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by David Chiu

There’s a good chance Don Draper and his Mad Men cronies may have stumbled upon a band with a sound like that of Chicago-indie band Distractions at one of their hip New York nightclubs. The band’s surf/lounge music evokes the sounds of the early ‘60s; but also possesses the spirit of underground pop/rock acts. A contemporary reference might be the Boston-based Morphine.

Co-founded by by singer Tom Owens, Distractions have gone through various line-up changes–the current band consists of Owens, Justin Fernandez, Robert Kenagy, Karl Ostby, Joseph Murphy, Jake Acosta, and  Matt Fields. The group released their self-titled debut on cassette and recently signed to Infinite Best Recordings. Distractions play at Bruar Falls with Twin Sister on Sept. 10 and Glasslands with Twin Shadow on Sept. 11. (SO MANY TWINS!)

MME recently spoke with Owens about the group’s history and music and the highlights of an ascending career.

How did Distractions form?

Well, we’ve actually been together in some form for two years, But originally, it’s like me and this other one drummer who’s no longer [with the band]. He’s a guy that I’ve been in a band with in high school. Me and him were looking to start a band again because we’re just kind of reconnecting as friends. I think my Dad came up with the band name “Distractions”. So it’s just me and him for a little bit. I mean there’s so many people [chuckle] in the band it’s at this point that I can tell you the story if you want.

I moved to Chicago after I graduated college in 2007 and I moved into a big loft space, and the idea was we can rehearse there and I wanted to throw concerts there. So it’s like a DIY music space…and then we called it The Halfway Lounge. That was what tied us all together. Now it kind of varies right now anywhere from five to seven people in the group.

Was there a certain type of sound that you had envisioned for the band from the beginning, or was it sort of like something that developed over time as you guys played more?

I think I’d say it developed over time. Our sound was definitely a lot less developed when we started. It just kind of happened, a combination of the influences I guess. I usually write most of the songs, at least just like a rough skeleton of them and then bring them to the band, and then everyone else contributes. It’s a pretty… I mean it’s usually pretty free.

Your music to me certainly evokes the feeling of the ‘60’s. What is it about those sounds that appeal to you?

I like bands that create masterpieces of albums. And then I was exposed to a lot of like the newer indie stuff and sort of listened to that for a little while and then decided to go back to mostly old music. Yes, most of it does sound ‘60’s. I feel like, I went through a heavy, let’s say more ‘70’s phase.I was really into David Bowie albums from the 70’s and, Brian Eno’s work, got really into that. And then along the line I got into Beach Boys.

I was really into like Drag City Records for a while and basically whatever I could hear, whatever I checked out from them I usually liked. Specifically I got really into Jim O’Rourke, all his productions and his solo, more of his like, solo pop albums, and that stuff I would say is pretty lounge-y. I know he even covered some Burt Bacharach on one of his albums. I guess maybe what creates the lounge sound too is I definitely come from a jazz background, having studied it.

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Tucker Rountree from Total Slacker took the stage at Union Pool on a recent 100 degree night and attacked his guitar like it was the last time he’d ever play it. The ferociousness Rountree exhibited, in a way, came out of nowhere. Before the set he chatted and conversed with his band and others, ate avocado sushi and generally just seemed chill. But deep down inside him lay a latent desire to freak out.

And freak out he did. Rountree slammed his guitar into his amplifier, jumped into the audience, writhed around on the floor while playing and even enlisted an audience member to strum for him.

Total Slacker is one of those bands you hear a lot about them before ever seeing them live. They get a lot of blog buzz, and even hater comments on a Brooklyn Vegan post–that’s how you know you’ve made it into the ranks of Brooklyn hipster-dom. But all of that aside, Total Slacker is a smart and well thought out band that has a very effervescent guitar player.

The show at Union Pool was also the first night the band had their first piece of wax for sale, the “Crystal Necklace” 7″, out on Impose.

