A Mish Mash Sort of Day

Today is a mishmash. I've been working on a special project with the Bully of Culture himself, Chris, for a while now, and I just haven't had the time to dig for that next new artist. So I thought I'd resort to something more expected, I suppose. Today I'm serving up a mini-list, with a couple of mind blowing tracks.


Herbie Hancock - Don't Explain (Featuring Damien Rice & Lisa Hannigan).mp3
Starting off, we've got Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan's vocals joining Herbie Hancock's mastery of the ivory keys on "Don't Explain". This track features one of Damien's and Lisa's best performances ever. I don't think I have to tell you that Herbie's on top of him game, too. Do I?

Quentin Grey - Growing Agression.mp3
Here we have an incredible electro-rock song called "Growing Agression" done for an online comic book ("Broken Saints") done by Quentin Grey. It's got an amazing heart pounding chorus. You wont be able to stop playing air guitar after hearing this! It totally belongs in an action movie.

Mice Parade - And Still It Sits In Front of You.mp3
Finally, we have a really nice track by Mice Parade. I haven't been able to get into their music as much as I'd like to, but this song is definitely reason to. I actually came across it playing in the background on someone's blog many months ago. If you're not familiar with Mice Parade you really should be. This song is off their album Obrigado Saudade. If you know MPs music well, I'd love to have some songs reccommended to me!

Well, that's all for today my dear friends!



William Fitzsimmons

One of the great things about encountering new musicians is encountering their friends, who are often also great musicians. I can't tell you how many bands I have posted about here that I have come across through links from musicians I was already enjoying. It says a lot to me when a musician that I love gives an endorsement to another musician. Such is the case with the subject of today's post: William Fitzsimmons. His musical friend Ingrid Michaelson has "long" been a favorite of mine (okay, so maybe not as long as I'd like to pretend), and her MySpace page referred me to him.

My bro William is a folk artist of the non-garden variety. If you're already seeing flags because he's another folk musician (I know I'm on a roll), then please bear with me for just one more! William's music definitely has a DIY quality that can be decieving at moments, because an honest listen to any song will show you just how professional he is, all the while making you feel like you must be sitting outside in a cirlce listening to one of your extremely talented friends. Intimate. Though it's a word that others may overuse, I challenge you to find more than one or two instances of me ever using it. I don't use it lightly or flippantly. It's very accessable music, at it's heart, which is very important in the folk genre.

After grabbing the free download below, head over to William's MySpace page to hear 4 more songs you're sure to enjoy just as much. I've thrown in a live track from Sia, singing "Breathe" on KCRW, which is probably the best version of the song you can hope to find, ever! It's been in my head for a while, so I had to share.

William Fitzsimmons - Shattered.mp3
Sia - Breathe (Live on KCRW).mp3

Download William's CD, Until We Are Ghosts
William Fitzsimmons' MySpace Page



Possible Favorites: The Possible Selves

I don't think I've been shy about the fact that I use MySpace as a vehicle for exploring usigned and small-time bands. Often, these explorations are rewarded, as in the case of my most recent findig: Possible Selves. The Selves are really just Neal Williams, with a backing band, playing Psychedelic Folk/Country music, as it were. Now, 'Psychedelic Folk/Country' music isn't usually my cup of tea, but you gotta make that jump sometimes, you know? At any rate, I've really enjoyed what I've heard of his so far, and what kind of person would I be to keep this a secret from you?

So how does he sound? Well, he sounds like the type of guy who would just as easily write a song about the end of the world as he would about the pattern of your fingerprints. Does that make any sense? There is equal wonder and understanding in his music. It's quietly stirring, and subtley playful, as though Neal were playing on strings of glass, and feared that they might break. Because of this I would say it makes for very good late-evening music, although, honestly it might be just as beautiful on an autumn afternoon. "Welcome Home" reminds me of old school southern folk, with a twist. The plucking banjo on that track, though, makes it my personal favorite of his. Definitely check that mp3 and 2 others in the download section below, then hit up the Possible Selves MySpace page for another download.

Oh, and be sure to watch for an interview with this talented artist in the near future, as well as an interview with a Stage Hymns favorite, Ingrid Michaelson (which will happen just as soon as I get her some decent questions), and a feature on a friend of hers, William Fitzsimmons. Sorry about the infrequency of posts. Trust me, I know it's frustrating. I'm trying to batten down the hatches on 2 websites right now, as well as getting ready to move back to school for RA training. It's all happening very fast.

Possible Selves - Welcome Home.mp3
Possible Selves - Future Plans.mp3

Possible Selves - Three Birds.mp3

Possible Selves Official Website
Possible Selves on MySpace


Along Came A Spider: An Interview With Jane Herships

Spider is the best thing to happen to folk music since Joanna Newsom, and maybe even longer than that. Spider is New York singer-songwriter Jane Herships, and whether you've heard of her or not she's been sweeping the internet's music elite with her self-released album, The Way To Bitter Lake. As I've listened to the album, I can't help but ask myself why more music doesn't sound like this. Shouldn't music always be beautiful like this? All I know is that this album is the only thing I've listened to in the past few months that's made me bleary eyed.

Jane Herships isn't exactly sure of everything she does. She's not acting too sure anyway. But that's okay, because that's why I'm here!...to tell you she's a sure thing. As sure as they come. This artist is one of the most tender and gentle souls I've ever spoken with, but she insists she loves "to rock". How charming is that? I've had this interview for a month now, but I kept poor Jane on the phone for over a half an hour, and that makes for one long interview to transcribe. I did it for you, though, folks. I asked every question I could possibly think of, and I think you'll find that by the time you're done reading this interview you will know Jane very well, and you'll see just how well her music echoes of her personality.

