Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re looking at Suzanne Vega’s classic hit, “Tom’s Diner,” in honor of the songstress’s 59th birthday this week.
Some melodies just never seem to disappear. They weave into our collective memory without notice, surreptitious and enduring, until it seems like they have been rooted in us all along. Beloved folk-pop singer Suzanne Vega is author to one such melody: 1989’s “Tom’s Diner,” an expository tune where she details a rainy morning at a Brooklyn cafe. Nearly 40 years have passed since it was written, yet its simple, a cappella arrangement feels more charming than ever.
Vega's voice is a gentle reprieve from a world inundated with noise and confusion. It is grounding. “I am sitting /In the morning /At the diner /On the corner,” she begins. No frills, no feelings—just the close-mic’d cadence of soft vocals and quiet intakes of breath. Look around, Vega seems to ask us. She does plenty of it herself, detailing her morning newspaper and taking in the movements of people at the diner: “There’s a woman / On the outside / Looking inside / Does she see me?”
Vega’s lyricism has sometimes been noted for its detached, or even clinical, perspectives— but with her tender voice and smooth melodies, I’d argue that she expertly turns the mundane into pop fodder. It’s telling, too, that this seemingly dry track would eventually be used by mathematician and electrical engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg as a marker of “warmth” when developing the MP3 in the early ‘90s. Vega’s was not a world of cold observation—the careful curiosities of any woman can glow, too, if only you listen closely.
In #adhoclifeadvice, we ask artists we love to answer questions from you, our readers. This time around, LA-based songwriter and performer Dent May—who is also a self-described hotel bar lounge singer and aspiring daytime TV talk show host—shares wisdom about finding creative inspiration and focusing on yourself. Dent May plays Market Hotel on July 13 with Shannon Lay.
Greenwave Beth is the Sydney-based electro-pop duo of Charles Rushforth and Will Blackburn, who also play in indie-rock band Flowertruck. Their music captures what frontman Charles calls “a dance of agony”: that space where we move to the rhythm of our own anxieties and desires. Watching him perform, Rushforth seems to be quite literally in the throes of that dance, his body twisting and writhing to the beat of a drum machine.
The band’s latest EP, People in Agony, invites listeners to share in this dance. The four-track release features hypnotic drum and bass sequencing alongside Rushforth’s explosive vocals. On opener “Country,” surging synths give way to a frantic cry: “I can’t sleep through clenched teeth / not a boy anymore.” Moments later, on “Against Me,” Rushforth croons over pulsing beats, “Love’s a fight and we’ve spent our life on the ropes.” These restless deliberations on youth, love, and identity fill People in Agony with darkness, but also with the hope that we might learn to find some pleasure in these complicated states.
AdHoc spoke with Charles Rushforth about the new EP, his raucous performance style, and the Japanese “Mom and Dad” rock stars that look after him on tour. People in Agony is out now via Dinosaur City Records.
Greenwave Beth is a side project for you. What made you want to start it, and what are you doing with Greenwave that you aren’t able to do with Flowertruck?
Charles Rushforth: I suppose it’s funny calling Greenwave a side project—it definitely is one in terms of how much time it takes up, but it’s equally as important to me in terms of what I get to create with it. With Greenwave, I’m able to make music where I don’t feel hemmed in by the genre, whereas with Flowertruck I feel like I have to make a certain sound. Greenwave lets me work with other elements like violin or a choir quite easily, for example, and I know that won’t set anything off. I can play music that fluctuates between happier and sadder stuff, but it’s still got the same tone if that makes sense.
I’ve also noticed that you describe yourselves as a “musical risk”— what’s that about?
Yeah! It’s physically a musical risk, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of stuff cabled up and it doesn’t always work; stuff breaks and it’s really organic. It’s always funny to perform live, since we have a lot of energy and it can get kind of dangerous.
I remember being electrocuted at a house party once: I was standing in a pool of water in my socks, and this power board started freaking out because we were putting too much power through it. There were certain points on stage where I’d stand and get 50 volts going through my system. We didn’t stop; we just had to tailor that into the performance. I love that it’s always kind of risky, though—that feeling like you’re putting your life on the line every time you perform.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re honoring the sensational Joni Mitchell, whose celebrated album, Blue, came out 47 years ago today.
Blue is a mutable shade. In the sky, it’s all sweet radiance; in our seas, it churns and laps. It’s an oscillating hue, but it carries with it a note of melancholy: We feel blue. We are blue. Some of us sing the blues—those sorrow songs birthed of Blackness, of plight. Joni Mitchell sang the blues, too, albeit of a different sort: hers was a blues of the mundane, of the individual, needling out her heartbreak with an Appalachian dulcimer. Her 1971 album, Blue, ebbs and flows like the sea, her voice weathering each pitfall and hard knock with breathtaking serenity.