Total Slacker is Rountree and Emily Oppenheimer’s project, and Ross Condon plays drums. (Yes, he’s the brother of Zach Condon of Beirut.) Rountree and Oppenheimer met in Williamsburg in a laundromat and began playing music together shortly after.

“She was reading a book about the Trail of Tears,” Rountree said excitedly before the show at Union Pool, and in between popping avocado sushi pieces into his mouth.

They needed a drummer and found Condon at a Woven Bones show at Monster Island Basement in late September. Randomly, Oppenheimer and Condon went to high school together in New Mexico, but didn’t really know each other.

All three of Total Slacker’s members found their way to New York City via unexpected places and life turns. Oppenheimer left New Mexico for New York to attend Eugene Lang, where she studied historical and political theory. She is now on leave. She also left classical guitar playing behind. Condon wanted out of New Mexico and attended college in Washington state, also dropping out to come to NYC. Rountree, a classically trained jazz guitarist came to the city from a Utah hippie christian commune to play jazz. He soon switched to rock and roll.

“I didn’t feel like I was talking to my generation,” he said.

Total Slacker is a real DIY indie band. They are lo-fi because they can’t afford anything else. They record onto Garage Band in Rountree and Oppenheimer’s apartment in Bed-Stuy. They play no name instruments. When Rountree treats his ax roughly, the first thing that comes to mind is not “what a rich brat” but “where is that fierceness coming from?”

Total Slacker’s music is stripped down and angular indie rock. Oppenheimer’s deliberate bass lines hold the band together. While Rountree entertains with staccato and elaborately decadent guitar solos, she stands stoically stage right and pummels on. Condon, who is far from a trained drummer, (indeed he’d never played before the first practice with the band), keeps time effectively, however ramshackle his playing may actually be.

This is a band that needs to be seen live. Without seeing the antics of Rountree, the band is just good. The live show is what makes them great. If you live in NYC, you’re lucky because they play all the time. They are opening for Wavves at Bowery Ballroom on August 2, at McCarren Park on August 11, at Silent Barn on August 14 and Monster Island on September 17.

Total Slacker: Crystal Necklace

Nestled in the awkward space between past and present is Sri Aurobindo, a Baltimore psychedelic-rock band. Sure, the heavy and emotion-laden guitar rock music the band makes originated in the late 60s, but it sounds just as meaningful now as it did then. This is music for stoned nights at home. This is not party music, but you’ll definitely have a personal or small party with these sounds.

Featuring a lot of distortion and dueling guitar meanderings, Sri Aurobindo makes a racket that is loud and abrasive. Some songs, like “Soul Vibrations of Man” are straight up and rock and roll. But others, like the ethereal “Rest My Mind,” premiered below, is more deconstructive and romantic. Soaring vocals and echo-laden guitars drift seamlessly from verse to chorus and back again.

The band is named after “quite possibly the most gifted Indian yogi,” said band member Mike Romano.

Sri Aurobindo, in his own words: “Man is a transitional being. He is not final. The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of Nature’s process.”

Moving from natural to supernatural, from the ground to the sky, from humanity to godliness. Certainly sounds like something to strive for. And indeed, Romano said the band likes to “take walks in our heads.” Through meditation, introspection and practice, man moves from one plane to the next.

The band’s debut LP, Cave Painting, was just released yesterday on Friends Records, a great label out of Baltimore. The band is playing September 15 with Moon Duo in Baltimore and upcoming gigs in New York City and Philadelphia will be announced soon.

Sri Aurobindo: Rest My Mind

WOOM at Shea Stadium, Brooklyn

WOOM expertly blends the avant-garde with indie-pop on its new album, Muu’s Way. WOOM’s music is definitely experimental, and their style not exactly conventional rock and roll as we know it. The way the members utilize different sounds, from percussive effects to recording actual noises emanating from frogs, proves that. Yet what holds this angular music together is a  strong sense of melody, demonstrating that music this experimental can also be catchy, engaging and thoughtful.

