing a song, then stopping to blabber on to the crowd about something pointless, we bent and moved our songs into either short snippets of sounds or various improvised moments that would lead into the next tune.  We have over the past year been able to successfully do that even though we have a lot of work to do to perfect that. So Our live show now is a musical piece, or an attempt of that. We have a lot of improvising that happens and a lot of energy we try to give off. Were not going to ask the crowd to clap their hands or ask them how they are doing then go ‘I can’t hear youuuuuuu’ like some jackass. Were going to give them a long piece of music performed the best we can and the tightest we can.

You guys seem to have more in common with older folk acts than a lot of newer ones.  Who are your main influences?

I do agree with that. My personal biggest influences are everything from Miles Davis to Cole Porter. Of course Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Neil Young. I also was a Modest Mouse kid in high school, and I still listen to them a lot. I know it is easy to say this but I’m influenced by everything. I will listen to anything from Top 40 to the most underground descendant music and find something inspiring or influential with it. but at this point in my life, I am definitely not trying to be anyone or mimic anyone. I am trying to suck in and absorb all forms of sounds, from the subway tracks clicking when a train arrives to the hum of traffic to a perfectly played Liszt piano piece. And hope that all of that comes out of me when I write.

One of the band’s trademarks is the violin. I know you’ve been playing it since you were 9, how did you get into the violin?

Josh Henderson plays all the violins and does their arrangements amongst other things. He has been playing since he was about 3 years old, and he is a genius. He is a huge part of the band’s sound and the composer of some of the most beautiful moments on our records. Him and I have been playing together in various projects for almost 5 years now. He has really affected the sound of our band in the best way possible and helps make our live show what it is. On top of that he makes me think differently about music and opens up non traditional ideas to me.

Exclusive Interview with The Japanese Popstars On Their New Album “Disconnect/Reconnect”

The Japanese Popstars recently released their third album Disconnect/Reconnect. After a bit of a departure from their signature sound and a bit of mainstream success, Disconnect/Reconnect finds the group returning to the contrast between dark and light beats.  Check out an exclusive interview with the group below:
Disconnect/Reconnect is a bit of a return to basics for you guys after gaining some more exposure.   What was your state of mind while making the album? 
The last album we released ‘Controlling Your Allegiance’ featured alot of collaborations with people like Robert Smith from the Cure, Morgan from m83,Tom Smith from Editors, James Vincent McMorrow.  Its had a more downtempo electronic feel. We toured it alot and ended up doing alot of festival main stage shows, but alot of these were daytime shows, we were playing between proper pop acts.  Towards the end of last year we both decided that we wanted to push the music deeper, and darker for the next project.  We wanted to go back into the dance stages and back into playing later in the night.  I think this is were we are most comfortable.  Maybe this was being driven as well by the fact that we were djing alot at this time, and the music that was exciting us at the time had that deeper darker feel, stuff that was being released by Bromance Records, Turbo, Bedrock, Cocoon, Zone and labels like that.
 Disconnect/Reconnect seems a bit simpler and more refined than other EDM records at the moment.  Do you feel that like dance music has to get back to its own roots like you did on the album? 
I dont know if its the right thing for all of dance music to do, I just think at the time it was the right thing for us guys to do.  Our last album being the dreaded second artist album was a struggle for us, looking back.  This one we changed it up completely, we were far more spontaneous and relaxed in the studio, I think we purposely under produced some of it just so the simplicity of the original idea could shine through.
 You’ve stated that while making this album, you wanted to get back into the dark and into the night.  Care to elaborate on that statement a bit?
It harks back to the festival circuit really.  Our last album definitely had a softer electronic feel, and this lead to us playing alot of daytime festival shows to support it.  This was a great experience but we both knew that in the long term we wanted to go back into playing at night, and also back to the dance stages.  This meant we had this in the back of our mind while we were writing this latest album
Being from Ireland, how do you view the United States current fascination with dance music?  We’re a few years behind it seems. 
 I think its great that the US has woken up to dance music in the past few years.  I guess this is were it all begin and so much good dance music comes out of the states, its great to see it start to get the recognition it deserves.
 You guys have gotten to work with Robert Smith of The Cure.  He doesn’t seem like someone who’s into dance music.  How did that collaboration come about and what was it like?
It was an amazing experience and something that we are both very proud off.  How it came about was that we had this piece of music that we had written and we thought his voice would really suit it.  Our manager managed to get his email address and we emailed him, introducing ourselves and sent him the track.  He thought it was great and wanted to get involved.  It was that surreal and simple.
 If Disconnect/Reconnect is a return to basics, what can we expect next from Japanese Popstars?
We will be out touring in support of the album from the end of the summer, which we are really looking forward to, then who knows but we are already working on plans for next year so its an exciting time for us.
For more info, check out the group’s site here.

