Profile: Naomi Punk

NaomiPunk

It’s a calm, if not damp night on the North side of Chicago. On a residential street near the Loyola campus, dim street lights give off an orange glow that is enhanced by the newly formed rain puddles. The last thing you would be expecting to take place on a quiet night like this? An earth-shattering, face-melting punk show. Below ground, in a DIY venue space known as “Albion House” (in reference to the street the space is located on), Chicagoans flocked out to see some raw local talent, leading up to Seattle/Olympia natives, Naomi Punk. Violent Success caught up with Captured Tracks‘ rising stars to discuss their sound, Seattle’s music scene, and their new album, Television Man.

Violent Success: After you guys started playing together, how long would you say did it take for you guys to find your sound?

Travis Coster: I think it was always kind of found

Nicolas Luempert: I think it was really found in Summer of 2011, on the west coast tour.

Travis: Yeah, but we had already had those songs. I feel like we were never trying to make a sound. We were never like: ‘Alright, we gotta have a cool, unique sound if we wanna do what we want with music.’

Neil Gregerson: We didn’t have a focus.

Travis: Yeah. I feel like the focus has just always been trying to make a pop song- trying to arrive at pop melody or structures. I feel like it’s always been driven by an idea of finding a new way toward a pop transcendence. Not like ‘pop culture’ pop; we never went pop or something. We were always trying to move toward repeating parts until we heard beautiful things and liked ‘em.

VS: So What’s your favorite part about performing the material live?

Neil: Oh, I need to think about that.

Travis: I guess I really like playing for the energy that’s there.

Nicolas: Yeah, I mean before this and I feel like all of us, in all the bands we were ever in always focused completely on playing live opposed to recording. Whereas this started as more of a recording project, and then turned into a band.

Travis: Where it was not for the live setting exclusively. So playing these songs live is acrobatic, a little bit.

Nicolas: Yeah, we were kind of translating the songs at one point. Which is cool, it’s cool to translate.

Travis: I feel like they still have to get translated a bit.

Neil: That’s just what happens when you play something over and over again.

Travis: We kind of relearned this old song that we never used to play live, and we play it live now. It’s on The Feeling and it’s totally- I listened to the old version the other day and I was laughing at how different it was. We totally translated it to like this kind of different song but it’s the same song. So I guess there’s a lot of translation that’s involved and there’s a dynamic element to it that’s really interesting.

VS: So would you guys say that Seattle’s music scene has influenced your music at all?

Travis: Well, we grew up around Seattle and and got into a lot of music by going to a lot of punk shows and underground shows. I met Nick when he was like fifteen

Nicolas: Yeah, I was fourteen

Travis: Fourteen? Yeah. And we were at a show that we were playing together, in different bands, and I was like ‘Hey are you gonna go to this show?’ And we would go to these really weird shows and they were really far out and that opened up how we thought about what we were doing. Not necessarily in terms of there being three or four cool Seattle punk bands that we really liked a lot.

Nicolas: And also, there were so many different bands that were kind of like us where it was completely focused on the live setting and not even focused on recording so there were so many places to play. There was a scene without there needing to be some weird material they were supporting.

Travis: There’s literally no documentation of like 50 bands that we would see all the time that would be amazing. Or if there was documentation, it was not representing them at all…but that band was the most meaningful band in that moment or had this visceral energy. And playing live has always been really important, so when I asked to start a band with Neil and Nick I was like: ‘Dude I really wanna do this band but I really want it to be focused on this recording project- or, not recording project but having there be this compositional dimension to it and have it be like a recorded document. Material versus performance, but now it’s performed.

Neil: I would say we probably record a lot less live than a lot of bands do.

Nicolas: It’s kind of like a recording project where we figure out the songs as you’re recording.

Travis: Yeah, we record a bunch of drums and we’re sending the songs to each other and working on them separately. Adding a lot of elements and then figuring out how we’re going to do it.

Neil: It’s only been a recent thing that we’ve all lived in the same place.

Travis: That makes it sound like it’s The Postal Service…(laughter)

Neil: Well ya know, there was an hour…

Travis: Yeah, there was a period of time where I lived in Seattle and they lived in Olympia. So whenever we would play together, we would have to do a five-hour long practice and then we wouldn’t see each other for at least a couple weeks.

VS: So what has been the biggest shift from The Feeling to Television Man?

