kai roberts new found glory



kai roberts new found glory
kai roberts
new found glory
in this issue
music news
Kai Roberts
New Found Glory
Dr. Dog
Album Reviews
Zach Branson
Assistant Editor
Samantha Ward
Art/Layout Director
Kathy Lee
Photo Editor
Lindsay Corry
Copy Director
Mike Ryan
Marketing and Publicity Chief
Leela Chockalingam
Public Relations Coordinator
Christopher Skaggs
Web Manager
Arun Marsten
Writing Staff
Ben Alderoty, Rachel Asbel, Zach Branson,
Leela Chockalingam, Emily Clark, Allison
Cosby, Hannah Dellabella, Halsey
Hutchinson, Dhruva Krishna, Nicole
Marrow, Erin Persson, Alexis Zambino
Photo Staff
Sankalp Bhatnagar, Lindsay Corry
Art/Layout Staff
Kathy Lee
Editing Staff
Rachel Asbel, Kairavi Chahal, Leela
Chockalingam, Hannah Dellabella,
Drevin Galentine, Alyssa Hamilton,
Max Harlynking, Halsey Hutchinson,
Danielle Maly, Alexis Zambino
Winter break has been a fantastic time to relax, whether it’s with friends,
family, or your favorite music. While The Cut has enjoyed the break,
we’ve also been busy checking out the latest music happenings during
the last weeks of the year. So before you say hello to the new year, read
this online issue of The Cut to see what the remainder of the old year
brought us.
The easiest way to get a taste of the final moments of last year is to
read Allison Cosby’s monthly Music News, which always gives you the
perfect balance of information and sass. And be sure to read our other
monthly pieces too: Hannah Dellabella’s Lyrically Speaking, where she
talks about what makes a good Christmas song, and Nicole Marrow’s
In Defense Of, where she defends music videos as a form of art. Before
this issue I’m not sure I was convinced that there was that much brain
power put into modern Christmas songs and music videos, but as usual
Hannah and Nicole making me see the light.
We also have some cool, one-time features that you need to check out.
Halsey Hutchinson tells us about the dynamic of releasing music in an
overtly public time where (for good or bad) you don’t have an excuse
but to have heard of pop icons like Miley Cyrus. And Leela Chockalingam, in a possibly-too-meta-but-I-really-like-it-anyway essay, gives a bit
of criticism to music criticism.
And of course, we can’t forget about the awesome artists we’ve interviewed to finish off the old year. First there’s Kai Roberts, a Carnegie
Mellon student who somehow found the energy to put out a great rap
album, titled Carnegie Café, while dealing with everyday college life. And
do you remember when you listened to New Found Glory in middle
school, high school, or just five minutes ago? Well, The Cut’s Lindsay
Corry had the chance to talk with NFG drummer Cyrus Bolooki and
check in on this 16-year-old band. And for our cover we have a band
that’s just two years younger, Dr. Dog, who is from our own state of
Pennsylvania. Writer Dhruva Krishna talked with lead guitarist and vocalist Scott McMicken to talk about their new release B-Room and the
band’s new studio, and the interview is sure to be a great read even
for people who haven’t listened to this 60s-influenced indie rock band.
Zach Branson
The Cut Magazine
top album
s of 2013
by Nicole Marrow
music video as art films
Where to draw the line between music and
culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture
Baby” out of a six-hour art installation in which he
high art has been a hot topic in this post-Bowie,
in me!” I think her concept of “ARTPOP” is
recited lyrics to a crowd that weaved in and out of
mid-Gaga era. Music videos display artistry
brilliant, and it’s turning into an epidemic: pop
the MoMA. Marina and the Diamonds went so far as
through their ability to expand upon the ideas
art takes bits of pop culture and places them
to create an 11-video series set to her songs, in which
that musicians communicate via song, but
into the artistic universe, and now, musicians
she transforms into a persona, Electra Heart, then
we’re seeing an increasingly pervasive crossover
are using their fame to bring aspects of fine art
subsequently dies, signifying her entering into and
between performance art and popular music
into pop culture for the masses to consume.
leaving a particular creative space, all while telling a
through the medium of cinema. In a time when
When musicians start to experiment with
story about the darkness of innocence as it relates to
Justin Bieber can whip out a three-minute ad for
film, the blurred lines between music and
the American Dream. With Lana Del Rey releasing
his new fragrance and call it a “short film,” does art
contemporary art are almost smudged away
Tropico, a “tale of redemption told to the music of
even have value in the context of commercialized
‘Gods & Monsters,’ ‘Body Electric,’ and ‘Bel Air,’” in
music video culture? I argue that it does, although
Converting music into an art film is all
December, only time will tell if the latest offering of
the horrors of The Key (named after his…perfume?
the rage, with Jay-Z, for example, and even
a musician’s art film will be revered or added to the
Cologne?) definitely help to build a pretty strong
more marginal figures like Marina and the
pile of absurd attempts at being taken seriously, a la
case against me.
Diamonds spearheading the movement. Jay-Z
the timeless rap opera Trapped In the Closet. Now
I don’t even need to bring up Lady Gaga here,
collaborated with performance artist Marina
THAT’S art.
since she’s always willing to remind us, “Pop
Abramovic to create a video for “Picasso
lyrically speaking
It’s that time of year again: that glorious month where it’s socially
phrase / To kids from one to 92.” It’s an appeal to everyone’s inner child,
acceptable to listen to holiday music 24/7. Even if you don’t celebrate
making listeners of all ages feel like “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.”