Exclusive Interview with Broken Anchor



A few weeks ago, I reviewed Broken Anchor’s awesome new album Fresh Lemonade.  Fresh Lemonade will be released on August 20th.  I recently caught up with Broken Anchor master-mind Austin Hartley-Leonard who shed some light on the making of the album.  


You started out a solo performer.  Why did you decide to start Broken Anchor and what’s the difference between a Broken Anchor song and one of your own songs?

The main difference is that Broken Anchor doesn’t suck.  (Laughs).  Around LA, I was doing singer-songwriter kind of music.  I was going through a Wilco and Whiskey Town phase and was really inspired by their music.  After a while, a couple of years ago, things got a little dark and I had to clean up.  When that happened, I got sober and all the songs I had didn’t really work and I didn’t have any connection to it.  So I started over, and I said goodbye to all of it.  I had a couple of songs and I met Brian Gordon for coffee, and I wasn’t even totally confident.  Once we did one song, it turned out totally fresh.  And we ended up doing 12-13 songs.  So that’s how it all started.

As a solo performer you’ve had lots of songs on different TV shows – “Teen Mom” “Burn Notice”, etc.   Years ago – artists would have been opposed to that.  Do you see it as necessary evil, or do you think the climate has changed so much that it doesn’t matter?

We’ve had Teen Mom and we’ve had a couple things on NBC.  We’ve been kind of blessed.  I don’t really view it as either.  To me, it all sort of changed earlier than everyone thinks.  Aerosmith was in a Gap commercial and Bob Dylan was in a Victoria’s Secret commercial – people forget that shit.  I think that view is childish, whether or not your favorite artist pays their water bill by bar tending or putting a song on television show it doesn’t matter.  I fucking hate bar tending and I did for a long time.  Everyone has to pay the bills.  People don’t buy music anymore.  If my music is put out in front of 25 million people, I think I’d be a fool to turn my nose at it.  It’s a question I get a lot and it’s totally valid.   But no one has ever asked me to change my music to be on an ad or a television show.  That would be a totally different story.

“Canada” is one of my favorite songs on the album.  I was really drawn to that one.  It seems to me that for a lot of people Canada is this representation of the great out-doors.  Is that what you were going for on the track?

Actually, no.  I just recently went to Canada and it was beyond gorgeous. I wish that had been the inspiration.  But it’s a bit more childish than that.  (Laughs.)   It’s a bit more about a break up, and ‘why don’t you just take off’?  Go away as far as you can.  Go to Canada’.  It’s an escape into obscurity.

“Fresh Lemonade” seems like a mix of My Morning Jacket and early ‘70s Neil Young along with Wilco.  Were those two an inspiration while making the record?

A couple of cuts have this jangly quality, a Southern California sound.  My Morning Jacket is a big influence, as is Band of Horses.  My mother was also big into The Shirelles, I think that late 60’s lazy California sound came in.  But I also love Minor Threat and Fugazi.  The influences aren’t completely obvious.  When I set out to make the record, I had no clue.  If someone had said, “why did you make a record that sounds like The Beach Boys, but My Morning Jacket too?” I wouldn’t have a clue.  But we just said, “Why don’t we add this guitar part here, or this one there.”  I love big sounds and a lot of reverb – hence My Morning Jacket.  Big drums, big beats – I’m very drawn to.

Now that the record is about to come out…any plans for a tour? 

We’ve had a couple of setbacks.  Our drummer quit and it was a bit unexpected and we had a 5-week tour planned.  I’m in the process of re-arranging the live show. I was considering auditioning drummers.  Our plan now is to try to get an opening slot.  What I’m combining is a one-man show with samples on my control-pad. When it’s ready to go, it’ll be fucking killer.  When the record comes out, we’ll go up and down the coast.