If you're unfamiliar with Spider's songs, you'll find 2 juicy downloads at the end of the interview, and a bunch of links to other blog posts about her.

How are you today, Jane?

I’m fine, thanks. Where exactly am I calling to?

You’re calling to Omaha Nebraska...



Is it nice there?

Sure...I guess. I’ve lived in Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco as well. I guess it’s small by comparison, but...


Yeah. I’ve got some questions here, and you’re going to have to correct me if any of them seem misinformed cause I researched as best I could but...

There’s not a lot of information. It’s ok. I’m looking at these plants in my garden, and there covered with these crazy...things!

Don’t you live in the city [NYC]?

I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. So I have a little back garden.


It’s like an overgrown mini-jungle.

I would think that would be much better than just having everything look urban and "city-like" all over the place.

Yeah. I prefer it this way. Absolutely.

[A helicopter flies loudly in the background]

Can you hear me okay?

Yeah, I can hear you just fine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you grew up listening to bands like The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and other rock bands.

Yeah, total classic rock. I think the first introduction to music I had was some Beatles tapes that my dad gave me when I was about twelve. Beatles 1967-70. I think I listened to it for a year straight because it was the only tape I had.

When did you start listening to this very beautiful, hushed, strummed music that you now play? Cause it’s very different, to an extent, than those bands you listened to growing up.

I should say Joni Mitchell is another musician I’ve listened to, but I was introduced to Indie Rock in college. I’m not a music nerd at all. Actually, I’m probably the opposite. I didn’t listen to music for a very long time. I just listened to things like NPR, and a lot of classical music–though I don’t even know the names of a lot of composers. I like Chopin a lot. I listen to Court and Spark [a Joni Mitchell album].

That’s an amazing album.

Yeah, I listened to that about nine-thousand times cause I got into Belle & Sebastian, (That probably had a big influence on me), Cat Power...You know, your typical, more mainstream Indie Rock.

So you’re not necessarily listening to Iron & Wine, Diane Cluck, and other comparable artists?

I definitely do now. I guess I was thinking back to my more formative years, and what amounted to my first knowledge of music. It was all that classic rock stuff. I didn’t even know about that other stuff, because we didn’t have the internet like we have today, and I was super-young still. So the way to delve into more unknown music was to go to the record store with my friends and find older stuff. Psychedelic Rock and all that stuff. We tried to find things we’d never heard of, so we had to go to the mall.

Okay then. Here’s a hypothetical question that might go more into that. If you were eighteen years old today, moving into your college dorm room, what bands' posters would you hang on the walls?

From today, Joanna Newsom, definitely. She's a big favorite of mine. I do like Iron & Wine. Nico, not Neko Case (I haven't had time to listen to her new album), but the other Nico...um...

...I've got a list here of supposed influences that other people have mentioned. Would you like to hear some of those?

Yeah, sure.

Vashti Bunyan...

Vashti Bunyan? You know I've honestly never heard her before, and I get a lot of comparisons to her.

Diane Cluck...

Um...I've seen her play. I think her music is beautiful. I've definitely listened to her before. I don't know if I'd call her an influence. Maybe, an inspiration. I've only been doing this [playing professionally] for about a year and a half. I saw her perform at a show right around the time when I was beginning to do this. To see a woman stand up and play these quiet songs in front of a really nice, polite, respectful audience was really inspiring. You know, she has a lot of passion when she plays, and that's really great.

You've been playing publicly rather extensively for the past year and a half, correct?

I played my first show ever, by myself, with these songs in December of 2004 at the Sidewalk Cafe in New York. So I'd really never done anything other than playing at a coffee shop in college a few times. Aside from that, years had gone by and I'd never done stuff like that before [December 2004]. One of the reasons I've been playing so much is to get used to it...to learn how to do it.

What did you go to college for? You had a band or two before college, right?

I played in a band in college for three months [laughs]. We had one show. [laughs more] We were called The Irl. Then I began playing with a band about three years ago in New York, called Numb Numbers. We were a practicing band. We practiced and practiced until we got really tight. Then we played out [in public] for about three months, and we broke up. [laughs] Then I had another band, and we did about five shows. It was a girl rock duo called The Burners. It's hard to find time, so we haven't played in a while. That's the extent of my musical history.

You're doing a publicity campaign through email, sending out info to several different people. What made you decide to go that route now, and to "push it" at this point?

I don't really know. I guess I see other people doing this for a living. It seems like a wonderful thing, to be able to do this for a living, be able to do something that you love. I have no idea what it takes to do this, but I know a lot of people have teams of people working with them, all kinds of stuff. [laughs] I'm kind of just pluggin' along blindly, [laughs] going on suggestions of friends. Basically, why not?

Well, you're doing a wonderful job. I bought the album off of iTunes a while ago... [planes fly overhead very loudly]

Wait. There's a plane...there's actually a lot of very loud planes going by. Ok...what was the last thing you said?

I guess I was just saying I bought the album a while ago off of iTunes and it kind of shot up to the top of my "Most Played" list pretty quickly.

Oh, thank you.

Yes it's wonderful. Would you be offended to hear that your album is really to listen to while doing lots of different things, as ambient music for unwinding...to listen to or just to play in the background to set a nice mood? Because it's very somber. Is that something you're okay hearing?

Absolutely. I set out to write songs that definitely mean something to me, to write evocative music, but I equally wanted to write accessable music. I want to write interesting music that people will respect, and hopefully I've pulled that off. I always wanted to write satisfying songs.

Where does the moniker 'Spider' come from exactly?