Christmas, the music is omnipresent. There are many people who
A more recent addition to the Christmas song arsenal is “Last
will argue that this constant barrage is irritating, but I say ignore the
Christmas.” Written by George Michael and originally released by
haters. Christmas music is great, but what makes a good Christmas
Wham! in 1984, it has since been covered by lots of artists, including
song? Think about it—a ton of artists have attempted original
(of course) Taylor Swift and Jimmy Eat World. It’s a definite tone change
Christmas tunes, and yet we always see the same handful of songs
from the more upbeat Christmas songs, but it resonates. It’s a song
covered again and again by artists of completely different genres.
about heartbreak, a feeling that transcends all seasons. I think this one
Let’s take a lyrical look at some of the quintessential Christmas songs
succeeds because it’s sad without being too sad—it starts out with a
and see why.
singer that is not over their love (“But if you kissed me now / I know
According to Wikipedia, the most performed Christmas song ever
is “The Christmas Song.” Originally written by Robert Wells and Mel
by Hannah Dellabella
you’d fool me again”) and then moves on to being over that (“Now I’ve
found a real love / You’ll never fool me again”).
Torme and released by The King Cole Trio in 1944, it has been covered
A lot of the most popular Christmas songs succeed because of their
by everyone from Paul McCartney to Christina Aguilera to Big Bird.
holiday imagery. They make you want to frolic in the snow or decorate a
Looking at the lyrics of this song, it’s pretty easy to see why this is such
Christmas tree. Others play on universal feelings, like love and wanting
a popular holiday tune. It has plenty of familiar Christmas imagery
to be home for the holidays. But I think the most popular songs work
that makes you want to be home in front of a roaring fire. But I think
due to the same reason that all popular music works—it’s music we can
the line that really makes this song is “And so I’m offering this simple
relate to.
music news
By Allison Cosby
While most news sources are making the move online, Pitchfork has
decided to (ironically?) move in the other direction. After 17 years
online, Pitchfork is starting a quarterly music publication with longform feature stories, photography, illustrations, and more. The first
issue of The Pitchfork Review was released on December 14.
going vegan for 22 days—Beyonce is in on this, too—
and by ranking his own 12-album discography. His top
album was his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt.
Nominations for the 56th Grammy Awards were released:
Jay-Z has racked up nine nominations; Kendrick Lamar, Justin
Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams were each nominated
for seven awards; and Kanye West received a meager two
nominations. The awards will take place on January 26.
After being out of the spotlight for a little while, Lana Del Rey
is back with a new 30-minute short film and a new album. The
film co-stars model Shaun Ross, is loosely based on a Garden-ofEden-type story, and is surprisingly not terrible. Or maybe that’s
just finals procrastination talking. Yeah, it’s probably terrible.
Fleetwood Mac fans are celebrating this month, as former
keyboardist and songwriter Christine McVie has expressed interest
in rejoining the band full-time. The band is currently on a tour hiatus,
as John McVie, Christine’s ex-husband, is undergoing treatment for
Kanye West has announced that he is working on a followup to Yeezus, which will be released in 2014 if all goes as
planned. West has also been busy working on a new clothing
line with Adidas, after severing ties with Nike. He says he
wants to be the “Tupac of product,” whatever that means.
A Japanese company has introduced the “Gagadoll,” a lifesize replica of Lady Gaga, dressed in flamboyant outfits and
inspired by her Artpop album. In place of a heartbeat, the dolls
feature messages from and music by Gaga instead. Creepy? Yes.
Awesome? Yes. Consider this added to my Christmas wishlist.
Rock legend Bob Dylan’s Newport guitar was auctioned off this
month for nearly $1 million, making it the most expensive guitar
ever auctioned. This title was previously held by Eric Clapton’s guitar
“Blackie,” which sold for $959,500 in 2004.
The Rentals—the band fronted by former Weezer
bassist Matt Sharp—have signed to Polyvinyl and plan
to release a new album in 2014, which will be their
first album since 1999’s Seven More Minutes.
Beyond his numerous Grammy nominations, Jay-Z has been
a steady force in the news this month. The rapper kicked off
his “Magna Carter” tour, celebrated his 44th birthday by
If you have ever purchased a variety pack of
candy and been disappointed by the lack of
peanut M&Ms, you understand the uncertainty
of buying a concert ticket. For newer bands,
the threat is low; their setlist will probably
mirror their only album with a cover thrown
in to fill out the timeslot. More established
acts with decades’ worth of albums have a
more difficult task, akin to a hoarder packing
for vacation. Traditionally, the difficulty lies in
a balance between necessity (the big hits)
and personal entertainment (songs from the
new album). Recently, however, this hasn’t
necessarily been the case. Soundgarden’s
recent tour saw them skip over some of their
biggest hits, including “Black Hole Sun” in
favor of deep cuts, and Rush’s Clockwork
Angels tour was nearly anti-hit, focusing
on their most recent album and their
overlooked era. Is this a disservice to fans,
who are left whining, “Play ‘Limelight!’” as
the band plays through another deep cut,
or could it be an adaptation?