For more information on Broken Anchor, visit their web-site here.

Creed Bratton On His New Album, “Tell Me About It”



Creed Bratton’s Tell Me About It is more than just a new release.  Unfolding over 3 Acts, Tell Me About It tells the story of his life in song form in what Bratton refers to as an “audio-biography”.   Produced by Grammy-award winning producer Dave Way, Tell Me About is both funny and touching – just like Bratton himself.

Your producer Dave Way suggested you that make Tell Me About It as a concept album what you refer to as an “audio-biography”.  What was your original vision for the album, and what was your reaction to his suggestion? 

We worked together on the last album with basically the same band.  We were listening to the songs  – I wanted to an off -Broadway show and he said, “This is your story.”  So I listened back to it and I thought wow this really is my life.”

That’s what I like it. I haven’t seen it this before.  The songs really stand on their own.  I thought we should start the album “One Guitar”.  It sets up the mood. I went out and worked with songwriters I respected.  The songwriting has improved a lot with this album.  It’s hard for me to imagine writing with someone else other than Dave.  I really enjoy working with Dave, it’s not like working, and it’s more fun.

Music has had such a profound effect on your life starting with being a member of the The Grassroots in the 1960s.   Why do you think it’s had such a profound effect on you? 

I’ve always had music in my DNA.  Everybody in my family played music.  If I was in a really down period, there’s something exhilarating about music.  If music is right, it can really lift your spirit.  Nothing else got me stimulated; the thing that was constant was a good song.  That’s still true to this day.

Has your songwriting processed changed over the years since you were in the Grassroots?

Songwriting is never the same.  I’m not one of these cats, “I’m gonna write about this.”  “Unemployment Line”, I did.  I was so embarrassed, but that’s very rare.  I usually watch sports and play guitar.  I can make a mistake and a riff comes out.  One chord will lead to another chord.  I hear a melody a few days later.  And all of a sudden –boom!  – Out comes the melody and the song.  I have no formula.  They’re gonna written somehow.  It’s like babies coming into the world.

Tell Me About It will be released as a limited edition vinyl.  Are you happy that there’s been resurgence on vinyl in the past few years? 

I’ve been planning this for a long time.  When I came to Dave, I said “I don’t even to sell CDs.”  He and I both agreed that most people don’t even listen to most albums, but I’m really proud of Tell Me About It and it takes you on this ride.   Sometimes it’s kind of raw, and vulnerable and let out those truths.  I can’t pull back; it’s also going to entertainment and inspires people not to give up.  I had really many years of being down.  I just kept going.  I went out and worked with songwriters I respected.  The songwriting has improved a lot with this album.  It’s hard for me to imagine writing with someone else other than Dave.  I really enjoy working with Dave, it’s not like working, and it’s more fun.

Much of your story is well known: being in The Grassroots, your eventual leaving, years of struggling as an actor and then eventually The Office.  Are you hoping that Tell Me About It will help fill in the gaps?

I don’t know if I really care if people know the real guy.  Obviously there’s a bunch of stuff you don’t want to tell because of the privacy.  I want people to know that even late in life, he achieved his goals and that he didn’t give up.   Sometimes, I’m not sure what the songs about.  Sometimes I’ll see it later –and realize it was sub-consciousness talking.  People bring and read their own meanings into the songs.  If they know my intent they might not get something out of it.

I’m having a pretty good life here.  People think that I am Creed (from The Office.)  People to this day, don’t realize the songwriting and that I do serious roles as well.  Tell Me About It was a lot of work.  The recoding and writing is fun, but the artwork and promotion is a lot of work.  But when people do react, it’s a real compliment.

Tell Me About It – Act One Out now!



(Act 2 on May 7 and Act 3 Ma7 21.)

Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Alisha Zalkin

Alisha Zalkin’s musical quilt is patched by her Jewish and Mexican heritage, which are sewn together through the commonthread of music. The Mexican side of her family showed her at an early age the sacred power of music, setting aside background chatter and side conversation to pay homage to Ave Maria whenever it played at family gatherings. Already learning the unifying power of music, Zalkin carried this with her, authentically exuding it in her debut album March to a Different Beat. 