A friend of mine, who I was playing with and had approached with the songs I had already written (his name is Steven, and he's played drums on a couple of songs on my record) had suggested it as a name for his dog. Or, if he had a son, he would name him Spider. We'd really been changing the name, playing out a lot, changing the band's name. This was last spring. We'd been changing the band's name every week or so. So it seems like as good a name as any, and it's kinda stuck. I actually had a horrible phobia of spiders. So when it became the name it began to mean something to me because I think I had a horrible phobia of playing music for a really long time. I don't know if I should go deep about it, but we thought it was a cool name, and we were starting to play some rock songs.

If there's something so deep about that you don't want to say, that's fine...

No, it's actually simple. It's a "facing your fears" thing. After a while it took on the meaning for me that you can't be afraid of things. I think for a long time I was really afraid to play music, even though it was something that I’d really always loved. I kind of shied away from it for a really long time. It’s not like I love spiders now, or anything., [laughs] but I’ve actually gotten over my fear of spiders a lot.

It would be lazy of me to categorize your music with terms that might get thrown around (especially in New York) like ‘Anti-Folk’ or ‘New Weird America’ unless I knew that you identified with terms like that. But do you ascribe any genre or subgenre name with your music? Are you comfortable doing that?

I have no idea. The guy I used to play with in Numb Numbers said we played ‘Modern Rock’. Maybe ‘Soft Rock’? [laughs] I listen to Lite FM [a NYC radio station] a lot, though. I usually just tell people it’s ‘Indie Folk’ for lack of a better genre.

[At this point, my recorder was running out of room, so I asked to stop it for a second so I could delete some files from it before we continued through the questions. Unfortunately I forgot to hit ‘record’ again until a few minutes later. So I don’t have the exact transcript of those few moments, but I believe I asked Jane who she would want to have a tea party with if she could pick anyone alive or dead. She answered Eleanor Roosevelt, which is where we pick up…]

…you know, there’s something very honest about her.

You released ‘The Way To Bitter Lake’ independently, right?

Oh Yeah!

What made you decide to release it independently? And are you looking into any labels at the moment?

Well…I don’t even know how to begin a conversation with a label. I think for my next album, which I’ll start to record soon, there are some labels I’d like to contact. It would be wonderful to have a label and tour, have tour support and everything. I think that would be a great help and opportunity. But I kind of had this thing [the album], and when I was done with it I wanted to…[laughs] I think with the internet and the way things are today it just seemed so feasible.

I see. So do you have any offline distribution set up at the moment? Can people buy your music at a certain store?

I am selling at about ten independent record stores right now, but it’s been growing. When I go to cities I try to visit record shops, definitely. I’ll probably be doing more of that soon.

Towards the end of ‘Maggie’s Song For Alice’ you have this ‘Melt-your-face-off’ guitar solo come in, which is in total striking contrast to the rest of the album (albeit a wonderful and, possibly vital contrast). What made you decide to change things up in that way, at that point on the album?

Well, it just kind of came out that way. In the band I had played with, Numb Numbers, I was the lead guitar player. I didn’t sing, and I didn’t really write the songs, but I got to shred. And with the other band, The Burners, it was totally a girl rock-duo. Actually on the next album there’s going to be a couple of rock songs on it. I love…to…rock! [laughs] I know that sounds silly. The latter songs didn’t really fit in on that last record, except in that one element.

What was it like for you to play at this years South by Southwest Festival? How did that opportunity come your way? What were some memorable experiences from that?

That was a blast. I had never been before, but I heard it was different from previous years. Now it seems that everyone and their mother who has a garage can have a party. Basically some friends of mine were having some parties, and Peter and the Wolf (with Whiskey & Apple Records)…um, I got to play on his bill with another amazing artist, St. Vincent. I am really glad I got to see her.

South By Southwest has really opened up some opportunities for non-label people and independent artists. The amazing thing is that you pretty much just go to shows all week, and everywhere you go there are people there. Even if it was in the smallest "Tacoria" [taco joint].

Did you get a pretty good response from the people that heard you play?

Yeah, I had a really nice response. Everyone was really warm, and the parties themselves were just great. I got to play with Brightback Morning Light, which was really wonderful. That was just a completely outside party that they were nice enough to come to. You know, they had just come from playing to open for Belle and Sebastian, earlier that day. [laughs] Then there in some, you know, random girl’s back yard.

Almost every major music blog that I can think of has posted about you recently. None of them seem to have said anything that wasn’t really good about you. Have you noticed any recent surge in publicity? Do you get more emails from people visiting the site recently because of that?

I’ve definitely noticed a small, steady climb in all that. Yes.

A year from now, where would you like to be professionally?

I would just like to always be playing music. I would love to have a band. I would actually really love to collaborate with other people. I’ve been working on my own project now for about a year and a half, and I really miss playing in somebody else’s band. [laughs]

Do you enjoy writing as much as you enjoy playing?

Absolutely, yes.

So, in the future, with these collaborations you'd like to have a hand in the writing aspect?

Yeah. I think that comes naturally, but I guess what I miss about playingwith somebody else is...and maybe it's just the mood of what I've been writing, but I feel like I've been focusing on the guitar. Acting as a guitar player with someone else is really interesting. I really never thought of myself as a guitar player. I thought of myself as somebody who knew how to play guitar and liked to sing. Being in a band where we practiced three times a week, and having never used a guitar pedal before--using pedals for all sorts of things--I really grew as a musician. I remember one day I realized, "I'm a guitar player!" [laughs] It's a really good feeling. You know, I really like that.

Am I correct in thinking that you picked up guitar at the age of fourteen, after going to band camp? Is that right?

No, I went to a YMCA camp in the Poconos [laughs]. My best friend at the time was going there, and there were always cute boys playing guitar while sitting around the fire. [laughs]

[laughs] Well, that's perfectly understandable. It's surprising though, because there are many girls who own acoustic guitars because they know boys who can play them, but they don't necessarily know how to play them. So it's interesting that you could start that way and wind up being an awesome guitar player.