Indeed, if the Internet has changed how
recorded music is heard, it must certainly
have an effect on live music. Before,
knowledge of a band’s entire discography
required a lot of money and digging around
in record stores. The same can now be
done in two hours on YouTube for free.
This means that rare songs are now known
to a wider audience, and what would have
been a lone cheer is now a sizable roar and
a light-up of the band’s forum afterward.
by Drevin Galentine
YouTube is also an archive of live performances,
so many concert-goers could hear as many live
versions of the big song as the band has played.
At that point, is playing that song really necessary?
The band may disappoint the girlfriends of a few
fans, but they take a much needed shot at the
setlist formula. If you think “Black Hole Sun” is a
depressing song, try listening to it knowing that
the song can only occur at the end of the encore
and you will have to go home soon. With so
many live videos around, the fans don’t need the
band coming to town to bring the songs, but to
bring surprise. A great concert experience is like
a magic trick, so pull a cover of “White Rabbit”
out of your hat once in a while, because both
types of performers are doomed if they don’t
redesign their entire show every few years.
Kai Robert
It was mid-August last year during convocation when I first heard a song by Kai Roberts. He was
performing the opening song “Celebrate” off of his recent mixtape Carnegie Café. Over a year
later, Kai has released Carnegie Café as a free download online, and after listening to a few
songs you’ll see why it has taken this long. I got the chance to sit down with Kai recently and
discuss the year as well as the long project that became Carnegie Café.
Who is Kai Roberts?
Kai started rapping in 10th grade and has since performed sporadically at Pittsburgh
venues such as Street Live and District Live in addition to everywhere at Carnegie Mellon.
He began with a group of high school friends who called themselves H.N.T. Since then Kai
has continued rapping and producing with members of H.N.T. as well as other Carnegie
Mellon students. Carnegie Café is his second album after his solo debut, Life, Lights, and
Passion. When asked about the two projects Kai stated, “I feel like there was very related
How did Carnegie Café come together?
From start to finish Carnegie Café sounds like a professionally
recorded album. In days when Juicy J can record “Bandz A Make
Her Dance” as his lead single to Stay Trippy in a hotel room, it can
sometimes be overlooked when a complete album like Carnegie
Café comes out. Needing more than a hotel room, Kai recorded
Carnegie Café at Carnegie Mellon’s music studio and Tufts Sound
Carnegie Café largely came together last fall when Kai was taking a leave
of absence from Carnegie Mellon; on the album Kai was attempting to get
out “my raw emotions that I was feeling during that leave of absence.” In
this sense, Carnegie Café became Kai’s way of venting these emotions.
Kai said he made some sacrifices to make Carnegie Café have a broader
appeal, but most of the material is raw and directly from this time in
Kai’s life.
Speaking on how the album was created, Kai said, “I had
some beats left over from making Life, Lights, and Passion,”
while others were produced, “right when I had the idea for
the song.” I have found often that lyrical rappers produce
some of their own songs because it allows them to more
clearly get their message across; both Kid Cudi and J.
Cole produced their entire albums that came out in 2013.
Kai was not always able to open up as he does on Carnegie Café, and
even admitted to being quite shy in middle school and high school. Kai
attributes college and the anxiety he was feeling to how he was able to open
up: “The anxiety I was going through pushed me to challenge my fears.” It was
By Ben Alder
not easy for Kai to overcome these fears, but he repeatedly
told himself, “You know other people are going through
the same stuff,” and he was right. Who at Carnegie Mellon
can’t relate to anxiety and stress after all?
What’s Carnegie Café like?
The title itself hints at the majority of the subject
matter: life as a student at Carnegie Mellon. The
songs contain a multitude of lines referencing
the focus on schoolwork, the lack of social life,
and of course the stress culture, among other
things. With the additional themes of popularity
and relationship struggles, I feel that any college
student can relate to the album, especially students
at Carnegie Mellon. Seriously, I challenge any
college boy to not laugh the first time he
hears “About Those Grades.”
Although Kai was experiencing negative
emotions at the time, the album is in no way
depressing. Throughout the album tidbits of
humor are spliced in, and uplifting songs are
mixed in with the more emotional ones. Touching
upon his own music,
Kai stated: “My music will be humorous to some extent,
serious to some extent; it will be
introspective. That will stay consistent, but I feel like the way I do it might change.”
Kai mentioned that he likes to, “Play with this idea of coming out of a dark place and reaching a light.” I
think Kai improved greatly on his ability to convey this message from his first album to his second. The
individual songs may have their own meanings, but Kai ordered them to convey a greater meaning as
a whole. One example is “Popular,” where Kai questions what it means to be cool and popular, but this
message is only a portion of the story in Carnegie Café.
Kai notes that Carnegie Café follows his college career chronologically, stating: “[It begins with] me
coming into college and getting into the music grind, and after a while realizing college is a little more
real than I thought it was. Then the second half is me developing the ‘I’m going to be myself and I’m
going to keep positive’ mindset I have now.”
I was truly inspired to write this piece after becoming friends with Kai on Facebook. Kai would post
these lengthy statuses’ that were very inspiring and garnered dozens of likes and replies. His sheer
honesty on a public platform such as Facebook showed just how passionate the subject matter on
Carnegie Café was to him. It immediately became evident that this was not a normal hobby, but it
was a large part of Kai’s life. Music is not only Kai’s source of venting his own emotions, but also his
source to inspire the next depressed college student to recover and look at life positively again. He
proclaimed to me that, “It’s really refreshing to hear me actually inspiring someone.” Hopefully Kai’s
music will reach someone who will be inspired. I know I will be playing songs from Carnegie Café
throughout my time at Carnegie Mellon and likely afterwards as well.