From imagistic moments like, “I want to wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive,” on album opener “All I Want,” to the elusive divinity of “you’re in my blood like holy wine,” on the classic “A Case of You,” Mitchell’s Blue sows a public world out of her intimate musings, one that always seems just shy of tapping into some feminine truth. In a 1999 interview with Ottawa Citizen, Mitchell recounted the first time she performed Blue for a group of her male contemporaries:
“They were embarrassed for me. The feminine appetite for intimacy is stronger than it is in men. So my songwriter friends listened and they all shut down, even Neil Young. The only one who spoke up was Kris Kristofferson. ‘Jesus, Joni,’ he said. ‘Save something for yourself.’”
It isn’t uncommon to find descriptions of Blue that lean on Kristofferson’s famed quote; yet they’re missing something. What is there to save when you are a woman in the public eye, whose every relationship— from Graham Nash to James Taylor— is exposed for public consumption? What Mitchell understood, whether deliberately or not, was the power of her own self-representation: she released an album so rich in detail and soul-bearing that it could scarcely warrant poor criticism, especially when touched by her gentle acoustic plucks and fluttering voice. The strength of Blue, and of Mitchell herself, is the ability to take that dangerous stab at honesty and weave it into something beautiful.
Stadiums & Shrines has its roots in the golden era of underground music blogs. Founded by Dave Sutton over ten years ago, the site retains the anti-commercial, esoteric ethos of those years, which feels remarkable in an indie music industry that seems to become more professionalized by the day. Combining impressionistic prose with abstract imagery and top-notch music curation, Stadiums & Shrines continues to carry the proverbial torch for the joys of discovering new music on the internet, even as it’s evolved beyond its original function as a daily MP3 blog.
The site’s Dreams series began in 2012, inviting artists to write musical accompaniment for surreal landscapes by collage artist Nathaniel Whitcomb. And with the newly assembled Dreams compilation, released on Cascine this past Friday, June 15, Sutton and Whitcomb have assembled the definitive collection of these audiovisual pairings in a double LP and accompanying gatefold book. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Bing & Ruth, and Ricky Eat Acid have all contributed tracks to the series, taking inspiration from Whitcomb’s collages as they tour the imagined landscapes of their unconscious construction.
Like the photo collages of Chris Marker or Duane Michals, Whitcomb’s pieces force our quotidian experience into unfamiliar territory. You feel as if you know these places, and yet you recognize the distinctly imagined or impossible qualities of each landscape. The audio components for these Dream collages create space for extended rumination, offering hints as to how they want to be heard, but never quite telling us.
We spoke to Sutton and Whitcomb about DIY spaces, ambient classics, and reaching for abstraction in a concrete world. You can catch the upcoming release show for the Dreams compilation, with Julie Byrne, Bing & Ruth, and Yumi Zouma (DJ set) at National Sawdust on July 1.
Can you guys introduce yourselves?
Nathaniel Whitcomb: I’m Nathaniel, and I’ve been doing collage work pretty much for the last decade or so on and off, and the dreams collage has been a culmination of that collage work and an ongoing thing for the past eight years. So this is the result of all that work. And outside of that, I used to work in advertising and have transitioned to being a stay-at-home dad for the last two years, and that’s been awesome.
Dave Sutton: I’m Dave, and outside of S&S I work in music. S&S was my first entry into a community of music blogs, which eventually introduced me to The Hype Machine, so I work at Hype Machine doing editorial. As of the past year, I’m working at Ghostly International doing similar work.
Ghostly! I really dug that latest Mary Lattimore album.
Dave: Me too. It’s been a true honor to work on that album. Super excited for her.
Nora Singh, the Hit Bargain frontwoman and self-described “Gallagher of noise rock”, is ready to move on from “queening,” or trampling men’s faces, during the band’s live shows.
Her reasons for this decision are partly practical: It’s more difficult to find face-standing fetishists now that Craigslist’s Casual Encounters has been shut down. But they’re also political. Over the phone with AdHoc last month, she questioned the subversive potential of stepping on male fetishists’ faces. “Can you really say you’re smashing the patriarchy by playing into a man’s fantasy?”
If you’re the kind of person who actively tries to incite collisions between the expected and the unexpected in your art, you also tend to be the kind of person who resists being put in a box, which is exactly the kind of person Nora Singh is.
“In terms of the creative direction of (Hit Bargain), we’re entering into another phase,” Singh explained over the phone. This new phase is inspired by a series of changes that occurred in Singh’s life and in the world since Hit Bargain released its self-titled EP in 2016. For one, the American people elected a man to the highest office in the nation who, at best, has a notorious reputation when it comes to his treatment of women.
“We have a known sexual assaulter, a misogynist, someone who’s disrespectful of not only women, but trans people, people of color.”
Also, Singh gave birth to a child last fall, which Singhs says is “the most punk rock thing” she could do, simply because it’s such a curveball to what people expect from her.