WOOM is Sara Magenheimer and Eben Portnoy, formerly of Brooklyn but now based on the West Coast. Before starting WOOM, the two were in a band called Flying and then later Fertile Crescent. Despite being relatively new on the scene, WOOM is already building up some serious indie rock cred. David Chiu recently caught up with the duo.

How was your recent European tour. How was the experience playing at the Northside Festival?

Sara Magenheimer: The EU tour was completely mind-blowing. People were incredibly warm and receptive, especially since it was our first time over there as WOOM.  The biggest surprise was the emotionality of the audience. There was a lot of dancing, as well as some crying.

Eben Portnoy: The Northside shows were fun too. We had the chance to play with the Fiery Furnaces for the first time, and we love their music. The next night at Shea Stadium was like being in an insanely hot steam room with beer vapor instead of steam. Way more fun than it sounds! It’s nice to sweat.

How did WOOM start?

SM: We have been collaborating for 6 years, in various capacities, but I think WOOM began after we toured the US with Deerhoof as Fertile Crescent. We had moved out of Brooklyn before the tour, and then retreated into the Massachusetts woods in the winter. The ground was covered in ice and it was very silent. We completely reworked our music and wrote a lot, too.

EP: We never would have met had I not contracted a rare illness, which forced me to come home from Mexico a month early. Don’t worry, I’m better now! I don’t want to bore you with the details, but let’s just say the stars aligned.

How is WOOM similar/different from your previous bands?

EP: Flying was a band Sara and I were in with Eliot Krimsky and sometimes Mike Johnson, who both play as Glass Ghost now. Fertile Crescent toured shortly after Flying broke up, and WOOM evolved out of that. In Flying there were a lot of different musical visions happening in the same place, which was awesome in it’s own way, but also very challenging. Fertile Crescent was almost like a garage rock band, very stripped down and primal, guitar, drums, and voice. WOOM feels more focused, and more of a complete expression for us. Our process is more intense and personal, but the finished product is more extroverted than ever before. We’re more concerned with what we’re communicating and how.

SM: I agree with all of that.

Can each of you explain a little bit about yourselves: how you got into music, your musical influences growing up, and if you knew you wanted to become musicians early on in your lives?

SM: I started making music while I was working on a series of sculptures. I wanted songs to be emanating quietly from the sculpture so I tricked myself into recording a bunch of songs with only voice, very naked and exposed.  It was a conscious choice to do something that made me feel very vulnerable. Growing up, music was a big part of my life. My mom was into modern dance and we did lots of interpretive dancing around the house. I was lucky to be exposed to Kraftwerk records at a very impressionable age.

EP: I’ve been playing music since I was 13. When I was a kid I was fascinated by an old Panasonic tape recorder my parents had and I recorded my little brother’s screams into it. In high school I played in bands and messed around with four-tracks. My favorite records as a small child were by Cat Stevens, Bob Marley, and Laurie Anderson.

Tell me about the recording process behind Muu’s Way. How long did it take, and where did you record it?

EP: We recorded most of the album during a house-sit in the woods of Eastern Massachusetts, in the winter/spring of 2009. We had space to set-up and leave all our equipment and we recorded into a laptop. Then we moved to Oakland and recorded the song “Salt” in Annie Lewandowski’s (of Powerdove) room on her piano. We mixed at Butchy Fuego’s studio in Los Angeles during the wildfires of last August.

SM: There was a clear feeling of a departure when we started recording…departure from our life in Brooklyn, from our previous habits, even from the songs that we’d been playing on the tour we’d just completed. It was slow starting out because we were probably a little overwhelmed by the vast abyss that comes with starting over, but once we got going it was very freeing. We worked really collaboratively and generated a ton of material. We still haven’t even listened to all of it.

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Sitting down and interviewing Coasting feels very much like sitting down and gabbing with old friends. Madison Farmer and Fiona Campbell are two of the more inviting and welcoming artists I’ve come into contact with recently. On a somewhat recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I stopped by what is now called Pizza Forest, but was then just Farmer’s duplex apartment in Bushwick. A fun-house of sorts, the place has a finished basement and a garden and cool neighbors that don’t mind loud parties and tons of band practice.