Photography and Interview by Lindsay Corry
New Found Glory (NFG) formed back
in 1997 and consists of guitarist
Chad Gilbert, vocalist Jordan Pundik,
lyricist/guitarist Steve Klein, bassist
Ian Grushka, and drummer Cyrus
Bolooki. NFG has always enjoyed
and continues to be driven by
performing live. The Cut interviewed
Cyrus Bolooki, who told us about the
band’s history and future.
The Cut: NFG formed in 1997. What is the drive that keeps the band
going and how have you grown as a band since then?
Cyrus Bolooki: Honestly, the drive for us is that we started as kids that
were fans of music. We would go and hang out at shows and always
wanted to be the bands on the stage, so we formed a band together.
The live aspect is one of the biggest reasons why we are still around,
because 16 years later it is still just as fun to play a show as it was when
we first started. As far as changes, we have gotten older as a band and
are more experienced now. Our music may have slightly changed, but
no matter what we still play music that is very much from us. We are
not doing anything fancy or any of that kind of stuff. So I think for now
NFG and our fans can identify with our music and see how much we’re
enjoying it and what we are into. So we haven’t really changed too
much since we started, I mean the music industry has changed a lot,
but us as a band not really. We are just out there doing what we do, and
loving what we do, and hoping to continue as long as we can.
The Cut: You said that you stayed consistent as a band and with the
music you are producing. Do you see a change in the fans throughout
the years or have they stayed similar as well?
CB: A lot of the fans have been with us for a long time, so they have
grown as well. One of the greatest things on this trip is every night
we meet people that may have been fans for a long time, but for a lot
of these people it’s the first time ever seeing us. So luckily for us we
still get fans that come out to shows, and we are getting newer fans
that are younger, our age, or older just experiencing and discovering
us. I think to have both sides of that is awesome. It helps continue to
grow your fanbase yet at the same time keep your fanbase there, and it
allows us to continue to tour and go on the road and do this.
The Cut: You joined the band after two rehearsal sessions; how did you
and the band know that NFG was the right fit for you?
CB: For me it was crazy. Some friends of mine got a copy of the EP
the band recorded and hadn’t released yet and came to me saying you
have to listen, you would really love them. Once I heard that EP the
music was so fresh yet very reminiscent of what I was listening to, and
this new spin on the kind of west coast punk rock that I was getting
into at the time, I thought it was amazing. So they asked me to come
out to a rehearsal. I remember it was funny because I never played the
new songs on a real drum set, my parents didn’t like me playing drums
at my house. So I literally set up a couple pillows on my bed and I would
just play the tape and play along with drumsticks on pillows to try to
learn it. I came to the first rehearsal, I played the songs, and I did well. I
came in the second day and I guess I was either that much better than
their old drummer or the perfect fit, and we went on from there. My
first show happened to be the first CD release party for that record. It
was a pretty amazing experience for me.
The Cut: I read that the band doesn’t like to be classified as a pop band.
What do you want to be classified as, and how has that influenced the
type of music you produce?
CB: I think the reason we said that about classification is because
people always have weird names and genres they put us in, or bands
they compare us to. It’s hard because there is not one band out there
that we sound like, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we don’t
necessarily sit there and try to classify us. I mean, sometimes we just
say we are a rock band, but we aren’t just a rock band, we definitely
have some punk going on, we have some hardcore influences and
background in that scene as well, even the emo scene a couple of our
guys are really into. More than anything we like people to listen to our
band themselves and then form their own opinion. If you need help
by trying to say that we sound like some bands, you can say we sound
a little bit like Green Day and Blink 182, but we’re definitely not like
Green Day or Blink 182. So it’s hard to compare us to almost anyone or
even a whole bunch of bands, we are just New Found Glory, honestly.
The Cut: Do you come up with the lyrics as a group or
individually? And where do you get your influence for your
CB: The songwriting process usually starts with Chad
[Gilbert] who will come up with guitar riffs or a ruff song,
and then usually it’s Steve [Klein], our guitar player, as well
as Jordan [Pundik] and even Chad a little that do the lyrics,
but mainly Steve. Then it will come back to the band. When
we record the songs we all give input. But lyrically a lot of it
is Steve and not necessarily specific things he goes through
but things he sees all of us going through or that something
around is going through. They are experiences that can be
real; we are not the political band or the band that is going
to talk about some random space lake creature. We are very
real. We talk about things that happen to us. I think it helps
no matter what age or kind of person you are, I think almost
any kind of person can take something out of our songs and
relate to something in our songs. That’s why a lot of people
do enjoy listening to us and singing along, because they
get stuff out of these songs. We’ve been able to help a lot of
people through difficult times in their lives or just different
times in their lives through music.
The Cut: How is it being back on tour with Alkaline Trio?
CB: We love it. It is also H2O, both bands we’ve known for a
long time. The last real tour we did with Alkaline Trio was in
1999, we were opening up for Face to Face. It is really big for
us to actually be on our own in a tour. We have kept in touch
and were able to see those guys. And H2O we went on tour
with in 2001; we have been friends with them forever. I love
them on this tour because all three of our bands have been
around for longer than 15 years, and it’s not a farewell tour.