Travis: There isn’t that much of a shift. I feel like we got better at writing songs and better at recording ourselves and honing the vocabulary of our music.

Nicolas: I feel like it also got more collaborative.

Neil: And just more active, in general.

Travis: When we were making that album, Television Man, I feel like we’re not trying to change what we were doing with The Feeling, we were just refining it.

VS: Who are some of the artists who have influenced you guys musically?

Travis: I love punk music and I grew up listening to a lot of punk music and I feel like there’s this magic, raw power in punk music. Like Iggy Pop, ‘Raw Power’. There’s something that’s bigger than it, an aesthetic even…

Nicolas: I feel like the whole thing with Punk music, like with all the bands we used to like a lot, focusing on the live performance. Focusing on a visceral thing, not a material thing.

Travis: We all have been influenced by different things and different parts of music history and appreciating them without trying to incorporate them into this project.

Neil: I would say, with this band, it’s less like we’re tapping into what we’re into and putting it into the band, it’s more like we’re tapping into what the band is and then building on that,

VS: If you could tour with any band playing today, who would it be?

Travis: I was thinking about Magic Markers earlier. I feel like that band is really cool because they’re so focused on the live experience and they’ve been doing music for a long time. They’re artists doing their thing, which is really cool and I feel like it would be fun to see them live every night because they’d be playing really different sets. Some of their songs last eight minutes some nights and some nights they’ll last like 20 minutes, depending on how they decide how to take it which is really cool, and kind of rare in music.

Neil: They’re a real band.

VS: Say you were forced to describe your sound to someone who has never heard you guys before, doesn’t know anything about you. How would you describe Naomi Punk?

Travis: What would you say, Nick?

Nicolas: It’s pretty loud?

Travis: It’s pretty loud (laughter) (To Neil)What would you say?

Neil: Last night they were joking about how the final judge of the music, it’s not really humans but it’s aliens.

Nicolas: You have to think about the completely neutral point of the alien intelligence.

Travis: And if you’re not thinking about how the aliens would review it-

Nicolas: If you’re focused on humans only then it’s- you’re out of the game. it’s already over.

Neil: But it also means thinking about someone in the future.

Nicolas: It just means neutral. Well not neutral but completely blank. But ya know, that’s kind of funny. It was a really good joke.

Neil: I forget what the question is now (more laughs).

 

Coasts: Oceans EP

Oceans EP cover

Coasts- Oceans EP

Coasts, a five-piece band from Bristol, England, first got together in 2011. Two years later, they released their EP Paradise. Since then, the band has gained some recognition, including being one of fourteen artists to be featured on iTunes’ “Ones to Watch” in the UK for summer 2014. The band is able to further showcase their talents with their latest EP, Oceans .

The first track, ‘Oceans’, is a great way to start off the EP. It steadily pulls you in and leaves you immersed in empathy. The song starts off with a simple yet sweet guitar riff and the lyrics “We fell in love right by the ocean”.  As the chorus kicks in, like waves crashing onto the shore, the song seems to take on a different form.  It truly is an astonishing track of epic proportions.

The second track, ‘Tonight’, sounds kind like the previous song, ‘Oceans’, but what makes the track stand out is the use of the synthesizer, which makes the song more upbeat.

The song ‘Golden City’ is an absorbing track.  In the beginning, it sounds like it could be a slow song, especially considering the use of the piano, but then the song takes a different turn. It soon becomes more of a dance track that could perhaps be played at a nightclub. The lyrics, “If we play this right/ we can take the world/but I left my heart in London/ with the girl in the golden city”, makes the song quite intriguing.

The track, ‘See How’, is all about heartbreak. The lyrics “You broke my heart a thousand times or more” seem to make that pretty clear. Some other lyrics that stuck out to me were “wandering the aisles of your vacant mind”. The drums on this track make for a great beat that is consistent throughout the song.

The EP also includes two remixes of the song ‘Oceans’. The first remix, by Toyboy and Robin, makes the song faster, but not completely danceable. The second remix, by Kastle, is a rather distinct. It starts off slow and repeats the muffled lyric, “Is that the devil in your eyes?”, which kind of confused me a little.  Then out of nowhere, the song is brought to life with hip-hop and R&B melodies. It’s a unique twist on the indie rock song that I found utterly refreshing.

Listening to Coasts’ EP, Oceans , is like a fun day at the beach filled with tuneful guitar sounds and lyrics that flow. That being said, feel free to put on some cool shades and enjoy every minute.