It was a struggle. It was hard because I came home from camp, and I was like, "Mom! Dad! I want a guitar!" And they said, "...no." We had already tried with piano and violin, and band class, and everything else. And they were not into it. It wasn't until about six months later, when one of my mom's friends said, "Hey, we have an old guitar in the basement, and Jane can use that one." I got myself one of those little books, The Beatles: Learn to Play Guitar. Then I worked at it.

What is the name of the album, The Way To Bitter Lake, about?

Well, I had bought my friend a preasent. I had gone to a kind of 'junk shop' up in New Hampshire, and I bought her an old journal because she loves old books. Written in the back of it, probably one-hundred years old, was, "What is the way to Bitter Lake?" or something like that. It just really struck me as a beautifully suggestive place. It seems to fit with a lot of my songs. There not all about actual people-- a lot of the ideas have happened to me--but there a little bit more ethereal now, I guess.

So what does the writing process look like for you?

I usually play into a little tape recorder that I have, and then I listen to it play back. Sometimes I'm walking around the city and some little melody will strike me. I write in a journal, separately.

And final announcements, words?

I'm going to be recording soon. I'll record over the summer and hopefully have some things for late fall.

Awesome! Thanks very much.

Downloads (MP3s):
Spider - The Bitter One.mp3
Spider - Maggie's Song For Alice.mp3

The Official Spider Site
Spider on MySpace
GorillaVsBear's Post on Spider
*Sixeyes's Post on Spider
Cable and Tweed's Post on Spider
Yeti Don't Dance's Post on Spider
Rbally's Post on Spider

Palebare's Post on Spider
CYSTSFTS's Post on Spider
Sweetheart of the Radio's Post on Spider
Village Indian's Post on Spider
A Robot Commeth's Post on Spider



An Interview With Office's Scott Masson

There has been one band out of Chicago in recent memory that makes me a bit sad that I left Chicago some years ago. That band is Office. They have had the unique effect of appearing equally genuine and contrived at the very same time to the skeptic in me. Songs so earnest are rarely found in the "pop" vein. Call me what you will, but how could it be that these folks making pop music could really love music? I don't know, to be honest. But they are, and you can tell.

You might find it funny that my first introduction to Office was through a free download of their song "Wound Up" on iTunes several months back. I know what some of you are thinking, and yes, usually iTunes can't recommend bands I haven't heard of. But lo...there was Office. A short while ago I sent some questions to the band's frontman, Scott Masson, through the band's publicist, and today I got my answers! The band is currently unsugned, but in this interview Scott hints at how that might change in the future. So the question you have to ask yourself is this: When Office comes and takes over your world, will you be ready?

In as many words as you would care to use, how did this awesome band come to be?

Office formed because it made sense at the time. We all love each other very much, and there are some things we have to get off our chests. Gravity is a strange phenomenon, and nobody will ever be able to predict when it will bring people together. The word "office" is superfluous in the end. It's not a concept band, contrary to what a few people think. Every band makes decisions and delegates responsibilities. With a little bit of luck, we'll write some good songs that people will put on 15 years down the road.

Describe, if you could, each member's background in music or art before joining the group.

Tom Smith (guitar, voice) is a brilliant artist. His guitar playing is painterly, unique, and the work of a genius. He sings with a lot of wit and sardonic humor, which works well for us. He's been playing the guitar and singing since he was a young lad, and did a lot of time in punk rock prison. Tom studied print-making in Baltimore, and had some bands out there before he moved back to his hometown of Oak Park, IL. He's the youngest in the group, and definitely the most romantic.

Alissa Noonan (bass) is a closet vocalist. Since she's incredibly shy, I only hear her sing every once in awhile. She's got a beautiful voice, and I can't wait until we start working with it in the studio. Her background is mostly in art, particularly photography, but she takes a very serious approach towards music. Almost scientific. There have been shows where Tom, Erica, and I are extremely spent, but Alissa will carry us through the entire set because she is so solid and consistent. Alissa, who grew up in Chicago, is a very strong and opinionated lady, which is always refreshing to be around
Born and raised in Rockford, IL, Erica Corniel (drums, voice) is not only a fantastic drummer, but her voice has a lot of love in it too. She is a natural entertainer, and a hilarious person offstage. She keeps us loose, and helps me out with the administrative duties for the band. Her background is mostly in electronic music and DJ culture, as well as MCing on various hip hop tracks with underground Chicago-area producers. Erica has a keen understanding of dance music, and hits the drums way harder than most male drummers. She doesn't believe in unnecessary drum fills either, and plays only what is best for the song. This approach towards beat-making is almost impossible to find these days, so it's a kind of a gift when you do.

Jessica Gonyea (voice, percussion) is a new addition to the group, and she helps us keep our energy elevated. She's from Grand Rapids, MI, and moved to Chicago around the same time I moved here. She's got a really sweet voice, and plays a mean cowbell and tambourine. Her background is in painting, design, and fashion. She'll be doing some keyboard work with us pretty soon as well. We just started to work with her, so we're still learning more about her as we go. Again, Jessica is one of those people who keeps you laughing through the stressful moments of being in a band.

My name is Scott Masson (guitar, vocals, piano), and I'm from a little town in the suburbs of Detroit called Milford, MI. When I was a kid, I would listen to records, and pick out the individual vocal harmonies, and practice them over and over for about 8 hours every day. I applied this same strategy to drums, bass, and guitar. To this day, I don't know how to read music, because my education was through listening. I was a hired musician by the age of 13, and was making a lot of money playing in wedding bands, country bands, pit orchestra bands, and as a session player, etc. I gave up that whole scene around 15 years old, when I discovered punk rock. Later on during art school, I was very much inspired by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Christo, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Modigliani, and Barbara Krueger....among others (old and contemporary). All of these people completely blew my mind, and forced me to think about music in a different light. Office was born around that same moment I was studying these visual artists. It was never supposed to be a rock and roll band. That was an accident.