We are playing bigger shows than a lot of current bands out
there, so it really goes to show you the respect that we get
from everybody and the power that all of our bands have
had and the fact that we can still go out there and do this.
The Cut: Your album From the Screen to Your Stereo are all
cover songs. How do you choose what songs to cover?
CB: When we first started playing shows we knew there
would be people who didn’t really know our music, so for fun
we decided to cover the scene in The Titanic. Everywhere you
turned you heard that song. We wanted to make the cover
sound more like our music. People reacted really well and
then started requesting that we play that song in shows. So
to finish up From the Screen to Your Stereo we had the five
members in the band pick a song from a movie and we went
from there. For From the Screen to Your Stereo we tried to
find a bunch of movie songs that we thought could sound
good in our style, movies that we grew up on or loved. It’s
funny that we’ve been able to take cheesy songs and make
them I guess not-so-cheesy or at least try to change them to
our style where kids really do enjoy them. It’s cool because
you can play for a crowd that doesn’t know your music but
probably knows these songs, and next thing you know they
are singing along to these songs. So whatever it takes to get
kids into it is what we’ll do.
The Cut: You said the music industry has changed since you
first began; what is your opinion on that?
CB: I think the music industry has been changing for years,
ever since the start. When I was younger there were tapes
and now people don’t even have tape players. The same
thing is happening with CDs; we’ve all seen what the Internet
has done. It is very neat in one way because you see new
technologies come out—especially the Internet, MP3s, and
iTunes—has made it very easy for people to get music, but at
the same time it is almost a bad thing. I remember the days
when a record was coming out and you would save up your
money and go to the record store that day, and spend that
money on the CD. You were so happy to actually have that
CD and open it up and look at the cover and all that stuff.
Now-a-days it is different, it is a click of a button; people a
lot of times download it even if it is illegal. So it has definitely
changed in that sense. Of course there are a bunch of politics
and money things involved, but that’s more for the labels to
figure out.
No matter what, the music industry can change all you want,
but the one thing that hasn’t changed is concerts. You can’t
ever duplicate a concert or take away what a concert does to
somebody. So even though people may not be selling as many
CDs right now, or record contracts have changed, or labels have
come and gone, bands are always going to be able to go on tour,
and that’s why a band like ourselves have made a point to try to
be on tour as much as we can. It doesn’t look like any changes for
that will be coming anytime soon.
The Cut: Are you thinking of recording a new album anytime
CB: There are three new songs on our Kill It Live record that just
came out. I know it is not a record of all new songs, but we are
going to finish touring, which will take us to the end of the year.
We don’t have a date set to go into the studio to do a new record,
but I’m sure some time next year we will start working on one.
You will always hear about things coming up from us. Next year
is going to be the 10-year anniversary of our album Catalyst, so
we’re going to try to work things up around that. So there are
things we are working on, but as far as the full length, sometime
next year I’m sure we will do it.
Photo by Sankalp Bhatnagar
The Cut: So B-Room is the first album
you recorded in your new studio.
What inspired you to create your new
Scott McMicken: I think it was just that
we’ve been in the old one for so long and
we needed a fresh start. Our old spot
was really cool. We had been there since
2004—similar deal but kind of more
low-key than what we just did. As far as
studios go, it was a big room like 1500
square feet, which is twice the amount
of square feet that I lived in. It had all this
gear and tapes and all this accumulated
crap. We made every album since We All
Belong in there. So long story short, it
was just time to get somewhere nicer—
or not necessarily nicer, but just different
for our own sake. And the location—the
old spot was in the heart of the city, and
we all wanted this new place to be a bit
more rural. We wound up not exactly in
the country, but five miles from the city,
and five miles from the city you can wind
up in some pretty remote streets.
The Cut: So you talked about the
album being a bit more country and
rural, and when I heard some songs
like “Phenomenon” it reminded me
of The Avett Brothers with the banjo
coming in. I was wondering if there
was a country influence, especially
with the location of the studio.
SM: Not in a direct way. Like I said, we
were in no means a country town. The
location of the studio wasn’t a polarizing
shift from a concert studio to a country
studio, but it definitely influenced
our album in a way; it gave it a more
rural feel, because everyone felt so
much more relaxed. We weren’t really
“working;” like we were working better,
but we weren’t working as hard, it wasn’t
as labor-intensive. I think that had a lot
to do with that relaxed, at-home setting.
And “Phenomenon” evolved into that
country song. I wrote it on the banjo, that
little riff. One of my favorite things and
one thing I always wanted to have as a
part of our sound at least for a song that
we hadn’t done before was that single
fiddle player. A lot of music that I love,
especially Bob Dylan’s Desire album has
that lone fiddle player jamming along.
It’s not like these classically constructed
parts; it’s just a guy with a faithful sense
of melody, playing and jamming. And
I’ve never known anybody who played
like that. We had a bus driver, an older
gentleman from Nashville who used to
play at the Grand Ole Opry House who
I became friends with, and I realized I
found the guy. So it wasn’t like sitting
down and saying “let’s make a country
song.” I think Dr. Dog wears a lot of styles
on our sleeves, and it’s pretty apparent
where the influences come from, and
I think, especially with “Phenomenon,”
there are these very overt nods to this
country pallet, but it feels like no country
song I’ve ever heard.