Campbell at work.

Over frozen daiquiris, Coasting told me their story.

Campbell, 29, moved to New York from New Zealand with her ex-husband. She was, for many reasons, not playing music. That all changed when she met Farmer, 23.

“It was intimidating, everyone in Brooklyn was so good,” she said, her Kiwi accent making her words sound exceptionally pretty. “But the way we work is really organic, it’s easy for the two of us.”

Farmer and Campbell met while both working the DIY scene in Brooklyn: Campbell lives at Dead Herring, Farmer has (or maybe had?) the key to the Market Hotel. They were both instrumental in organizing the MtyMx Festival with Todd P. One night at the end of last summer Farmer was working the door at the Market, they talked about playing together and soon after they had their first jam in that space. The band’s first show was at, not surprisingly, Monster Island Basement during CMJ. (Read a review from that night… notice my word choice: “potential.”)

Farmer at work.

Now, a scant 8 months later, Coasting just saw their first 7″ pressed on DC’s M’Lady Records, and there are more in the pipeline including a release on Group Tightener.

A duo led by two powerful and equal females is not the norm these days. Female front women, sure. But Coasting is different. Campbell said just doing what they are doing is “feminist.”

“In Denton, TX, two guys at a show said to me, ‘It’s really cool that you’re not playing up the fact that you’re girls,’ ” she said. “It surprised me, I hadn’t had a comment like that before.”

And as is often the case of late with Brooklyn bands that may be “lo-fi,” either in sound or in the more classic definition, because of their recording techniques, Coasting too has reacted against the tide of calling the music and scene “lazy.” When the Guardian article came out in the February calling the music of Julian Lynch and other artists apathetic, both Farmer and Campbell were angry.

“I was pissed,” said Farmer. “We’re creating a beautiful thing in our own world. We don’t have to make a dramatic political statement to be relevant.”

Campbell added that every choice you make is political and that by choosing to live a DIY lifestyle, and buy local products and compost, they too were being political.

“We do it in our actions, we don’t have to say it,” she said.

Coasting is a band that truly lives in the moment of things. They make music as it happens, each play in multiple bands because it feels natural. Pizza Forest is a magnet of sorts, people drift in and out, and the basement is always set up with a kit, amps, you name it. And when it comes to releases, Farmer and Campbell don’t know if they’ll ever do more than 7 inches.

“We joke we’ll never make an album,” said Farmer, laughing at her own joke. (Note: Farmer likes to joke and have fun, which can be infectious.)

The goal of Coasting the band and Coasting the DIY concept is to do it for life. Both Farmer and Campbell have worked on the business end of the music industry, and both know there are always disappointments.

“This isn’t a fun side thing,” said Farmer. “We want to continue for a long time.”

Coasting is playing the MME curated Brooklyn Based Northside Fest Showcase on Friday, June 25. Also on the bill is Family Portrait, Fluffy Lumbers and Bermuda Bonnie.

Coasting: Snoozefest

This song is off a split with Reading Rainbow, a great 2-piece from Philly, out on French label ATELIER CISEAUX.

Michael Isenberg

Young Hereos Craft Delicate Rock and Roll

By David Chiu

Long Beach, California’s Avi Buffalo doesn’t sound like your typical indie rock band. From listening to their upcoming self-titled Sub Pop debut (out April 27) the quartet’s sound seems almost rooted in late’60s/early ‘70s psychedelic rock. But there is no denying that the band’s music is somewhat distinct from what their peers are churning out these days– highlighted by Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s intimate yet distinctive singing and guitar.

And while rock music these days tends to go for something either jarring, fast or bombastic, the music of Avi Buffalo is marked by gorgeous melodies, subtle atmospherics and introspective lyrics. The musical moods on the debut album vary—from the poppy “What’s In It For” and the rocking “Five Little Sluts,” to the lovely balladry of “Jessica” and the country stylings of “One Last.”