Has the band come anywhere close to signing with a label that meets the band's needs/requirements?

We are in discussion with a few labels as we speak. Our requirements are very simple: let us produce our own records, write our own songs, and create our own visual design aesthetic.

What is the song-writing process like for Office?

I write the songs, and we orchestrate them together as a collective. It's way more enjoyable for a band to work together, rather than having the "front man" spoil the show with one singular vision.

Production is where each composition is fine-tuned and sculpted. All of those notes and parts that work well during band practice or onstage, may not work during the recording phase. Most of the time, production is simplifying parts......if not completely subtracting them altogether. This tends to be my area of dominance, since I write the songs, and have made so many albums throughout my life. I'm always open to new ideas though, as long as they fit the song. I'm discovering that the band is fully capable of making these songs better than I can. This is a new sensation for me, especially since I have been working alone for the last several years.
Writing songs and producing records is usually a pain in the ass, and it's never a relaxing experience. The fun is when you can sit back, have a couple drinks, and listen to what you've accomplished with your friends. In our Office world, the song is only "complete" when there is a recorded, mixed, and mastered version on the table. Composing is only 50 percent of the game. Until the recording is finished, there is no satisfaction in life....only heartaches, clenched teeth, bitching and moaning, and a total lack of sleep. The process of giving birth is always painful, if you really love what you're doing.

I've been wondering something for a while, since your songs are somewhat lyrically subtle or inferential. What's the story behind "Wound Up"?

Nobody has ever asked us that question, so I appreciate it. "Wound Up" is a song about not being afraid to leave your house during a full moon, when all the freaks are out on the town. It's about embracing that wonderful city chaos, and going with the flow. I used to have this friend who never wanted to leave her house during a full moon, because she was afraid she'd lose her mind, or get murdered in the process. Forget drinking a bottle of wine, for she would surely lose all bodily control! Basically, it was much easier for her to stay at home, and sit in front of the TV, where she could wait out the night. Oddly enough, I'm sure she ended up even more wound up than I was, despite that fact that she stayed inside during such peculiar evenings.
This song was my way of calling her out for being afraid of the unknown.

The production of "Wound Up" took 11 months of composing, editing, drafting, demoing, and revising. It's by far the most epic pop song I've ever been a part of, and a lot of time and love went into it. Erica and Tom's vocals were great. I'm very proud of the song, and the production. It's ironic that the song comes across as "light-hearted" and "care free" as it does, because the lyrical mood is somewhat dark. There's a homeless guy offering up a joke for my pocket change, cars colliding, black cats, alley rats, drunk, patriotic tourists, social awkwardness, blue skies turning black, and people coming and going in and out of our lives.

The concept of "fear" was really in style the year "Wound Up" was written (2004). It's interesting to see all of that changing now. It feels as though people are less afraid this year. Maybe I'm wrong though. Who knows?

Here on this site I do my best to avoid describing bands in terms of other bands, opting to use music-specific terminology instead of band-specific terminology. Taking that somewhat into account, how would you folks describe your music?

It's folk music to my ears, but that concept seems to only bring up images of people on haystacks and wagons, playing acoustic guitars. That's not how I see us though. Our music is basically inspired by our environments, experiences, difficulties, domestic culture, friends, families, and lovers (oh my!). It's complex song-writing under a facade of simplicity. We like this idea of people dancing and enjoying themselves while they digest certain classic thematic concerns with us. There's a story being told within these songs, and that is the most important part of what we do. The best pop music is usually subversive. We're not singing to select groups of cool underground people, nor do I see us performing at the Super Bowl either. Office is intended for people from all sorts of age, race, economic, and social brackets, and we are very unapologetic about this. It's our goal, however, to do this thing called "pop" with some intelligence, craft, and honesty. Real pop music is always folk music, because it's communicating something in a very believable and truthful way.

If you folks could pick any band you all wanted to, can you think of who you'd like to tour with?

We'd like to tour with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

What does the band's prospective schedule for writing and recording look like for this next year? Are you folks excited for the upcoming tour and recording?

We're wrapping up the writing portion of our new LP, and then immediately jumping into the studio to record. It's all up in the air right now, since we're about to sign with a label (TBA soon!).

Could you explain the concept behind the double EP you have planned for fall release?

Well.....we still haven't decided if it's going to be a double EP, or another full-length LP. I will tell you that the mood is going to be different on this next recording. The lyrics are not as easy to digest, and it's going to be a bit rawer than our previous installment. I can't wait to start working on it, especially since it's going to be recorded on 2-inch tape. We want to re-create a good studio version of our live show. It's something we've never done before. The last 3 Office LPs have had drum machines and synths, and I guess we're all ready to make music that's more organic and human this next time around.

Are there still times when it feels odd to be professional musicians, or has the musician frame of mind taken hold rather thoroughly?

Interesting question. It's always odd to be a professional musician. The public tends to be a lot more critical of musicians than they are of visual artists, actors, and writers. The pubic also tends to hold musicians on a higher pedestal, which is really weird, since most musicians are freaks.

Musicians are dealing directly with the people on a daily basis.....face-to-face.....ear-to-ear. Other creative people can do their work, and not have to show up in person to promote it as much. I'm always amazed at the things I experience before or after we play a show. People tend to treat you differently than the other people in the room, just because you were onstage. That's very bizarre to me.