7/10

Pitchfork Music Festival 2014: Sunday (Day 3)

Grimes

The last day began with fast-rising dream poppers DIIV. Their guitar driven sound shimmered over the audience in the early afternoon slot. While they’re sound was good, I wasn’t exactly captivated. Frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s audience interaction from what I saw was mostly nonexistent, starting the show off with a simple uttering of “DIIV” into the microphone. While their dynamics were measured, their blend was solid and the guitar came floated through with a calm intensity, their spacey performance style didn’t fully woo me. They lent well to the atmosphere, but didn’t hold my attention for too long.

As I meandered on from DIIV I found myself in the thickets of Perfect Pussy’s set. Now here’s the thing with them. They have the well, perfect, name. They have the feminism to match. Their lead singer, Meredith Graves, is a force field of fury and light onstage. Their sound is tight and brash. All these lovely parts are great, but for some reason didn’t add up to what I wish they did. I know it’s a stylistic choice, but I desperately wish they would turn Graves’ mic up. I get that they want to be noisy, and that’s totally cool. But for such a vivid emotional performance, I could barely hear her. Which, is also a pretty cool theatrical choice. But instead of having a profound effect on me, it just made me really, really, really curious to hear what she was saying. Though I wasn’t converted on site, I still hold out hope for a better second date the next time I see them.
Deafheaven, on the other hand, had me from their sound check. Lead singer, George Clark is known for his unique antics and this performance did not disappoint. As someone put it best right behind me, “he looks like voldemort before he transitioned.” Clad in black everything from slacks, dress shoes to a button down, Clarke released the beginnings of his battle cry in a spirited vocal sound check consisting of reptilian screeches and devilish wails. Once they were in full swing, they had the audience hypnotized. Backed by a heavenly metal sound, Clarke proceeded to act as maestro over the audience. With his signature cryptic sign language, he proved that fully committing to something otherwise silly can become not only cool but powerful. From their shoegazing influenced sound to Clarke’s bizarre and entrancing alter ego, Deafheaven was definitely a Sunday stand out.

My excitement was only building as I awaited Earl Sweatshirt. Unfortunately, I forgot that most Earl Sweatshirt fans are really just Tyler the Creator fans who are really just Loiter Squad fans. This resulted in a frat party so sticky, wet and dumb I could have sworn there was a keg in the mosh pit. I’m a huge fan of Earl Sweatshirt’s introspective, emotionally baring work from his debut album Doris, but that wasn’t really in the cards for this show. And while I appreciate the fact that Earl Sweatshirt is into absurdist humor, he veers from Tim and Eric territory straight into the mouth of sexism, misogyny and rape culture. It’s one thing to have “I’m gonna fuck the freckles off your face” as a line in a song, it’s another to make it the main chant of the performance. With an army of white boy wasted frat wannabes too young for college applications chanting it back at him, I didn’t feel the need to stick around for more.

Although the sound check was refreshingly on point at Pitchfork, unfortunately some still suffered. After an elongated sound check, the Dum Dum Girls still kicked off their set with a shaky balance. With their noise pop style, this could have been a cool choice. Instead, they sounded unintentionally clunky, with flat harmonies and blank faces carrying no opinion either way. While their image is a calculated cool with frontwoman Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristen Welchez) flanked by a near all-female band all outfitted in all black, they rely on it too much. I wish their awesomeness extended beyond their stage picture, but their cucumber cool affect just comes across as low energy.

Grimes2

The next few hours were devoted to flitting about two great indie bands, one old and one new. First I swayed back and forth to the West Coast via East Coast sounds of Real Estate, then sat and watched Slowdive take the stage. Real Estate was solid as usual, with a laidback vibe emanating a focused energy that was contagious. Freshly reunited dream pop act Slowdive delivered an incredibly strong set, proving their sound to be as tight as ever.
As the sun and the moon slowly began to trade places, Grimes completed the sunset glow with her powerful electronica set. Self-producer, vocalist, and magical dancer, Grimes put on one of the best shows of the entire festival. To say she works hard is an understatement, constantly tweaking knobs, adding a vocal loop, or dancing to her tunes with riveting joy. While young girls and boys are more apt to look towards thoroughbred mainstream pop stars like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande or Miley Cyrus, I urge parents to expose their kids to Grimes. A truly self-created artist from the ground up, Grimes is the kind of musical heroine that would benefit kids on multiple levels. Her old standouts like ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ sounded fresh as ever, and her new tune ‘Go’ (in collaboration with Blood Diamonds) brought the park down with powerful assertion.

