Live Review: Now, Now’s sun-bleached return @ Sonia 7/11/17

IMG_2046The line to see Now, Now at Sonia Night Club snaked around the street, all the way past the building’s colorful murals. Anticipation was a big theme outside the Cambridge venue– strangers buzzed to one another about the last time they’d seen the band, touting dates and venue names like trophies. Now, Now’s 5 year gap between albums left their followers waiting anxiously for a sign, and recently they’ve been in luck: the band released “SGL,” the first single from their upcoming album, and embarked on a tour at the start of the summer. The venue is packed, from the stage to the sound booth, and everyone is ready for the reemergence of their elusive indie pop favorite.

I’ve been following the band for a while. I saw them in 2012 when they were touring as an opener, playing songs from their newly-released sophomore album “Threads.” It was a hardcore alt show and people were there to scream, to barrel into one another, and leave with their ears blown out… and here was this brooding indie band with a xylophone set up center stage. Something in the air changed as the room went quiet, and people began nodding their heads to the soft and powerfully emotive vocals of frontwoman KC Dalager. It’s not that Now, Now is low-energy or particularly low-volume, but something in KC’s voice is delicate, able to zing your heart not only with the vivid imagery and honest emotion of her lyrics, but also with the sweet clarity of her delivery.

IMG_2043The night of July 11th at Sonia Nightclub in Cambridge, MA, the band had the same arresting sound. However, the Now, Now that took the stage appeared to have grown into themselves, and played with an air of confidence and precision that their 2012 selves hadn’t quite mastered yet. In the pink glow of the stage lights, KC skipped around the stage with her electric guitar. She interacted casually with her bandmates, making quips to longtime friend and drummer Brad Hale. They’re the artsy, hilarious kids you always wanted to hang with. And luckily, the show was also especially interactive for the audience, as KC responded to shouted jokes from crowd members (and ended up calling dibs on the drag name Shameless Rob). “Every show has its own inside jokes that no one at the other dates understands,” laughed KC. The crowd, though generally un-rowdy, sang loudly through Now, Now’s entire set. When KC played “Dead Oaks” acoustically, their voices were almost louder than her amplified one. Some members of the audience even shouted the upper harmony, and for a second the room felt like an impromptu acapella show. That feeling of bonding with a room of strangers is like nothing else, and even KC exclaimed at the beauty of the moment.

In addition to their newfound performance chops, Now, Now has undergone an evolution sound-wise. “Threads” was somber, exploring the confused desperation of fading relationships against a background of synth and haunting guitar riffs. The consistent lyrical theme of threads and patterns illustrates so perfectly the fragility of our connections– one wrong pull can unravel everything. If Now, Now’s “Threads” felt like a reflective walk through a shaded forest, their new material is a step into the sun. Though their upcoming third album isn’t out yet, the songs they’ve unveiled so far reveal a much lighter, pop-inspired tone. At Sonia, they played a yet-unreleased track “AZ,” a slow-cruising ode to summer adventures past. And “SGL”, the first single, is a perfect summer anthem: against fast paced acoustic guitar, KC sings out the thrill of being with someone perfect for you. “I could’ve died/with you there in the sun,” she confesses, “You’re my shotgun lover and I want it all.”

Don’t miss Now, Now in your city; they go back on tour in early September!

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“Everyone can make things, really beautiful things”: Told Slant on artistic identity & community

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In San Francisco, it feels like everyone you meet has some kind of album, novel, screenplay, gallery opening– it can get overwhelming, you can get oversaturated. But the dimly lit venue at the bottom of a sloping hill on 17th Street (aptly named Bottom of the Hill) embraces this feeling. Here, from the artsy-looking crowd to the drawings on the walls to the bands that mingle outside in the succulent garden, creativity envelops you. Oversaturation is warm and welcoming. Felix, frontperson of tonight’s headliner Told Slant, sits on the steps smoking a cigarette. They speak softly and eloquently, spilling personal tales and philosophies over the chatter of the crowd. Talking to them feels like reading their lyrics– understated but beautiful. Simple but piercing.

Under the twinkle lights and hanging succulents, my partner-in-crime Phoebe Flynn and I talk to Felix about inspiration, community, and the growing pains of forming a musical identity.