As a side note, I'm very intrigued by band rivalry, industry politics, legal affairs, and the stalkers that this job brings. Never a dull moment these days. You can't take any of it seriously either, or you'll wind up with a broken heart, and become a bitter and jaded individual. I'm definitely still working on this aspect of the job. For example, we're in the middle of some legal stuff right now, because we were burned by somebody we trusted. Now, this person wants to take a giant sum of money away from us, which we don't even have in the first place. The funniest part about the whole situation is that it's for work he didn't even do! Absurd. Sad. Sometimes this business can drive you to tears because you work so hard, and some people will just take advantage of your trust. I have broken down on numerous occasions in the last few months, but I try and remind myself that not everybody in this business is evil. We have some amazing people working with us to counter-attack all the bullshit.

Every day is a lesson in who to work with, and who to stay away from. At the end of the day, you just need to laugh it off because it\'s just politics. Music is the only thing that matters, especially when you\'re in love with it like we are.

Do any members of the band hold regular jobs? Does any one of you actually work in an office at the moment in addition to your musical obligations?

Erica owns her own dog-walking company, while Jessica is a free-lancer in Chicago. Tom works at a letterpress company, and Alissa is a stylist for a professional photography company. I am the only member in the band who works full-time on Office, doing administrative stuff, mailing CDs, conducting interviews, phone conversations, and tending to our other business affairs. That has become a 9-5 job in itself, which I simply cannot complain about. It's the best job I've ever had!

How did the idea for the band's..."costumes" come about, and how did that concept involve into how the band dresses now?

Our onstage attire has nothing to do with our band name. We hold the belief that if you're getting up in front of people to spout off a bunch of information, then you should look your best in the process. It just so happens that men and women working within Western civilization wear suits, ties, slacks, dresses, skirts, blouses, and power suits to their formal occasions. Anybody who thinks it's a "schtick" has obviously never been to a serious job interview before. Every show we play is a job interview.

Are there any musical acts out there right now that really inspire you guys who you would care to recommend?

All of the following artists are doing beautiful things in Detroit and Chicago. Our friends inspire us on a daily basis: Devin Davis, Mannequin Men, Freer, 800Beloved, The 1900s, Crap Engine, Velvetron, Crush Kill Destroy, The Modern Temper, Star, My Were They, The Changes, The Fake Fictions, and Roommate. I know I\'m probably leaving a few people out though. My apologies to them.....

Thank you for this wonderful interview.
Scott Masson

Here's a couple of songs from Office's album, Q & A...

Office - Wound Up.mp3
Office - Possibilities.mp3

Office's Official Website
Office on MySpace
Stage Hymns' Previous Post on Office



Radiohead: Rare Songs

I decided that it had been a while since I put up any Radiohead b-sides, remixes, demos, etc. So when I went into my iTunes to select from my catalogue I was surprised to see that I have nearly 800 songs concerning Radiohead (including popular covers, live performances, b-sides, proper remixes, and album tracks. After seeing that, I decided to just start at the beginning. So here I've got an unreleased Radiohead song, a fairly rare B-side, and 3 demos from On A Friday (What Radiohead was originally named). You'll notice that the unreleased song, "Permanent Daylight", was actually made into a string quartet version on Enigmatic: The String Quartet Tribute to Radiohead, which you may have already heard.

It's a lot of fun to listen to the demos, because it helps you see the evolution of this great band. On these particular demos I've selected you'll notice just how trendy sounding they were for the time. What a change they've made! Honestly, though, they're all really good songs, and it's easy to understand why they would write them. They certainly would make it hard to refrain from offering these boys a record deal.

Radiohead - Bishop's Robes (B Side).mp3
Radiohead - Permanent Daylight (Unreleased).mp3
Radiohead - Everybody Lies Through Their Teeth (On A Friday demo).mp3
Radiohead - Give It Up (On A Friday demo).mp3
Radiohead - Keep Strong (On A Friday demo).mp3

Radiohead's Official Page
Buy Radiohead Stuff



Band of Horses "Funeral" on Letterman 7-13-06

Hey there folks. I've got a quick download for you. It's Band of Horses performing "Funeral" this evening on Letterman. I recorded it myself, but I'm new to this, so it's a bit off with the bass when the song picks up. Sorry for that. Otherwise it's very clear, though.

Band of Horses - Funeral (Live on Letterman 7-13-06).mp3



Upcoming Album: Now It's Overhead "Dark Light Daybreak"

As a band, Now It's Overhead doesn't need much of an introduction in the world of independent music, but they've had a suprisingly small presence in press on this here intershizzle. They must be stuck in one of the "tubes" the internet is apparently made of. Now It's Overhead (NIO from here on out) is currently touring the US with Tilly and the Wall (another Saddle Creek band) and they will be stopping by Saddle Creek home base (Omaha, Nebraska) next Tuesday. I will be in attendence, so I thought it would be fitting for me to post my review of their upcoming album, Dark Light Daybreak, which hits stores September 12th.

The first thing I need to mention about approaching NIO's newest album is that if you like music from the '90s, then you will like Dark Light Daybreak, which has been infused with a lot of '90s sentiments.

"Well, how do you figure, Joe?" you ask.

I'll tell you what I hear in this album. I hear the Smashing Pumpkins (or maybe Zwan, but don't be afraid), I hear the lead singer of Train, and then I hear a bunch of the electronic instrumentation and beats that Saddle Creek artists are notorious for. That warehouse reverb on all the instruments and vocals...The prominent multi-layer harmonies...Just the notes that singer Andy LeMaster chooses, and how they differ from singing the melody, it really reminds me of '90s music. Maybe that's all a bit vague, but nevermind cause we're moving on to more concrete material now...

The album opens with "Let the Sirens Rest", which will undoubtedly be a single from the album, and for good reason. It has the makings of a radio-friendly pop-rock song, with a catchy chorus I can just imagine people singing along to while driving their cars listening to Lite 95 FM, or whatever their area's equivalent is. If you here this song before you hear the rest of the album, rest assured that this is both a good and poor representation of the rest of this very accessable album.