The Cut: What artists, both modern
and old, do you think most influenced
the writing process and making of
SM: I feel like we didn’t necessarily
go into the record with “here’s where
our inspiration is coming from” at the
subconscious beginning of the record,
but there are pretty big sources of
inspiration that are always present on
our records and our live shows. I feel
like there are elements in your music
that you know are aware are influenced
by an artist you like, but what seems
more prominent at the end of the day
and influential is the general spirit of
Dr. Dog is a prominent indie rock
band native to Pennsylvania.
Known for their distinct sound
which heavily draws from bands
of the 1960s, Dr. Dog has been an
actively touring act since 1999.
Dr. Dog released their eighth
album B-Room in October
of 2013, and The Cut had the
chance to sit down with lead
singer Scott McMicken and
discuss the band’s newest
release and talk music.
interview Dhruva Krishna
phorography Sankalp Bhatnagar
an artist. Like The Stones and The Clash,
whenever we do anything—not to
suggest we sound like The Stones and
The Clash—there’s a certain spirit and a
certain kind of passion and fearlessness
that they display and their music reflects
that. And you want to feel like that, and
you’re just charged and driven and have
the passion for what you’re doing. On the
modern side of things, Floating Action is
a band that is also a friend of ours, and is
the brainchild of Seth Kaufman. His spirit,
the spirit that is present in his music, is
badass. He’s like totally legit, and it feels
so good.
The Cut: How does Dr. Dog find itself
balancing the relationship between
increased technology in the studio
and personal creativity and skill in
creating its unique sound?
SM: I think we use the technology more
now than before because we’re more
informed of what it is. I guess we’re old
enough to be making music when the
digital side of things started coming to be.
Like most people, we had too simplified
reactions to it, like it’s inherently wrong as
opposed to it can be a great tool when it’s
in the right hands and through the right
lens. A lot of the record was recorded
on super-shitty equipment, but when
you’re really putting the sound together
and mixing and stuff, there are so many
amazing things that digital technology
can do. It’s not like we record on this
shitty equipment because that’s how we
have to sound, it’s because it’s where we
feel most comfortable, and when you
feel comfortable, you enjoy yourself.
The simplicity and the commitment to
the moment that comes from recording
in a lo-fi fashion and marrying that with
modern technology can also take those
sounds and take from that moment
and spirit and spontaneity and explore,
sonically, their depths.
The Cut: Who are your top influences
as a guitar player?
SM: Definitely Neil Young, and Mark
Ribot. I’m starting to appreciate a more
limber and right-handed approach
to guitar, but I came out with the real
angular style. I really think guitar solos
are very dangerous, and I’m not a bigger
jammer. My guitar style for years has
been dominated by very heavy-handed
aggressive playing, because the last
thing you want to do is sound like Eric
The Cut: You guys have toured with
a lot of artists, so how have your
experiences been going from a
supporting act to a headliner?
SM: Our experiences have changed quite
a bit. For the first four or five years we
were opening for 90% of the tours we
did. It was fortunate we started that way,
because we hadn’t really played much
before going on tour. I think we played
one or two shows a year for like four
years. It was more of a home-recording
kind of thing, and we didn’t really have
a solid idea of what’s a live band or
what was the necessary equipment we
needed to play live. So it took a few years
to feel good and be comfortable on stage
before justifying the ticket prices, and we
were also lucky to be opening for great
bands. Then we started out in small bars
being the headliners, and playing longer
and realizing how each song has its own
dynamic and the arc of a set. I think the
headlining has really brought challenges
into music making, and lessons of
restraint. Touring as an opening band
has no restraints, but now that you know
they like it it’s more of offering a dynamic
range and expression through the set.
My first festival was Austin City Limits in 2011, which was the 10th anniversary of the
show, so everyone was really stoked. That was when dub step was at its peak popularity
at my school, so I was really excited to see Skrillex perform-- however, the show ended
up being like one big mob fight, and I got trampled and crowd surfed within 15 minutes
of each other. It was probably one of the worst shows I've been to, but then my friends
and I rushed the stage after the show and managed to get front row for TV On the
Radio, and pictures of us at that show ended up on the front cover of The Daily Texan!
-Erin Persson
The first music festival I went to was Lollapalooza, in Chicago. I remember walking into
the festival grounds and being amazed by my surroundings. The first day is always
about exploration -- getting a feeling of the environment, the different stages, and the
different activities the festival offers. The feeling you get at your first music festival,
and music festivals in general, is one of excitement and tranquility. It is a place where
everyone gathers for the same reason, to listen and discover the effect of music.
A great aspect of music festivals is the exposure to musicians. I remember leaving
the festival with an improved perspective and playlist of musicians I saw perform.
The craziest thing about Lollapalooza was walking out of this utopian environment
and into the city. Once I was exposed to a music festival I have always wanted to
go back or to another. The experience of a music festival is difficult to communicate
because it is so different than everyday life; but what I found from attending these
festivals is to experience the unfamiliar and you will be amazed with what you find.
-Lindsay Corry
By Halsey Hutchinson
Music has always had, by necessity, accessible
traits. Obviously, one does not have to purchase
music in order to experience it in a significant way.