To no surprise, Zalkin has always gravitated towards breathtaking female powerhouses like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Carole King, and Gloria Estefan. Also evident is the message of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, as her words spread positivity while acknowledging the weight of life’s struggles.

You’ve got quite a soulful and powerful voice. Did you have any formal training, or have always been singing?

Yes! I’ve been studying voice since I was 8 years old.

March to a Different Beat seems to embody your own life-story coming from two completely different backgrounds. How have your Mexican and Jewish heritages influenced your music and message?

I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up with two completely different cultures, both so rich in history.  Music was very much a part of the Mexican and Jewish sides of my family.  My Jewish grandmother was an opera singer and put on many benefit shows for Hadassah (A woman’s Zionist movement) in Yiddish, and my Mexican grandmother constantly had mariachi music playing in the house.  She and her sisters would always sing along, and anytime Ave Maria would play, they would all close their eyes and bow their heads.  Music was very sacred to both sides of my family.  As someone of mixed cultures, music was the common thread and was what made me complete.  It helped me understand that music is the one language that we all have in common, and it is through music that we can create peace in the world.

Your web-site states that the two Bobs (Dylan and Marley) come out through your music. I’m not sure if Springsteen is an influence, but I do see a connection in the way you both are able to tackle the struggles of every day life while also making the listener see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

 I like to say I am in the business of inspiring others to find courage and inner peace.  Music is just the tool I’ve been given to express that.  Who I am as an artist and what I’m committed to is empowering my listeners so that they can find light within themselves no matter what the circumstance is.

 In the past few years, there’s been a resurgence of powerful women songwriters who are now finding their own voice. How do you feel that you fit into that?

 I feel like I fit in perfectly! I am certainly someone who marches to a different beat, and I have so much to share and give to the world.  It is a very exciting time for powerful women songwriters!

When did you first decide that performing and writing songs was a career that you wanted to pursue?

 I was always very involved in musical theater when I was younger.  Once I hit high school and was seeking an outlet where I could express myself authentically, I knew I was going to pursue this is as a career.

Exclusive Interview with DJ Wick-It the Instigator


Wick-It the Instigator’s got a reputation for doing some thoughtfully fresh and mindblowingly original remixes that take him from beyond a standard dub step or mash-up artist to a DJ/producer with skills that have turned heads and caught ears all over the Southeast. In a live setting, he sends people off with his mix of humor, ingenious pop culture samples and beats that can’t be touched. While his roots are firmly planted in hip hop, there is no shortage of heavy electronic bass music at a Wick-it show.

Your beats and sound have a heavy dirty southern style.  Were you influenced by the sounds coming out of Atlanta in the 90s?  

I’m influenced by all hip hop.  When I was a little kid, it was all just “rap” to me. And I loved it all.  I didn’t pay attention to what was east coast, west coast, southern, etc…  There weren’t separate categories in my mind.  I didn’t really become knowledgeable about hip hop culture until I was a teenager, and at that point the music itself was already embedded into my soul. As far as the dirty south hip hop goes, I’ve definitely been influenced by all of it, but  UGK is what I consider the quintessential  “dirty south”.

What is your main set-up for recording?

I’ve been using Ableton for a few years, and I love it.  Sometimes I use my Oxygen 8 midi controller, but I’ve become pretty fluent in rocking out on my good ol’ computer keyboard.  Before Ableton, I used Acid Pro for several years, which has a big influence on how I use Ableton.

Tell me a little bit about your playing live, and how your sounds changes.  Is it different than what you’re achieving in the studio?   

I’ve always put a lot of work into my live sets.  I like to keep things moving along, and I also like to be hands on as much as I can.  Nowadays, I’m playing mostly all original material at my shows, which is 100% different than when I started out.  I started DJing before I made my own music, so at first I was trying to be as creative as possible with other people’s music.  Now I’m trying to be as creative as possible with my own music.   So there is definitely a direct connection  now between what I’m doing in the studio, and what I’m doing live. I’m usually producing music strictly for the live setting. I believe in the philosophy that a fan should be more impressed with your live show, than they are with your albums.  If someone “likes” my music before they see my show, I’m gonna do everything I can to make them “love” my music when they come see me live.