Closing out the night was the unparalleled West Coast rap virtuoso Kendrick Lamar. Having seen him last year with only a DJ backing him, it was a beautiful surprise to see him backed by a full band. This added exponentially to his music, fleshing out the jazz-influenced beats like “Money Trees” and the explosive percussiveness of “m.A.A.d city.” Proving exactly why he was the perfect closer, Kendrick took the audience for a ride through his city via vocal, theatrical and musical storytelling. Glowing with beautiful humility, at one point he thanked everyone for still bumping to his album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” after two years from its official release. With an album still largely peerless, it was more than ok with me.

ZXO: Drugs (demo)

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ZXO- Drugs (Demo)

It was one of those moments when a song started playing and I had to stop what I was doing. I was at my friend’s house, a place I often visit to unwind or record a new collaboration, and he had just played ZXO‘s latest single ‘Drugs (demo)‘ from his computer. “This is my buddy Ryan Brewer. His latest release.” my friend said. When the song had finished I asked him, “Could you send me that link? I need to hear that again.”

Being a huge fan of the raw recordings of solo artists like John Frusciante, Nick Drake, and Frank Zappa, I hold songs labeled as “demo” in high regard, without the stigma of those songs being considered incomplete or lacking proper care. They are what they are, a concept, which is good enough for now and yet so good that the idea can’t be abandoned. ‘Drugs’ happens to be one of those demos that made me question aloud, “This is a demo?” because to me the work itself has a strong sense of finality. Its greatness is exuded by the deliberate choices of song structure, lyricism, and instrumental aesthetic. Honestly, I can’t imagine how it might be better, which is all the more exciting.

The song begins with a cool beat played through what sounds like an amplifier or an EQ, giving it that warm presence. Odd and watery instruments fade in with the clean guitars, eventually giving way to the bass and strummed electric chords which form the slowly looping verse. To me, the feeling it generates is similar to what I feel on a wet afternoon in the city when the sky is just starting to clear up as the day comes to a close; witnessing a fading beauty. The lyrics, however cryptic they may seem at first, add a sublime tone for the song’s melancholy quality, and Brewer’s breathy vocals are the ideal conduit for their message. The killer moment is when the third verse comes in and he hits those high notes, singing “It’s electrical when your head explodes / and I’ve come to detonate you / become a skipping stone / throw me like it’s all you can do.” At that point the song reaches its climax, shifting into a new progression of two simply awesome chords which come together in such a way that it almost hurts it so good. 

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Hungry for more, I contacted Brewer and explained my interest in his music. On the conceptual inspiration for ‘Drugs (demo)’, Brewer states that “drugs is about coming to the realization that people you know are becoming more and more absorbed in their personal vices. In my case these vices are starting to grip my friends and family members beyond their control, and the effects are finally becoming visible… The addictions we cling to are a result of our circumstances and perspective, and ultimately I wish I had the power to go back and change the circumstances of friends and family I’ve recently had to say goodbye to.”

Having been a part of many local ensembles such as Good Night & Good Morning, Hank, and more recently Capys, this is Brewer’s first release under the ZXO moniker and marks the introduction of a new presence in the music world. Though the song is still just a demo it stands alone as a powerful work of music. Brewer plans to flesh out the ideas of ‘Drugs’ with more musicians prior to a release scheduled for the fall during which time ZXO will tour the east coast. For now, the song remains in it’s purest form, giving the listener both something great to enjoy as well as the anticipation of more things to come.

10/10

Pitchfork Music Festival 2014: Saturday (Day 2)

FKA2

A promisingly stacked day, I came in at the end of local band Twin Peaks’ solid performance. Just nineteen years old, clad in Cosby sweaters and wheelchair stricken for one member (seemed to be a broken leg), Twin Peaks brought a fantastically energetic and tight garage-pop set. Their power pop leanings offered a nice smattering of playful raucousness and interesting mid-song tempo changes. At such a young age, they’re off to more than a good start.