There's a lot of building up in many of the songs, giving off an urgent and dramatic tone. Many of the songs have multiple points where they swell to climactic highs. It's all very compelling to say the least. Stand-out tracks also include "Believe What They Decide", "Night Vision", and the title track "Dark Light Daybreak". I could hear any one of these songs on the soundtrack for a dramatic thrill movie (or even in it's compelling trailer). It's a very cohesive album, with each song clearly tied together in some way (be it sonically or thematically).

I really love this album, and I highly recommend it to all of you. Oh! Did I mention that Stage Hymns favorites Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink (both members of Azure Ray, as well as solo artists) are members of the band? Be sure to check back after Tuesday for a review of their show Tuesday night at the infamous Sokol Underground. Here's a couple of songs off the upcoming album, Dark Light Daybreak.

Now It's Overhead - Believe What They Decide.mp3
Now It's Overhead - Dark Light Daybreak.mp3

Ingrid Michaelson's First CD, Slow the Rain, is finally available on iTunes!


Canadian Hip-Hop: Pocket Dwellers

With this post I decided to do something unprecedented here at Stage Hymns. I would like to present my first ever Hip-Hop artist feature! Aren't you proud of me?! I'm growing so much!

But seriously, the band that warrants such an event must be a great one. I actually like the sound of bands like The Black-Eyed Peas, but I find most of their songs laughable and stupid because nobody in that group is interested in doing something mature or...well...non-sexual with music. It's music for hormonal teenagers if you ask me, which is a shame since they have an interesting sound.

What I have found in the Pocket Dwellers is that same off-the-wall energy and some very similar drum 'n bass, pop, and rock influences--with intelligent lyrics and messages actually worth writing music for. My good friends over at ThisCityRocks.com did an amazing interview/video podcast on these guys last week, and so I had to hit up their website for more info and tunes. They've even got a really cool music video for their "hit" song "Trust Us", which is the most catchy song off their most recent album, PD-Atrics. They've also got their own blog and a number of video blog entries available through their official site's video player.

Check them out for yourself!

Pocket Dwellers - Trust Us.mp3
Pocket Dwellers - Play This Music!.mp3



A New Mars Volta Song!

I'm a big fan of progressive rock. Really, I am! But there aren't many musical acts today who do it in the spirit which it began with. One group that has done an outstanding job of carrying the torch is The Mars Volta. This incredible duo knows how to make music without limits. Whether it's an 11 minute song or a sonic-assault-electro-blip solo in the middle of a song--these guys know that if it's good...people will listen.

The band just threw up a new song on their MySpace page (
here) from their upcoming album, Amputechture, which comes out August 22nd on GSL/Strummer/Universal Records. You can head over to their MySpace page to stream the song in two parts, but I've got this MP3 of both parts together which makes listening much less distracting in my opinion.

The new song is called "Viscera Eyes", and it shows no lacking of the ultimate Mars Volta stylings. It appears as track number 6 on the upcoming album, leading this reviewer to believe that it probably makes for a good sample of what's to come. Yes, it definitely sounds like a Mars Volta song, but do you really think you're brain could take anything more progressive anyway?

The Mars Volta - Viscera Eyes



Jim Noir Remixes Sebastien Tellier

French electro-ish musician, Sebastien Tellier, has been making music for several years, and has enjoyed a fair amount of success with outstanding reviews from the likes of NME and other--as well as with the appearance of his song "Fantino" in the movie Lost in Translation. I just recieved a copy of his single "La Ritournelle" remixed by the one and only Jim Noir in my mail this morning, and I simply had to share it with you. It's an instrumental version of the song, but it's simply gorgeous. Jim Noir has added that "fog" that seems to move across his recordings to this remix, and really brought out the beat. I also figured that many of you might have no frame of reference for this song, so I've included the original edit and a couple other versions of it. If you enjoy it be sure to head over to Sebastien's label, Record Makers, to order yourself a copy of the single's remix cd. It can also be found on iTunes and Napster.

Sebastien Tellier - La Ritournelle (Jim Noir mix).mp3
Sebastien Tellier - La Ritournelle (Original Edit).mp3
Sebastien Tellier - La Ritournelle (Piano Studio Session).mp3
Sebastien Tellier - La Ritournelle (Mr Dan's Magic Wand mix).mp3

Also, be sure to head over to Culture Bully today where my good friend Chris has posted a recording of Thom Yorke performing "The Clock", from his solo CD: The Eraser, on The Henry Rollins Show which is set to air next week on the Independent Film Channel. That's right, you get to hear it before anyone else!



Lindsay Rae Spurlock

When I was doing the rounds in the wee hours of the morning over at Cable & Tweed I stumbled across someone in The C&T Mix Tape Project, Vol. V: Atlanta Pop/Singer-Songwriter. Her name is Lindsay Rae Spurlock, and she has some talent that the world should not miss! I love the singer-songwriter genre in general--being so pleased with many recent acts that fall into that category. As a matter of fact, if you read this blog on a regular basis you'll notice that my posts seem to bounce around between Electronic, "Experimental", Power-pop, and Singer-Songwriter types-- with heavy emphasis on the last. I have no idea why that happens since I like such a broad variety of music. Anyway, Lindsay has a very good voice, and can write some wonderfully plaintive songs. Definitely piano-driven. Definitely nice.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock - November.mp3
Lindsay Rae Spurlock - Let It Go.mp3
Lindsay Rae Spurlock - Time's Up.mp3

Check out her MySpace page
here for another download, but be sure to mind her official website is a bit rough at the moment.