You’ve been doing this for a while, how has the scene grown since you first started?

My personal journey in the DJ scene has been a pretty unique one.  Mainly because I spent my first 5 or 6 years  DJing only hip hop music.  Electronic music had absolutely nothing to do with my life for those first several years.  I didn’t produce electronic, I didn’t play at raves, my fans didn’t have on glow in the dark roller skates, etc…. When I first heard Dubstep music in 2009, it was aRusko track, and I didn’t even realize that what I was hearing was considered “electronica”.  I just thought it was super hip hop, or something.  I even began spinning Dubstep unaware that I was dabbling in a whole other world of DJing.  It really hit me the first time I showed up to one of my gigs, and realized right before I went on, that I was at a “rave”.  It was definitely a moment of “oooooohhhhh, I get it now”.   Unbeknownst to me, me and my “super hip hop” had stumbled into uncharted territory.

Why do you think that EDM connects with kids today?  The lap-top has seemed to replace the acoustic guitar as something that young kids pick up.

There has definitely been a big paradigm shift from DJ, to DJ/producer.   The superstars nowadays are getting famous off of their own creations, rather than manual DJ skills, so in turn the fans appreciate them more like how fans appreciate a band, or any other artist with original material.   The electronic scene used to be more about the event itself, rather than the DJ.   Back in the day, you’d go to some huge rave with a thousand people, and you might not even see the DJ.  He was chillin’ off to the side somewhere in a booth.  Nowadays DJs are rockstars.   They are center stage, with massive lights and production. I for one, I’m totally cool with that.  Nothing wrong with going to see an amazingly produced visual show, where the DJ is presenting you with his amazingly produced music. Onwards and upwards.

Tell me a bit The Brothers of Chico Dusty.  It’s interesting that you picked up on those two and put them together.  Because the Black Keys are rock, but have a hip-hop influence and Big Boi has a bit of a rock/soul vibe going on.  

Basically how that came into fruition is I made one single mashup of the two.  “Black Bug” was amashup of “Tighten Up” by the Black Keys, and “Shutterbug” by Big Boi.  There wasn’t any exact science or reasoning behind the pairing, I just tried it, and it happened to work.  I had no intention of making a full mashup album of those two artists, but Big Boi somehow discovered the song, and he started blasting it out on all of his social media sites.  It was one of the most exciting days of my life.  It was actually his manager’s idea for me to make the whole album, and his camp sent me all of the studio acapellas from Big Boi’s record.  We weren’t sure how the Black Keys would react to this existing, but they actually got behind it as well, and they posted it up on their social media sites as well.  It was certainly one of the most magical times in my life.

Check out Wick-It’s single “Feel Lit” here.

Exclusive Interview with Dan and Brett from Ten Kens


Two years after their acclaimed sophomore album, Ten Kens return with their most powerful and poignant record to date. The aptly titled ‘Namesake’ moves the band away from their signature genre-bending dither, into a darkened psychedelic voyage of self-discovery.

Based in Toronto, Ten Kens is the brainchild of songwriting duo Brett Paulin and Dan Workman. Discovered by Fat Cat Records in 2006, Ten Kens became one of the first Canadian acts ever signed to the famed UK label. In 2012, after two celebrated releases on both Fat Cat and Last Gang Records, and several successful tours in-between, Ten Kens carry on their mission as the ever-evolving, genre-altering, sound and vision no-scene music collective.

Why did Namesake take a year to make?

Dan: We were being pretty meticulous and we had a lot of time our hands.  And we wanted to make this as perfect as we could.  We had a deadline for the last record, and it just stifles creativity a little bit.  We made this on our terms. Because we had the time, we used it.  It didn’t have to be a year, but we wanted it to be a year.  It’s just the way it had to be and we could tweak things, as they needed tweaking.  We’ll probably do that for the next one as well.  Not intentionally take a year, but take as much as time as need, so that we’re happy with it.

Brett:  It’s changed a lot from the original forms of what’s on record. I spent a lot of time listening to things over and over, and you could take things out.

That sort of fits the music a little bit.  It takes a little bit and builds into a crescendo and takes it times rather than thrashing it out.