I then crept over to await the entrance of mysterious rapper Ka’s performance. Having heard just one of his songs, a sparsely dark mid-tempo piece, I was expecting a fairly bleak experience. One of the most delightful surprises of the day, Ka’s shucked rap norms of blown up egos and stage antics and expressed outward humility every chance he got. Turns out Pitchfork was the largest audience he had ever played for, saying later on in his set “I wish I could take y’all with me.” An unexpected contrast from a guy whose solemn real world lyrics put the audience into a contemplative stupor. In between grittily observational raps about his life in Brooklyn throughout the decades, he would grin graciously and ask the audience if we were alright (most likely mistaking our stoically careful listening for boredom). While Ka isn’t someone I could listen to for long periods of time without getting a lasting chill, his humble pie approach was a breath fresh of air in contrast with the rappers to come.

I then encountered electronic singer-songwriter Empress Of. Utilizing vocal loops, samples and synth lines, Empress Of offered a nice mid afternoon snack. While her sound was definitely cool and the kind of pretty the sun achieves by whispering through transparent curtains, I wasn’t completely swept away. But she definitely piqued my interest, causing me to pause for a few songs and bookmark her for future listening. With not much music out yet, her sound is still being developed and the best is likely yet to come.
A great thing about Pitchfork as a music festival is the smallness and the scheduling. Overlapping just two acts at a time between three stages in Union Park, seeing almost every act is not only possible but probable. With the intimate style, came the tightest festival sound I have ever experienced. Each act was given a solid and careful sound check, producing some of the best festival performances I have ever seen. This became very apparent as the night drew on, with ambitious acts that depended on tight sound to execute the best balance.

After passing through a few acts like Cloud Nothings (dependable, tight, and high-energy) and Pusha T (late, arrogant, riding Kanye’s coat tails), I got to experience tUnE-yArDs for the first time. With Merril Garbus at the helm, complete with her neon painted flatback version of a captain’s hat, TUNE-YARDS pulled a sizeable and game audience. While I still have questions about appropriation versus satire in regards to Merril’s afro-pop act, there was no question about their skill level. Backed by a lively gender-queer band complete with three part harmony singer/instrumentalists and a drummer, TUNE-YARDS brought everyone to full attention. They played new and old favorites, ‘Gangsta’ being a standout from the portion I attended. Garbus whipped out her ukulele for some older songs that tenderized us all into a giddy pile of hair chalk and overalls. Her vocals were as strong as her recordings assert, appropriately brought out by the clean sound check.

Kelela

Midway through their set, I pulled myself away to catch electronic R&B forward thinker Kelela’s spacey set. With strong LP debut Cut 4 Me, Kelela has been building up lots of internet hype and deservedly so. Putting hipsters to shame in the most skillfully worn overalls since Alex Mack, Kelela infused a fiery intensity to her icy futuristic melodies. With just a DJ backing her, she contrasted her minimalist stage set up with an in-tune physical presence and raw emotion.

Keeping up with Pitchfork Festival’s important strong female artist trend, was should-be headliner St. Vincent. Enter stage right, high heels a-skittering to Rattlesnake’s opening riff, Annie Clark unleashed her divine weirdness upon us all. A true artistic visionary, she was one of few who came equipped with a set and show concept (due to her current tour). A touring regular, Clark knows how to put on a theatrical experience that adds to the music instead of distracting from it. Smartly opting for a minimalistic band setup, flanked by drums and a synth, Clark’s sound was controlled and focused. This allowed for her signature other-wordly guitar solos to take precedence when needed. St. Vincent is not a show to be missed if possible, whether you actively listen or peripherally appreciate her.

I then found myself in a trance, induced by trip-hop newcomer FKA Twigs. Supporting her upcoming LP factually titled LP1, FKA Twigs is a dancer-turned-singer with experimental ambitions. There are slow jams, and then there are jams so slow that your body actually starts to melt into slow motion. With an alien Lolita affect, complete with 100-yard stare and witchy conjuring dance moves, FKA Twigs is developing a truly unique live experience. I say developing because she has some kinks to work out as far as dynamics and storytelling go. But as far as her style goes, she’s doing something a bit slower and weirder than other artists. After seeing FKA Twigs, Kelela and SZA all perform at the same festival, it’s nice to know that the blessed resurgence of up and coming female experimental R&B vocalists are getting the exposure they deserve.

The night concluded with a stirring performance from camera-phone shy indie legends Neutral Milk Hotel. Since their recent reappearance they have provided nostalgic fulfillment for many a concert and festivalgoer. While not a die-hard like some of the people around me, I still appreciated their signature sound and emotionally intense performance.

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