The band members—Zahner-Isenberg, keyboardist Rebecca Coleman, bassist Arin Fazio and drummer Sheridan Riley—have known each other since high school. They recently opened for Long Wave and are still on tour as a support act for Japandroids. After some dates in Europe later in the spring, Avi Buffalo will make an appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Monticello, NY.

MME spoke with Avi Buffalo singer Zahner-Isenberg who, in few words, gave us the skinny on the band and the music.

How long has the band been together? How old you are?

A couple of years. We’re all between 18 and 21. (Editorial note: WOW.)

How did you get into music growing up?

I always listened to music, but one day I picked up a guitar and started messing around.

Who were some of your influences or the acts you grew up listening to?

Early on Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Jimmy Page, Nels Cline, anything, etc.

Do you remember when you started playing guitar and writing songs?

Yes, I was in 9th grade.

What were the types of songs you were writing or playing back then?

Simple acoustic ones. Just songs really.

Your vocals are very unique. Was it a vocal style that was natural to you or did you developed it over time?

No, i just freeball it. I still don’t know how to sing.

How did you and the other Avi Buffalo members go from being classmates to starting a band? What was it that you had in common that made it a perfect fit?

They were all just players who had sat in with me before, so we knew each other musically.

When Avi Buffalo was starting out, what would you say was your first big break?

Playing in Los Angeles opened up shows for us.

How did you attract the attention of Sub Pop?

A dude recommended us to their A&R guy, so he checked it out for a while ‘til we had pro tracks. Then he called us up.

There are a lot solid tracks on the debut album. Is there that all the songs share in common?

Not really. I hope that they make sense together, but all the songs have been around for like three years.

What is the origin of “What’s In It For?”

I wrote it when i was listening to Beachwood Sparks, inspired by Farmer Dave Scher. (Editorial note: a long-lost and great band.)

“Jessica” is a lovely song on the record. Is it about someone in particular?

Yes.

I have to ask you how came up with the song “Summer Cum.” One often doesn’t come across a title like that.

I just used the first line of the song as the title. It’s easy.

How would you describe your sound?

I wouldn’t know really. I just try to make it pretty.

What has been the highlight so far for the band–whether it’s a gig, being on the road or making the album?

All the good fulfilling times.

How does it feel like to get this first album under your belt? And what are you future aspirations with the band?

It’s good–I’m glad its done, but there’s a lot to be done in the future. I don’t think we’ve said nearly enough with this one.

At your Bowery Ballroom show I think it was Sheridan who asked the audience where to get an egg cream in the city? Were you guys able to find one?

We didn’t go out and find one that night, but we got kebabs.

Avi Buffalo: What’s In It For

Julian Lynch makes music to dream to. No matter what he says, (see below), for me, his music inspires deep, personal introspection. Using instruments like clarinets, tape machines and guitars, Lynch weaves blankets and more blankets of sound that wrap around you like a comfortable summer breeze. Lynch is one of the many Ridgewood, NJ/ Underwater Peoples musicians, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. He took some time out to answer some questions for MME.

What did it feel like when you first started writing music? Was guitar your first instrument?

When I first started writing music, I lacked confidence in what I was doing and felt like I was somehow “faking it,” or missing the point of what writing music was supposed to be about, as if such a point existed. I was pretty young. Probably around 14. Even though I had learned how to play musical instruments by that point, I assumed that there was some essence to music making to which I was not privy.

Guitar wasn’t my first instrument. I took some piano lessons beginning in second grade, maybe for about a year. Then I started playing clarinet in fourth grade. I consider clarinet to be my “real” first
instrument. Then I started learning guitar just before high school.

What inspires your thoughts and ideas?

Other thoughts and ideas, plus individual experience. Exposure to and engagement with the things that other people have done or are doing. Definitely seeing/hearing my friends playing music. Matt, Martin, Bleeker, Brody, and all the other friends from my town and from other places have had a big impact on my musical process.