Dan: For sure.  That’s changed from the way we used to write songs before.  We just wanted things more mature and progressive.  The more time you spend with a song and let it soak in and breathe, the more things you find wrong with it.  You don’t want to over think it, but you want to make sure its right.  That’s one thing I think we fixed for this record.  The songs have a start and they have a finish.  Unlike before, you play for three minutes and then you stop.

You can definitely sense that in the songs, especially “Death in the Family” which has thing Pink Floyd vibe going on in the beginning.

Dan: Oh, there’s a Floyd influence on that one all the way.  We’re not gonna deny it.  (Laughs.)  We’re not doing a cover song; we’re just taking influences we like and putting our own spin on it.

What different techniques did you use in the studio to create the overall sound for Namesake?

Brett:  The last record that we made, we recorded in a small space.  We had a small drum room, and everything was done in the same space.  We mixed on the same board we recorded it on.  We used the same gear we used the entire time.  And this time we had access to better studios, so the drums were recorded in a really big live room and the guitars were done in a smaller place.  We had really great amps and really great microphones.  We had a lot access to a lot more stuff than we did before.

Dan:  For the vocals on the record before, they were done in like a day and a half.  Whereas this time, it was more of a do it til you get it right thing and it took the pressure off.  There were at least two different mikes at all times.  I’m really happy with the way the vocals came out.  Brett’s the technical gear guy and he’s like “ok if we get this mikes, we’re set.”  And soon as you hear it you’re like, “oh yeah.”

You guys are known for your live performances.  Is it hard to recreate the sounds off the record live?

Dan: It’s not always just layers and instrumentation, but also the vibe.  Obviously, things are going to get stripped down. For instance if you got 14 layers of guitar on the record, you’re not going to be able to have 14 guitars at a show, unless you have 14 guitar players (laughs.)  It’s finding that perfect balance, making sure you have the right balance of instruments and vibe, so people don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off.  It just took a lot of time and effort.  I do vocals, but for the other guys it was a lot of changing guitars and pedals to recreate the sound live.  I think it’s a pretty successful way to recreate the record.

Brett:  Oh, I went through a lot of pedals.  We finished the record, and then we had to figure out how to play it, and get the same sound.  (Laughs.)

Dan: There are a lot of bands that record with their two pedals, their microphones and go on stage and just do it.  But we wanted a record that was half-studio half organic.  But then you gotta figure all that shit out afterwards, because we’re not using the same gear live that we use to record.

I read that you guys recorded Namesake without any outside influences.  I was kind of intrigued by that, and what exactly it meant.

We basically that means, those that want to come out and hang out – they’re not invited.  The sessions were late at night epic sessions, with outside interface.

So basically like the Beatles’ sessions until Yoko showed up.

Dan: (Laughs).  Absolutely.  It is self-produced and self-engineered.  We have a specific sound we want, and we’re not gonna have anybody else come in. That’s not to say there aren’t great producers or engineers that turn average records into amazing records, but if you have a sound you want, you gotta create it yourself.   Even with rough demos, you have to be careful not to let people it, because they’re gonna tell what’s wrong.  It’s not pride, but we know how want it sound and when we get, we’ll know it.

Brett:  It was better to do this way, actually.

Dan: There’s a mutual respect.  If something sounds like shit, I’ll take Brett’s word for it.

Q&A With Singer-Songwriter Jillette Johnson

Jillette Johnson is a piano playing singer-songwriter with a voice full of passion and songs that offer wisdom well beyond her 23 years of age. Her fresh and keen sense of style is ever present in the way she dresses and shines through in her music as well.

Wind-up Records signed Jillette based on the strength of her song “Cameron.”  It’s a bravely vulnerable song that explores the struggles of a transgendered person and ultimately emerges as a universal anthem about the need to feel at home in your own skin and the tough decision to stay true to yourself.

Her debut EP, Whiskey & Frosting was produced by Michael Mangini and Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Joss Stone) and recently released digitally on iTunes.

Whiskey and Frosting is a pretty accomplished EP.  Are those songs that have been around for awhile, or were they written pretty recently?

I wrote these songs over the last year or so -along with about 50 other songs I wrote this year. I write a lot. (Laughs.) It can be overwhelming.

The title of the EP seems to fit the mood of the songs – there’s are part of it that are uplifting, but darker tones underneath.  Where did you come up with the title?