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“We try to keep people close”: Lina Tullgren on atmosphere, inspiration, and letting go

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c/o Dan Tabban, 2013

Lina Tullgren has a very cozy presence. It’s a just-barely-30-degrees night in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the heat inside this rustic cafe is fogging up the picture windows from the inside. With the vibrant succulents hanging loosely from the curtain rods, twinkle lights abound, it’s like a cozy greenhouse. Lina, her bandmate, Ty Ueda, and I sit huddled around a shiny wooden table, and as we shed our layers of coats and scarves, it was obvious they were high school best friends– they laugh and reminisce freely, riffing on one another the way you only can with someone who has seen you grow up. This specific tour, they tell me, they organized themselves, and they brought a bunch of their musician friends with them to crash on couches around New England for the week. Their faces, still pink from the cold, light up. They love their friends. “A lot of our friends put out really fantastic records in 2016, which is very lucky,” Lina grins, “It’s super cool to have your friends doing awesome stuff and be able to smile upon each other with gratitude.”

The pair plays their set a few hours later in a similarly warm, tightly-packed hub– a second-story house venue looking out over the silent main street. It’s intimate, and it’s easy to feel out of place in a stranger’s apartment, but everyone is lively and open, starting loud conversations as they perch on scratchy couches and lean against the kitchen counter. As Lina and Ty set up their gear at the far end of the living room, the crowd goes silent and sits on the floor. “Swing low/When you speak, speak low,” Lina sings, fragile and tough in the same syllables. She and Ty strum through songs off of 2016’s Wishlist EP, and the room feels lighter, more soft around the edges. When Lina sings, it’s like she’s singing to her friends. “I wonder how you found now that you’re older again.”

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“If the scene isn’t what you need, then you make one”: Elvis Depressedly on the DIY community and connecting with fans

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In the midst of their summer tour with Mitski and Eskimeaux, I was able to catch up with Mat Cothran, frontman of the ethereal sad-boy alt group Elvis Depressedly. Sitting cross-legged on an old wooden picnic bench outside of The Space in Hamden, CT, he discussed the band’s current North American tour, the experience of collaborating with other artists in the DIY community, and coming to terms with Elvis Depressedly’s intense emotional impact on their fans.

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“I try to make it complicated”: The eclectic folk-alt world of Saintseneca

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It’s early evening at The Space in Hamden, Connecticut, and as young folk enthusiasts trickle into the tiny venue, faded rays of sunlight glint off of the unconventional assortment of shiny stringed instruments on the stage in front of me. For Saintseneca, “taking the stage” is a more meticulous maneuver than merely plugging in amps and setting up drums; with mandolins and dulcimers alongside their guitars and synthesizers, they cultivate a stage environment more reminiscent of an eclectic stringed instrument shop than an alternative folk show. Between songs, the Ohio outfit switches swiftly between instruments in their diverse arsenal of strings, the transition as seamless as the harmonies of band members Zac Little and Maryn Jones. Somehow boasting both a simple, effortless beauty and an incredible tightness, the perfect mesh of Little’s deep yodel-esque croon and Jones’ airy soprano feels like holding hands with your first love—warm and bittersweet, full of heart and spontaneity and a deep-rooted sense of comfort.

Since their start in 2007, Saintseneca’s textured and often playful folk-alt has garnered positive attention from niche DIY fans and mainstream audiences alike. The independent release of their debut self-titled EP in 2009 and sophomore “Grey Flag” EP in 2010 were followed up with 2011’s “Last”, a full-length album with Mama Bird Recording Co. And after a reconfiguring of the band’s lineup, they signed to ANTI- records and released the critically acclaimed “Dark Arc” in 2014. This national spotlight fostered a dedicated fan following, eager for the 2015 release of the group’s next album, “Such Things”—a collection of bright rolling tunes, triumphant sing-alongs, and softer ballads through which the band pushes their signature eclectic vibe to the next level.

Coming up on the release of “Such Things”, Saintseneca embarked on a small club tour of North America, wherein I was able to catch up with Zac Little about the formation of their sound, the inspiration for his poetic lyrics, and the group’s first experiences performing material from the new record.

