“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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“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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#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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Shouting at the Moon: Life Lessons and Musical Expression with Mallory Knox

At first glimpse of Mikey Chapman, I immediately feel at ease. Upon introducing himself, he flashes a radiant smile that has a mysterious way of making you feel right at home. Midafternoon, and midway through his stint on the 2015 Warped Tour, there are undoubtedly much more exciting places for the Mallory Knox frontman to be than the Warped press area, granting an interview in the middle of a crowded hallway—balancing a loaded paper plate of food from catering, he admits that he “got up about 45 minutes ago”, and goes on to describe the hangover he’s currently experiencing from last night’s Warped after-party—“…but,” he insists cheerfully, “I’m happy to be here!”

Over the past few years, Mallory Knox has skyrocketed in the alt-rock universe. As the UK group won the hearts of crowds overseas on worldwide tours with established acts like Pierce the Veil and Sleeping with Sirens, they earned a Rockstar Energy endorsement and their 2014 release “Asymmetry” reached #16 on the UK alternative charts. Like many successful musicians before him, Chapman radiates passion, drive, and sincerity. He talks animatedly about his childhood obsession with music, transposing raw emotions into powerful songs, and the importance of staying true to yourself. Mallory Knox’s heartfelt and unadulterated ambition is best conveyed on “Heart & Desire”, a standout track on “Asymmetry”: “These bright lights, big dreams, they always meant the whole damn world to me,” croons Chapman, “…so give ‘em heart, give ‘em desire.”

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Midnight in PVRIS: Talking Expectations, Discrimination, and Success with Alternative’s New It-Band

It is only 11:15 AM in the “moving city” that is Vans Warped Tour, and in the Warped press area, one band is already the talk of the town. “PVRIS is the next big thing on this tour,” confides the photographer next to me. “Their crowd is getting bigger at each stop, and everyone is fighting to have time with them.” It only takes a few minutes to realize that this isn’t just gossip: when I go to sign up for interviews, I’m lucky to be squeezed in, as PVRIS’ press sheet is completely full—the only band of over 70 that day to be 100% booked.

PVRIS’ live show is something else—not only the experience of witnessing the 3-piece act, seeming so miniature on the towering main stage, blast through their powerful set; but observing the dynamics of their audience. Though they are scheduled smack in the middle of the day, their crowd is reminiscent of that of the final band at any festival: that magical, almost serene period when, instead of the usual 4 or 5 bands playing at any given time, there is only one left standing, and as the sun sets, all of the remaining concertgoers gather together around the main stage to watch the lone band give the closing performance. Similarly, it feels like the entire Warped world has shown up to see PVRIS, the crowd stretching all the way back to the farthest vendor tents. While fans near the stage riotously yell, leap, and crowd-surf, others near the outskirts simply stand and observe, still tapping their feet and mouthing the words along with Lynn Gvnn, the energetic frontwoman whose vocal style lies somewhere between breathily melodic and startlingly growly.

But PVRIS isn’t the final band, and it seems clear that their sun won’t be setting anytime soon. Formed in 2012, a mere 3 years ago, the alt rock-electronic trio has already released 2 EPs (one produced by Blake Harnage of Versa); become the first and only female-fronted band signed to Rise/Velocity Records; toured with such notable acts as Mayday Parade, Emarosa, and Pierce the Veil; and won the 2015 Kerrang! Award for Best International Newcomer. And as the cherry on top, their first full-length album, “White Noise”, quickly rocketed to #6 on the US Alternative charts.

I sat down with frontwoman Lynn Gvnn to discuss dealing with pressure, what it means to be a female in music, and PVRIS’ speedy rise to the top.

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“We’ve been doing something right”: As It Is talks Warped Tour, British food, and dreams-come-true

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It is 7:30 PM in Mansfield, MA, and it is monsooning outside. Rain is crashing violently and relentlessly onto the Vans Warped Tour crowds, drenching a sea of black band t-shirts, smudging heavily-applied eyeliner, and wreaking havoc on freshly-dyed neon hair—one unlucky punk already has a steady stream of purple Manic Panic dripping down her neck. However, despite the weather-fueled chaos, inside the amphitheater, As It Is is incredibly happy. As they perform to a room of hundreds of people, undeniably wet but still dancing and screaming with undampened energy, frontman Patty Walters seems physically unable to stop smiling. To the crisp pounding of the drums and unrelenting rhythm of the guitar, Walters never stands still for more than a second—he is perched on the amps; then he is jumping vertically in time, looking indisputably pop-punk; and then he has launched himself onto the barrier to sing with the army of fans before him. Every now and then, I catch guitarist Ben Biss smiling to himself through his impressive mop of blonde hair, or bassist Ali Testo looking out into the amphitheater with wonder—though the band plays to loving crowds on the daily, they still give off the “ecstatic disbelief” energy of 5 garage-band teens from England, finally playing the festival of their dreams.

It’s safe to say that As It Is have successfully broken into the American alternative scene, yet playing with the British flag draped proudly over their bass amp, they have never been shy about their love for their home country. Since forming in Brighton, England in 2012, they had self-released 3 EPs before signing with Fearless Records for their 2015 full-length debut “Never Happy, Ever After”—a feel-good pop punk masterpiece with loud, clap-along hooks perfectly crafted to translate into a fun, dynamic live show.

Before it started pouring, I was able to catch up with Ben Biss and Ali Testo at Warped Tour, where we chatted about recording their new album, the differences between the US and the UK, and dream-come-true moments. Continue reading

Cause for Cellabration! Frank Iero on Fans and Going Solo

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“He’s gonna be here until he’s met every single one of these people.” As I stand behind Frank Iero’s merch table, awkwardly cradling my tripods and trying not to lose my balance amidst piles of tee-shirts and posters, his tour manager breaks the news to me with an apologetic grin: Though the frontman had kindly offered to answer questions between autographs, he can’t grant a sit-down interview until he’s individually greeted each of his fans. I gladly agree to wait—he’s been signing since the venue doors opened, and in the days of expensive VIP meet-and-greets and entitled rock stars, his level of dedication to fans is remarkable.

Similarly remarkable is the speed at which Iero started releasing music again: Following the disintegration of My Chemical Romance in 2013, Frank went solo, writing and recording new material under the moniker “frnkiero andthe cellabration”. The project has been touring nonstop since the release of the full-length “Stomachaches” in August 2014, their brand of no-holds-barred punk rock sprinkled with softer melancholy moments appealing to audiences that may not have been familiar with MCR.

Once he had shaken the hand of his last admirer, Frank sat down with me at The Stone Pony (in his home state of New Jersey) to discuss his relationship with fans, his decision to become a solo artist, and his affinity for pizza bagels.

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Chatting with Kenny Vasoli (Vacationer)

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Kenny Vasoli just wants you to chill. The Vacationer frontman, responsible for songs like “The Wild Life” and “Paradise Waiting”, is passionate about his listeners “just relaxing and enjoying life”. And he certainly seems to practice what he preaches: lounging on a tattered tweed couch, signature cloud of brown curls hanging loose like his wooden necklace, he is the image of hippie-cool. But Vacationer, his tropical-electronic project, is a lot to get excited about. Since their formation in 2010, the group has signed to Downtown Records, put out two full-length albums, and toured the country with notable acts like Tennis and Hellogoodbye.

In the basement of the Iron Horse, a cozy venue in Northampton, MA, Kenny and I sat down to discuss his musical transformation, the invention of the genre “nu-hula”, and the existence of aliens.

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