My Brightest CD Review

ne of the most anticipated released so far this year is My Brightest Diamond's Bring Me The Workhorse. For those who may not know, My Brightest Diamond is mainly singer Shara Worden, although she does have a band backing her. It's sort of ambiguous who is "the band" and who is not--kind of like Bright Eyes isn't really just Conor Oberst. You may have heard Shara on background vocals for Sufjan Stevens' Come on Feel the Illinois. Anyway, I am one such person who has awaited his own copy of the album, and my wishes were granted a couple of weeks ago. I've been a fan of the group ever since "Riding Horses" appeared on the
Asthmatic Kitty compilation, Mews Too. Since that time several of the albums songs have been leaked by blogs (and one by Asthmatic Kitty). I must tell you now that those singles give no justice to the experience had by listening to the entire album.

Those who have made a point of the operatic tones of the band (mostly in Shara Worden's vocals) are dead on. It's like a modern opera! I don't think I've heard such a justifiably dramatic album since Radiohead's Hail to the Thief, no joke! When I say "justifiably dramatic" I mean that it never feels melodramatic or like it's taking itself too seriously. It's just a serious album. Beautiful, but serious. "Disappear", a track which has been circling the internet, is the most light-hearted song on the album--and if you're familiar with the song you know it's a stretch to call it light-hearted. It rings a lot like Damien Rice's O album, equal in beauty and equal in seriousness. Obviously, the sound is much larger than that on anything Damien has done, with a full band of instruments backing Shara. Her voice reminds me of cross between an Opera singer's and Mia Doi Todd, perhaps. She just has a really strong female voice, and it's totally entrancing.

It's a terrific album, with as much beauty as a Grimm fairytale, and as much honesty as Shara's own diary might have. You simply must pick up a copy when it comes out on August 22nd.

Also, I should mention that MBD's violist, Marla Hansen, has a few original songs for download on MySpace herself. They are more than worthy of a check out, so I have provided some those for your listening pleasure as well. Marla can also be heard with Shara on Sufjan's Illinois album, and has toured with him as well. Head over to her MySpace page: here.

My Brightest Diamond - Riding Horses.mp3
My Brightest Diamond - Golden Star.mp3
Marla Hansen - Lighten Up.mp3
Marla Hansen - Wedding Day.mp3



Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye Preview/Review

The more of these promotional copies I get the more I realize that a year is a long time, and I think how foolish I have been to have thought that so many of the year's best albums have already been released. Have some of those "Best Of 2006ers" come out yet?...Yep. Will there be more albums released this year that will also join, and maybe top such a list?...Yep.

So This Is Goodbye, the upcoming release from The Junior Boys, is just such an album. There are few electronic acts out there that can impress me, but these guys are right up there with Thievery Corporation, Boards of Canada, Four Tet, et al. Not that they sound anything like those other acts: In fact, they sound more like a perfected vision of 80s British synth-pop, but they have done nothing short of astounding me with their next album. Their arrangements are so tight you could set your metronome to them. And what hooks! If like me, you find Thom Yorke's The Eraser somewhere short of amazing, then maybe this is the electronic album you've been waiting for. There's no excess activity on their tracks, but they're nowhere near "barren" or empty sounding. The Junior Boys have infused the perfect number of elements into each of the album's tracks to provide a wonderful variety stretching from dance-floor superbeats to rainy day window-watching soundscapes.

If you're the type of person with an aversion to "squeaky-clean" production, don't be afraid. So This Is Goodbye has enough charm, honesty and vulnerability to help even the "indiest" kid get past the amazing technical quality the album has. It's really a lyric-listener, as well. While you can dance to it, you wont find any clichéd or trite phrases on this one. So what do you call an album that has incredibly catchy songs, visceral technical qualities and wears its heart on its sleave?...Perfect. That's what! And it almost would be perfect were it not for the two songs that this reviewer found somewhat lackluster. No, I wont tell you which ones I feel that way about. I'll let you decide for youself, and hopefully you'll like all 10 tracks on the album. So, it's near perfect. Very near indeed. For me, the "quanitifiable" rating I give So This Is Goodbye would have to be a 9.6/10. I know I shouldn't be giving out ratings like that this early in the year, but I'm totally confident that this album will remain in the upper ranks by year's end.

Be sure and pick up your copy of So This Is Goodbye when it hits stores in August. Domino Records must be pleased as punch to have signed these boys back in May, cause this is one heck of an album.

Junior Boys - In The Morning.mp3
Junior Boys - Double Shadow.mp3
Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (Junior Boys Remix).mp3



Tapes 'N Tapes Contest Winner and EP MP3s

Well, folks. Sorry it's been a few days. I'm somewhat bogged down with some design work in "real life". So here's the update you've been pining after. The winner of the Signed, Limited Edition 7" "Insistor" Single from Tapes 'N Tapes is...Mike Roeder for his suggestion that Tapes 'N Tapes cover Television's late-70s hit "Marquee Moon", which is an amazing song, and an obvious precursor to much of the music that influenced Tapes 'N Tapes. It's an epic song, lasting over 10 minutes on the album version and over 14 minutes on the live recording. I'll be posting the song (possibly 2 versions of it) in the next few days, so you can all share in it and see for yourself why this was such a good selection. Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest.

Also, Mike from the UK asked if I could post "Moldy Bread" and "My Name is Not Horatio" from Tapes 'N Tapes' EP. So here I have 4 songs from said EP, including the requested tracks.

Tapes 'N Tapes - Moldy Bread.mp3
Tapes 'N Tapes - My Name Is Not Horatio.mp3
Tapes 'N Tapes - The Lion.mp3
Tapes 'N Tapes - 8 Or Ate.mp3

Again, be sure to check back this week for reviews on the upcoming CDs from My Brightest Diamond, Now It's Overhead, and The Junior Boys, as well as interviews of mine with John Roderick of The Long Winters, Jane Herships aka Spider, and Chicago-based band Office.