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Singer Elizabeth Harper Ditches Folk for Synthpop As Class Actress

By David Chiu

Throughout the history of pop music, some famous artists began their careers in other musical genres before reinventing themselves. David Bowie was just another young singer in the late ‘60s before becoming glam rock hero Ziggy Stardust; Billy Joel used to be in a hard rock group called Attila before achieving fame as the Piano Man; and most recently Katy Perry transformed herself from Christian music singer to pop star.

Brooklyn’s own Elizabeth Harper is the latest musician doing a 180 with her sound as the focal point of electropop group Class Actress. At the beginning of her career, she started out performing acoustic folk music. But then, in an about face, she started working with synthesizers and collaborated with producers Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson.

The result is Class Actress’ debut EP, Journal of Ardency, a five-song collection of infectious synth-dominated music. With its catchy beats, melodies, and Harper’s singing, Journal of Ardency ranges from the exuberant feel of “Careful What You Say” to the gorgeous “Broken Adolescent Heart.” The EP is out on Terrible Records, which was founded by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor.

Class Actress open for Yeasayer tomorrow at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. MME spoke with Harper about the shift in her musical direction, getting a haircut from Chris Taylor, and her thoughts on electropop.

I read in Pitchfork that you started out playing acoustic folk as Elizabeth Harper. And then you met up with Scott and Mark to form Class Actress and started this synth pop sound. What brought on this change in direction?

Actually the first guitar I bought was an ‘80s Japanese Telecaster from my cousin, along with some pedals, an analog delay, a flange, and a DOD distortion.

What brought on the change was I started playing a synth and fell in love with the sound of analog. It was like the waves started to work on my own brain waves and set me free.  Like the way when I was younger and Nirvana felt like someone was using a leaf blower to clear out my head…or being on the back of a motorcycle. It was freeing…I just grew out of girl on guitar.

In crafting Class Actress’ sound, did you find yourself having to adjust or change anything in your songwriting and/or singing from what you did before to fit with this electronic music?

Not in ways I wasn’t already trying to.

What did Scott and Mark bring to the music that perhaps you weren’t able to do on your own?

Everything! They are incredibly talented producers and musicians.

Were you always into electronic pop music in the beginning?

Always. I used to go clubbing when I was younger to techno and house, and got turned on to electropop by my older sister.

I love the title of your EP, Journal of Ardency. Is there is a common thematic/lyrical thread that all the songs share?

The theme is all about the state of being ardent and writing about it in secret rather than expressing it to the person in real life, which I wish I could. But I’m shy [Ed: Note: and scared?] that it wouldn’t be reciprocated.

This is more of a comment than a question: When I heard the opening notes of “Careful What You Say”—it really sounded like old school British synth pop—perhaps a Yaz song?

Cool! What a huge compliment, I love Yaz.

I really dig “Broken Adolescent Heart”—it’s beautiful and sublime while it really evokes a familiar British ‘80s New Wave feel. What inspired you to write it?

Probably my own broken heart…trying to make sense of why I am such a fuck-up at love.

For those who might not know who you are , can you offer somewhat of a brief description about yourself?

I’m from LA and originally studied acting, and then got sick of waiting around to get cast in an interesting role so just channeled my own personal drama into songwriting.

How did you know Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear? And are you already working on the full-length record. If so, will it be an extension of the EP?

Chris just cut my hair after the Grammy’s on Sunday and I have to say its one of the better haircuts I’ve gotten in a while…

Yes [the] LP will be like the EP but actually is more mainstream–more straight ahead pop–but still has some desperation in it.

What has been the most funny, interesting or memorable experience of being in Class Actress so far?

When fans Facebook chat me. I think its fun, because I never get to talk to them at shows because there’s so much going on… but I’ve had some very interesting chats on Facebook in the middle of the night that made us both feel better.

There was a period when synth pop was frowned upon and perhaps dismissed as not being rock and roll. Now it seems to be cool again. Is that something that you’ve noticed yourself? And if so, why do you think it resonates with people these days?

Electronic music was always cool in some way, but I think dance music went from Pet Shop Boys to techno and so there wasn’t any room for synth pop for a while.