Music is played in public places, talked about by
friends, and generally permeates society in such a
way that it is unavoidable. In fact, it is undeniable
that, in this day and age, music is accessible to an
unprecedented extent. Who hasn’t heard of Miley
Cyrus? And perhaps more importantly, with the
advent of free streaming services like Spotify, who
hasn’t heard at least one of her songs? Miley Cyrus is
a particularly effective example, but to some extent,
this applies to all music. Thus, the question arises:
What implications does the modern accessibility of
music have on overall modern musical culture?
Clearly, the immediate effect of this accessibility
is a societal expectation of knowledge in pop
culture. Those who are not somewhat familiar with
pop culture are thought of as backwards. This isn’t
really a new idea—musical figures like Elvis, or
even earlier, Bach and Beethoven, were well-known
in society even without modern tools. However,
greater knowledge is assumed. With so many
free sources for music online, accessing the most
popular songs is very easy. This, in some ways, has a
domino effect—because the music is so accessible,
it is played by fans for others, further increasing
pop culture’s reach. American pop culture’s global
success clearly demonstrates the permeability and
accessibility of (at least some kinds of ) modern
Additionally, the accessibility of modern music has
increased the modern listener’s musical standards.
When so much music is available, one can afford to
be a critic, and in some ways one has to with such
a diverse spread of musical options. Standards for
quality have clearly gone up, in both sound quality
and technical skill (both with the instrument and
with the recording equipment). However, this
increase in standards also clearly correlates to the
recent surge in popularity of hipster culture. The
extreme permeability of pop culture into so many
components of modern society naturally leads to
a large subset of dissent, which has recently been
categorized as a hipster movement. This leads to
demand for diversification of style, which naturally
leads to increased attempts at creativity. Variance of
style is clearly demonstrated in the last fifty years—
the musical differentiation has been enormous
compared to any given 50 years in the classical
period, as an example. Any time period before
that clearly reinforces this claim to an even greater
extent. Thus, with the modern accessibility of music,
the resulting demand for quality and originality
caused unprecedented artistic growth in modern
musical culture.
At the same time, the modern accessibility of
music also facilitates distribution. An artist can
share his/her work with the world without the
assistance of a record label. Recording equipment
is easier and easier to get, and in fact, self-made
music can easily be made available for free through
websites like SoundCloud. In fact, an opposing
argument to the last paragraph can be made:
There is less quality control in modern music, since
anyone can post original works of any quality with
infinite accessibility. Yet, ultimately, any such work is
creative, and does contribute something to modern
musical culture.
In this modern age, music is unavoidable.
Proliferation of music is facilitated by the modern
accessibility of both musical recording and
distribution. Furthermore, the proliferation of
music has led to a prominent desire for originality,
sparking greater production of original musical
genres and subgenres. Musical culture has
undoubtedly changed in the modern era. Some
might say it has declined and mutated into an
unrecognizable shape, molded by sex, drugs, and
general disobedience of traditional society. Yet,
this divergence indicates creativity—the heart of
the artistic process. Personal opinions aside, it is
ludicrous to deny that the modern accessibility
of music has increased the artistic component of
modern musical culture.
Photo by Lindsay Corry
Lady Gaga
Britney Jeans
Britney Spears
After a delay in release due to a serious hip injury, Lady Gaga’s
third album adds another hour of catchy electro-pop music
to her repertoire. Titled ARTPOP and described by Gaga as “a
celebration and poetic musical journey,” this album certainly
takes an artistic approach to pop music. The tracks are full of
cute puns like “MANiCURE” (Man Cure) and “G.U.Y.” (Girl Under
You), and some include allusions to previous songs on Born
This Way and The Fame. The standout tracks from the album
include “Do What U Want (feat. R. Kelly),” “Gypsy,” and “G.U.Y.” The
collaboration with R. Kelly may seem like a strange choice, but
it is extremely well-executed for both artists. “Gypsy” is perhaps
the best track on the album, with the transformation from piano
ballad to powerful anthem. “G.U.Y.” is an infectious song that begs
to be sung along to (however badly). The album’s title track set
in the middle perfectly balances the two halves of the album
and invokes a feeling of calm after the relentless energy of the
beginning songs. Her rawest track is “Dope,” which evokes the
emotions of desperation and longing with little more than the
simple piano and Gaga’s incredible vocals.
Throughout the entire album, Gaga does not simply show off
her talent, but uses her voice as a tool to enhance each track. The
album may be an odd introduction to the artist, but long time
fans will be pleased with the various quirks in ARTPOP. While
maybe not Gaga’s best album yet, ARTPOP is a solid fifteen tracks
to enjoy while dancing, singing, or simply listening.
- Alexis Zambino
You know that feeling when someone gives you exactly what you want,
but then you realize that maybe you should have been looking for
something else all along? That’s Britney Jean: touted as pop icon Britney
Spears’ most personal album ever, not only is it supremely unoriginal and
full of questionable and dated production decisions (Will.I.am is literally
the worst thing to happen to music since the beginning of time), it’s so far
beneath the brilliance that she has proven herself time and time again to
be capable of showering upon us.
This is Britney Spears we’re talking about; the same Britney Spears
who escaped from Louisiana to make teen pop a thing, who emerged
from a highly publicized downward spiral right back on top of the world.
You root for her despite knowing that she walks around gas stations
barefoot. She comes across as nonsensical and goofy, totally crazy yet
incredibly endearing, and this lack of cohesion regarding who Spears
really is has made the rare glimpses into her psyche (“Lucky”, “Piece of
Me”) so mesmerizing.