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Rock ‘n’ Gender Roles: The Gendering of Daisy Rock Girl Guitars

Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

I was twelve years old when my father and I went shopping for my first electric guitar. As I browsed the Gibsons and Fenders, I could feel the employees eyeing me nervously. They were quick to point me towards the acoustic guitars in the corner, asking if I “needed any assistance, young lady.” When they approached my father, however, the conversation took on the tone of equals discussing the minutiae of the instruments. The disheartening tone of the day shifted when I spotted pink glitter gleaming from the rows of instruments. The tag read, “Daisy Rock Girl Guitars”, and it was love at first sight. Its feminine aesthetic, such a stark contrast in the sea of overtly “masculine” guitars, really spoke to my identity at the time. Leaving the store, I felt validated in my new identity as a female electric guitarist. Daisy Rock, my shining beacon of hope in the Guitar Center, sent the message that there was a place for girls like me in rock music.
Unfortunately, as a female guitarist, this experience is not unique, and it exemplifies the type of gender stereotyping that sparked the creation of Daisy Rock. Since the guitar company’s inception in 2000, founder Tish Ciravolo has strived to “level the playing field” for women interested in the guitar, stating her desire to “create a better experience for [girls] in the music industry” (DaisyRock.com). Daisy Rock does indeed challenge the gender norms of rock music, by encouraging young girls to learn a traditionally “masculine” skill, providing them an outlet with which to express themselves, and carving out a space for adolescent females in the male-dominated world of electric guitars.

Nonetheless, the Daisy Rock message is problematical. Daisy Rock’s hyper feminine image reflects gender norms by implying that young girls have a purely superficial attraction to the instruments rather than an actual interest in the music, and strengthens gender divides by implying that all other guitars are inherently “male”. Through a sociological lens, and specifically with references to Laurel Richardson’s essay on gendered language and Barrie Thorne’s essay concerning adolescent gendered interactions, I explore the brand’s relation to stereotypical concepts of gender. Daisy Rock Girl Guitars both reproduce gender, by promoting an image of gender normative superficial femininity over genuine musicianship; and challenge gender, by creating a space for girls in the traditionally male-dominated world of electric guitars.

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#blessed: Neck Deep on having Warped Tour’s craziest crowds and playing with blink-182

After a lot of apologetic tapping on shoulders and stepping on toes, I find myself squeezed tightly between the barrier and the stage at a Neck Deep show. Even before the band ever takes the stage, I can say with certainty that their set is going to be insane. This crowd is legitimately the largest I’ve ever seen at a Warped Tour amphitheater set—the fans that have secured a spot at the barrier are surging forward hopefully each time the lights flicker, straining against the metal structure separating me from the crowd. Against my will, I now know exactly what a red-faced gentleman in a backwards camo snapback had on his hotdog for lunch, because I am approximately 6 inches away from his face. I am overwhelmed. I barely have the mobility to reach into my backpack, let alone to turn and face the broad shouldered security guard waving his hands as he barrels towards the photo pit. He starts yelling at the photographers over the blaring crunkcore background music. “I’m gonna let you be here for 3 songs, like usual,” he bellows, “but if the crowd surfers get too dangerous, you’re gonna have to get out of here.” A pang of adrenaline surges down my spine as I become acutely aware of the likelihood that I’m about to get kicked in the face. There’s a nervous exhilaration bubbling in the pit of my stomach—this is how those National Geographic photographers must feel as they’re approaching a pack of lions. Before I have time to panic, Neck Deep rocket onto the stage, already bouncing to the opening riff of “Losing Teeth”. I brace myself and the chaos begins.

***Disclaimer: I did not get kicked in the face. Thank god. But Neck Deep frontman Ben Barlow’s melodically abrasive sing-yelling, paired with the group’s penchant for double time drum lines, can sometimes feel like it’s own assault to the senses (in the best way, of course). Since their formation in 2012, the British 4-piece has released 2 EPs and 2 albums, the most recent of which, 2015’s “Life’s Not out to Get You”, charted at number 8 in the UK and number 17 in the US. In Neck Deep’s mere 3 years, they have already been through some intense ups and downs—they were signed to Hopeless Records, won the Kerrang! Award for 2014 Best British Newcomer, and gained fans in blink-182; but this August, they lost a member when guitarist Lloyd Roberts stepped down after allegations of sexual misconduct. Nevertheless, the band is still swinging—they’re currently touring the US with All Time Low and Sleeping with Sirens.

In mid-July, I caught up with Ben Barlow and bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans to chat about their riotous crowds, Warped Tour run, and playing alongside their heroes.

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