What do you hope people take away from Class Actress’ music?

Just that they enjoy it and it makes them feel something and makes them happy. Music is something very personal to each person, every song has a place in time, a person, a moment… I just want the songs to weave into people’s lives and add comfort and/ or vivaciousness to this dizzying place. Life is so short. My goal is to make people feel more alive, as well as myself. Everyone feels deeply but people rarely express it in real life, so I am riding that line in hope that someone will find what I found in the music that helped me along the way… Just giving back what I love the most.

Class Actress: Careful What You Say

Matt Papich, 26, is an artist. But Papich’s tools are instruments, not oil paints or wood. He does use his hands, but he manipulates sound for your ears, not colors and shapes for your eyes. To a conceptual artist, perhaps there isn’t much of a difference.

Ecstatic Sunshine began in art school where, for a class project, Papich’s instructor paired him with Dustin Wong and told them to work together. The band was born within the walls of the Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA, in Baltimore, MD.

Wong has since left, he’s a founding member of the band Ponytail, leaving Papich basically a one-man band. Through the years he’s collaborated with many musicians, most recently Joe (White) Williams, but ES is his project, his work, his life blood.

Recently over cured meats (including beef tongue), olives, cheese and beers at Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg, Papich explained how he composes/writes songs, the nature of sound and instrumentation and what it’s like to be in the thick of the Baltimore music scene.

Some art school kids are pretentious, some musicians are cool, some people are losers, but Papich is none of these things. He, like his music, defies convention and stereotypes.

Some may call the music of Ecstatic Sunshine noise; others may call it noise-pop and still more may say it’s experimental. To Papich, this isn’t really important. What’s important is what the music does for the audience—and the creator.

“I’m interested in sound’s ability to sculpt space, how it will affect the environment,” he said. “It’s a shifting of awareness.”

How one achieves a shifting of awareness is up to them, he said.

Papich’s live set-up includes a “chaos pad,” which “works with intuition,” Papich said. It’s understandable why he uses it.

When describing sound, Papich doesn’t only get technical—he gets philosophical.

“I think a lot of bands that use tapes use them as an effect to inspire nostalgia, I’m nervous about a nostalgic setting,” he said. “Walter Benjamin said ‘Nostalgia is an opiate of the masses.’”

Later that night Ecstatic Sunshine played a show at Death by Audio with three other experimental acts on the scene, one of which was Nonhorse, a one-man band (these were all one-man bands) who manipulates cassettes. After the set, Papich agreed it was not a nostalgic performance, bolstering his own theory that there is no set way to experience, or make, music.

Papich doesn’t have a formula for songwriting either, most musicians don’t. But asked if he hears melodies in his head and then plays them, Papich quickly answered, “no.”

“It’s not that clear,” he said. “When writing music, you’ll get to something that sounds right, and maybe it just happens.”

So by thinking through sound, by making music contextually, and also relying on the human attributes of a machine, Ecstatic Sunshine makes its case.

The Baltimore music scene has been compared to Brooklyn’s—it’s an arena of creativity, underground and underage shows and collaboration. But Baltimore is much smaller than Brooklyn, reminded Papich, who lived in Williamsburg for about eight months last year while working with Williams.

And that smallness is what makes Baltimore more of an incubator, and less of a scene.

Dan Deacon, perhaps the biggest act to break out of Baltimore, exemplifies the city’s good vibes. He still comes out to see shows all the time, said Papich.

“After Deacon and Ponytail got big, a lot of new bands that were influenced by them popped up, and people were worried about this empty party music,” said Papich. “But no one supported those bands…We have high standards.”

Another big distance: in Baltimore, all the venues and spaces to hear music are basically within walking distance.

Papich is from Allentown, PA. Growing up he listened to Guns N Roses, thought Cat Stevens was “god” and loved “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. He “played music seriously” in high school, in hard-core and punk bands.

He plays music seriously now, too. The most recent Ecstatic Sunshine record, Yesterday’s Work, is out now on Hoss Records. Get it here. Check out the track below, “Conch.”