Whiskey and frosting are two of my favorite things. After having a hellish day last spring, my friends shocked me with a surprise party and all I had all night was whiskey and the frosting off of all the cupcakes. My friends know me well, and they knew that there was nothing that a little whiskey and frosting couldn’t fix. Thus the title of the EP was born.

One of the things I like about the album was how it managed to feel intimate  (“When the Ship Goes Down”) yet sweeping and epic at the same time (particularly “Torpedo”).  Was that a vibe you going for?

Honestly I write all of my songs sitting alone at my piano and I have no idea what’s going to come out, or where the songs will take me until I’m there. I write with my instincts, so its rare that I pre-meditate the vibe of any particular song. However I’m not shy, so I definitely like a little drama and dynamic in anything I write. My producers (Peter Zizzo and Michael Mangini) really nailed it though in the sense that they were able to capture my intimacy and make the most of my ferocity.

You’re also a pretty accomplished piano player?  Did you take formal lessons as a kid?  Or is something you took up on your own?

Thank you! I’ve taken lessons off and on since I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until I started writing that I became so attached to the piano. It really became tool to serve my writing and it’s also an extension of my voice.

Did you write any songs when you younger or is this something you’ve come into recently?

I started writing songs when I was 8. Although I do remember wandering around the sandbox in pre-school, making up words and melodies. But yeah, because I started at such a young age, songwriting is as natural to me as falling asleep. I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m not a happy camper.

“Cameron” addresses the feelings and tribulations of being a young transgendered individual, and has a positive message.  What inspired that particular song?

Cameron is a song about the isms in all of us that we deserve to embrace and to be proud of. I’m blessed to know an incredibly beautiful kid who has been brave enough to go through a sexual transition, and has done it gracefully and without apologies. However, as much as Cameron is inspired by my fearless friend, it is a song about anyone who is made to feel like they don’t belong.

One of the things that caught my attention and I liked about the song about it was that it was very specific.  It doesn’t shy away from the emotional context of Cameron. It’s not vague unlike some other songs with a similar theme.

I love details. I think that simple, little intricacies serve to tell a much more relatable and real story. I also don’t see the point in being shy about writing a song like Cameron. Either you write the song and tell the slightly uncomfortably honest version, or you don’t write the song at all.

Now that you’ve got Whiskey and Frosting out – what’s next?

I’m actually setting up to release my full debut album in the spring! Record is already done, just got to hit the road and try to motivate the world to listen to me.

Q&A with Donegal X-Press’ Brad Dunnells


The Donegal (pronounced ‘dä-ne-gäl) X-Press has emerged as one of the premiere Irish-American roots rock groups in the country. This high-energy, six-piece outfit has gained praise and fans from New York to Ireland, Baltimore to Nashville and beyond. DXP blends a unique combination of traditional Irish music with American country and blues, folk and rock, rhythm and funk, which John O’Regan of Roots Magazine calls, “…creative ferocity not seen since The Clash’s London Calling period.”

Building on a core of traditional Irish pub songs, the Donegal X-Press added original songs and popular covers to their live set, creating a stage performance that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.


In the years since its formation, the group has gone from boozy bar crowds to sharing the stage with artists such as The Saw Doctors, Prodigals, Solas, Black 47 and the Wolfe Tones. DXP has also written and produced four albums of original music: Whiskey, Bars, A-Go-Go; Quinn’s Diaries; Translations; and Stand Alone. In 2000, the Irish Voice (NYC) named the group among their “Best of 2001” and eventually dubbed them “Artist of the Year.” In that same year, Brad Dunnells was the first American to the win the National Song Contest for Peace held in Cork, Ireland. The 1st place winner, “Omagh,” is featured on Quinn’s Diaries. In 2001, Donegal X-Press was named “Best Band” in the Baltimore City Paper’s Readers Poll.

In addition to performing with the Donegal X-Press, the multi-talented individuals who make up the group have many side projects. Jeff Malcom (bass) and Skye Sadowski (fiddle) co-founded and perform with the Baltimore-based group Man Down, while Jeff Trueman (drums) performs with the band Pale Stars, also native to Baltimore. Laura Hein (keyboard) is a solo pianist and accompanist who performs throughout Maryland. Along with singer/songwriter Laura Cosner, Dunnells and Tinney founded the folk trio The Wayfarers, while Tinney has published two books of short stories and poetry-prose (Hilliard & Harris Publishers).