However, it’s also where Britney Jean’s problems lie. Her vocals are totally
on point, but the substance just isn’t there. “Perfume,” a syrupy-creepy
ballad, and “Alien,” a strangely prophetic club anthem, are probably the
highlights, along with the sheer fascination-factor accompanying her
duet with sis/teen mom Jamie Lynn, “Chillin’ With You.”
Maybe it’s just me: I wanted “Everytime,” she gave us “Tik Tik Boom.” It
could be that Spears and her handlers/producers finally failed to generate
an album that changed the pop music game, or that her own personal
life, the truth that Britney Jean attempted to reveal, just isn’t interesting
enough to translate into an entire collection of songs. Honestly, I’m not
sure which is a harsher reality to face.
- Nicole Marrow
4.5 SCISSORS ✂ ✂ ✂ ✂ ✂
2.5 SCISSORS ✂ ✂ ✂
No Blues
Los Campesinos!
Blood Orange
Cupid Deluxe
There is no doubt that Los Campesinos! have a distinctive
sound. Their highly melodic hooks combined with Gareth Davis’s
desperate and almost underdeveloped vocals create a highly
recognizable feel. No Blues, the band’s most recent contribution,
uses this distinction to its advantage. Where some of their previous
albums lost general legibility in favor of maturing style, this album
is easily accessible. The lyrics and instrumentation are all building
off of what past albums established but are not so dark, so raw,
so alienating as they once were. Songs like “Avocado, Baby” and
“What Death Leaves Behind” demonstrate that Los Campesinos!
has found the a compromise between polish and originality, has
become confident enough in their own music to lose some of their
past edginess. In No Blues, Los Campesinos! has created an album
that is palatable to both the established fan and the casual listener.
On his new album and the second under the moniker Blood Orange,
British musician Dev Hynes dives in and perhaps finds the heart of 1980s
nostalgia—and he doesn’t waste time trying to hide his influences. There’s
clear evidence of Michael Jackson, Prince, and The Police (just to name a
few) woven throughout the densely layered record, but Hynes focuses on
combining them in a way that sounds oddly fresh. Cupid Deluxe is more
than just a return to dreamy 1980s synth-pop, however. Hynes’ lyrics are
vulnerable, and his musings on doubt, displacement, and romance are,
at worst, a welcome reprieve from canned pop lyricism and, at best, so
open that it’s emotionally unsettling for the listener. Perhaps the best
part of the record, though, is Hynes’ deft employment of guest musicians,
including rappers Despot and Skepta, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, and
hip-hop producer Clams Casino. But it’s Hynes’ own voice that shines
through in the end: loud, clear, and certain of his uncertainty.
- Allison Cosby
- Emily Clark
4 SCISSORS ✂ ✂ ✂ ✂
4.5 SCISSORS ✂ ✂ ✂ ✂ ✂
+ By Leela Chockalingham +
How do you know when you like new music? This may seem like an elementary question, but until recently
I was never quite sure how to answer it. I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music, and never really
struggled with finding new music. I did struggle with forming my opinions. As an analytically minded person, I
wanted to analyze what I had listened to. What musical elements made it good? How did it compare
to existing work in the genre, or by the artist? Did it fall in line with emerging trends in music
overall, or was it reacting to them? These are just a few of the questions that I could think of.
I found it easy to turn to music critics to help clarify my thoughts. It’s also easy to find new music
through critics. I have done both on more than one occasion, browsing Spin, Pitchfork, and other blogs
looking for my next obsession. Sometimes, this has ended with delight when I find an amazing band. Just
as many times this has ended in disappointment, when
I just can’t get into something despite their five-star
rating. Occasionally, these instances have left me
feeling inadequate. These music critics were obviously
more musically literate than myself; so I must not really
understand what I was listening to. It wasn’t a great
feeling to have. Recently, a few things have come to
my attention that have helped me shake this mindset.
First off, critics are in part trying to perpetuate
their legitimacy. They are consistently making decisions that are in some sense safe for their
business, and they market to their audience. I’m sure they do like the music that they rate
highly. However, their opinions are in no way the end-all be-all of good music. Like any
other opinion, theirs are influenced by a myriad of factors outside of strict music quality.
Secondly, in the quest of being right, it’s easy to re-appropriate a critic’s opinion as your own. Once
again, I know just as well as anyone how exciting it is to find a review that has put your thoughts into
words, often more eloquently than your own. However, there have also been
times when I was unsure what to think and it was shockingly easy to spout
off a critic’s opinion as my own. I am guilty of this, and it seems harmless at
the time. In the long run, this can often lead to a very one-sided conversation
about music. Many people’s feelings boil down to echoes and reverberations
of a few people’s thoughts. This is a process aided and abetted by the access
individuals have to music criticism on the Internet. If a critical mass of
people have the same opinion, it becomes difficult to have an opposing one.
I am in no way trying to invalidate the opinions
of music critics. They play an important role in
the music industry, especially when it feels like
there is more and more music to sort through
in the world. However, everyone who listens
to music has the right to his or her opinion,
regardless of how traditionally “right” or “wrong”
it may be. From this point on, I want to stop having thoughts that knee-jerk fall in line with everyone
else’s, and I want to stop shaming people for having an opinion that’s not good enough. Let’s
make room for everyone’s voices. That sounds like a conversation worth being a part of.
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