Ecstatic Sunshine: Conch

Ed. Note: Usually I like to listen to the music of the band i’m writing about. With Ecstatic Sunshine this is close to impossible because the sound is so challenging. You have to pay attention. Yes, you can get lost in it, but really, you should follow the music. It’s on a path, to somewhere.

The Story of One of Punk’s First (Outrageous) Female Bands Told in New Book

By David Chiu

If you come across any book or documentary on British punk rock music from the ‘70s, you’re likely to encounter some mention of a band called the Slits. Along with the Raincoats, the Slits were one of the first female punk groups of that era. The members– singer Ari Up, bassist Tessa Pollitt, guitarist Viv Albertine and (briefly) drummer Palmolive– were brash and single-minded personalities with an unwillingness to compromise when it came to writing and recording their songs or dealing with their record company. Their debut album Cut has been regarded as the Slits’ best work.

Yet the Slits have been relegated as cult figures while their male peers such as the Clash (whom the Slits open for their White Riot tour) the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks have enjoyed greater recognition and popularity.  However, British author Zoe Street Howe puts the Slits’ standing and importance in a larger context in her new band biography “Typical Girls?: The Story of the Slits.” The book traces the group’s history from their wild times to their breakup in the early ‘80s. It features recent interviews with all the original Slits as well with the Raincoats, former Public Image Ltd. guitarist Keith Levene, Cut producer Dennis Bovell, and Siouxie and the Banshees drummer Budgie (who also drummed for the Slits).

Twenty years later after the breakup, Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt reunited as the Slits and in October released a new album, Trapped Animal. Viv Albertine, who opted not to join the reunion, is currently working on her solo album and has recently toured America with the Raincoats. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Cut. The Slits play the Highline Ballroom on Monday night.

A writer and DJ, Zoe Street Howe recently spoke with MME about writing the book, her perspective about the band members then and now, and their uniqueness in punk history.

Where did the idea of the book come about? Did you listen to the Slits growing up?

I had an intense interest in a lot of music before my time anyway (The Who, Cream, Hendrix, Michel Legrand (!), all from my dad’s record collection) but I came to the Slits quite late. I came upon them when I was broadcasting an alternative radio show and a friend of mine gave me a punk compilation CD, and The Slits’ version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the most interesting thing on there. They were fun, oddball, they didn’t sound like women or men, there was something very different about them, and I couldn’t believe no one had taken the time to celebrate them in book form before!

How did you go about finding the band members and were they initially receptive to participating in the book?

They were great.  I was so lucky and honoured that they were into it, but also I think in a way they were pleased to have the recognition. Ari has always complained about the Slits being swept under the carpet and in my way I wanted to try and help fix that. Tessa and I linked up via [DJ/producer] Don Letts, who was my first and very inspiring interviewee. Tessa was really a fantastic support, I will always appreciate that. Then I met Ari at a London gig she was playing with her solo group the True Warriors, and then Viv I was connected with thanks to Tessa putting me in touch with Christine Robertson, their former manager and a fascinating woman in her own right. Christine was in touch with Viv, who famously wasn’t talking to anyone about punk at all after leaving it all behind, but I must have got in at the right time because she agreed to an interview and we got on incredibly well!

There were some really amazing stories in the book: how very much involved the band was in terms of the recording and sound in the studio; the association with Neneh and Don Cherry; and how really controversial that album cover was.

Yes, I think their proactivity in the studio is important, a lot of people assume artists, especially women, just do their thing then walk away when the mixing and producing gets under way. They were very hands on and that’s why their work is very much their own. It would be awful if people presumed otherwise, and many do, so I felt it was important to flag that up.

I love the story about how they mixed their version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by themselves and with the tea lady! And it goes on to become one of their best-loved tracks. I enjoyed writing about their time at Ridge Farm studio to make ‘Cut’ too, but I can’t pick out a favourite discovery. Writing about the Slits was a rollercoaster and I think that’s how the book has turned out too!

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