Paid Off the Boom is your 6th album.  I don’t want to use the term “mature” but it certainly seems to be different in tone and themes than your earlier albums.  It seems at times a bit subdued and maybe melancholy.  It seems more folk influenced than your previous albums is that a fair assessment?

Paid Off The Boom is indeed our 6th album and certainly a departure from some of our previous ones. I think “mature” is a good adjective to describe it. We have certainly developed in our songwriting, adapted as a band, and progressed as musicians. The result is a change in our overall sound. While subdued or melancholy are certainly not the overall feelings we were looking to project, I suppose the material is certainly a lot less raucous than other records. We made a decision a few years ago to develop a sound that was primarily driven by roots, rock, and Americana – folk would be the pulse of all three of those genres. I suppose good storytelling and simple chord patters are at the heart of our songwriting and listening interests.

The title track recalls the “Oyster Wars” of the Chesapeake Bay.  Mind explaining what exactly “the Oyster Wars” are? 


Hard to believe, but there was a time, not too long ago, when fisherman on the Chesapeake Bay killed one another to stake access to fishing grounds on both the Maryland and Virginia sides. This feud was so bad that Maryland enacted our country’s first “Oyster Police” to quell the feud and enforce fishing laws. Years later that organizing would become the Department of Natural Resources. Along with this violent and competitive conflict came a host of other problems including slavery, and corruption.

“Take My Hand” is one of my favorite songs off the album.  It’s a bit of departure for you guys – its got a bluesy feel, especially with that harmonica.  How did that song come about?


Our fiddle player Skye Malcom actually wrote the lyrics to that song. I suppose she would have to give the background on what inspired her to write it. She brought the song to me with a simple melody and we hammered out the song that you have today. Jason does a great job playing harp on that tune. I also love what Ed Tetreault did with the arrangement on this one. The build during the bridge in particular. I think this one I’d love to hear Van Morrison sing – or maybe Grace Potter sing.

The Donegal X-Press is part what is called the “Irish/American Counter-culture” and the band always seems to draw big crowds.  What do you think attracts people to the style of music the band is playing?


I truly believe what we do is timeless and cross-generational as well as cross-cultural. There really are only three flavors of music: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. I think we do a great job of incorporating each into our live shows. If you tell a good story with your music and invite your audience to participate with you during the show you people will connect with you. That is what makes people remember you and keep coming back. Irish Americans, in particular, are very loyal fans for music that celebrates their heritage. I think we’ve been lucky in that we have been able to win over audiences of very diverse backgrounds.

How long did it take the band to make Paid off the Boom?


I would say way too long. However, if the end justify the means, than it took as long as it needed to, as we are very happy with how the album turned out.

The band is known for its energetic live performances.   Do you practice often when you’re not playing shows?


Unfortunately, no, we rarely practice. Sometimes if we’ve been off for a while we will do a quick “tune up”. But the only time we get together to practice is to develop new material. As far as our energy goes, that comes from have a really great band of entertainers who know how to “switch it on” when we hit the stage.

The band also plays a lot of covers as well – you’ve even included the Old Crowe Medicine Show/Dylan song “Wagon Wheel” on the new album.  Do the covers have to fix into a certain criteria for you to consider playing?


Funny, we started covering that song way before it became as popular as it has become with so many bands today. For years, people asked us to put it on a record. Now that we have done so, I hear that “Wagon Wheel” has become unpopular as a cover as it has been overdone the same way you aren’t suppose to play “Stairway to Heaven” in a music store. I suppose the only criteria for choosing covers is that everyone in the band enjoys playing them.

You guys have been around for almost 20 years now.  Did you expect to still be playing when you first started? 


Well, more like 15 years, … but whose counting. I can’t imagine we expected to be doing anything that we have all ended up doing since 1998. But I guess that’s life. As long as I am still standing there will be a Donegal X-Press. I can only hope and pray that I am blessed to continue to make music with these 5 extraordinary people who I love dearly and think the world of. It has been a wild ride to say the least.