But becoming a parent hasn’t blunted the kinetic political energy of Hit Bargain, whose new album Potential Maximizer, which was released May 11 on Buzz Records, features strident takedowns of xenophobia, sexism, and capitalism over taut electric guitar riffs. Singh spoke with AdHoc about the #MeToo moment, identifying as a New Yorker while living in LA, and what the media tends to get wrong about queer and non-binary people ahead of Hit Bargain’s show with PILL and Yvette at Alphaville on June 21.
AdHoc: What were you doing before you formed Hit Bargain?
Nora Singh: I used to be in a band called These Are Powers when I was in New York. We disbanded around 2010, 2011 or so. I moved to France in 2011. I had lived in New York from 2001 until 2011. I moved to France to marry our European tour manager, as you do. So I was in France until about 2014. Basically, I went for love and I stayed for the food.
We split, and I didn’t want to repeat myself, so I moved to LA in 2014 on April Fool’s Day. I lived in a house full of ex-New Yorkers and incidentally met [guitarist and vocalist] Mike [Barron], who had also just moved from New York. The whole band has, at one point or another, lived in New York. With the exception of Sean [Monaghan], our bass player, none of us knew one another before starting the band.
No band attacks vocal harmonies with as much commanding intensity as Los Angeles-based La Luz. Their eerie brand of surf-rock has always had something cinematic about it, thanks in no small part to their deadly four-part crooning. Their latest outing, Floating Features, finds the band dragging those screen dreams into the open. It’s simultaneously their most immediately rewarding record and their slowest burning, holding you captive with vibrant production and razor-sharp songwriting. Make no mistake: Floating Features will turn you into a Luzer for life.
AdHoc caught up with lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland to dig into their latest concoction.
Floating Features is available now via Sub Pop.
AdHoc: Which song is the oldest on Floating Features?
Shana Cleveland: I’m actually not sure. I know that I wrote “Cicada,” “Walking Into the Sun,” and “Lonely Dozer” early on. I wrote those first few in Northern California and the rest in LA, where the band fleshed them out together.
You tend to put a few instrumentals on your records, just tracks where you and the band rock out and jam. Is that something that you feel is central to the identity of the band?
SC: I think it is. It’s fun to have that break. We have so many vocals, oftentimes with four-part harmonies through most of a song. So when we come back after this long instrumental break, it feels really triumphant to break in with these huge harmonies. I’ve listened to a lot of instrumental stuff—surf music and finger pickers like John Fahey—so I always appreciate an instrumental song. This record we just had one, and the others had two, but it was nice to put that one as the first track. Even though there’s only one, it has a very prominent place on the record.
Last month Sasha Spielberg released 'Facepaint', the debut EP under her latest moniker Buzzy Lee and we are very excited to be presenting her first ever NYC performance at Park Church Co-op on May 16.
To celebrate the occasion, Buzzy Lee made us a "kick em out of your house kindly" playlist - the perfect mix for those generous enough to host a "kickback" but not cool enough to party til the sun rises.
Check it out below what Buzzy Lee had to say about each track and keep these tunes handy for the next time you need to usher out your guests with the aux cord!
make lush indie pop about human relationships. Their new LP—Parallel Person
, released April 27th on Babe City Records
—is a self-described foray into the “uphill battle of isolation and popularity.” Fittingly, single “A Friend Named Paul” sees singer and keyboardist Stephanie Smith describing what she calls a “one-sided” relationship; it’s a sweet, syncopated jam, its bright, melodic instrumentation acting as a counterpoint to the lyrics. We caught up with Smith and guitarist Pat Stanton to discuss the band's new album, playing at SXSW, and buying lava lamps in bulk. Varsity play Union Pool on May 5
What are you guys doing right now?
Stephanie Smith: We’re shopping online for lava lamps.
Why are you buying lava lamps?
Stephanie: We’re trying to figure out a cool stage show for our release. This might not be a good idea, but we need to find out what the going rate is for lava lamps.
I could see how that could look cool on stage.
Pat Stanton: The show’s on 4/20 too.
I think you’re kind of obliged to buy the lava lamps then.
Stephanie: I’m glad you agree—we’ve been having a debate.
Pat: I just don’t know how many lava lamps we need on stage to make it look cool.
Stephanie: We’ll let you know how it shakes out.
I’ve seen Baltimore natives Ed Schrader’s Music Beat many times over the years and have always been captivated by their unique brand of euphoric alt-rock. I remember when Ed would play a floor tom with a can light underneath, giving himself a creepy, ghostly look. Ed told AdHoc he “play[s] the drums the way Bowie plays the saxophone: it’s a hobby!”
Ed has since given up playing the floor tom, but Devlin Rice has been solidly plucking the bass the whole time. With their new album, Riddles, Devlin has started writing guitar parts, synth parts, and other arrangements. This is their most theatrical and well-conceived release to date. Yet, it still retains the same pureness and honesty of their earlier work. They’ve shown they are just as willing to experiment and play with their style as they are to crack jokes and have an amusing time. Between Ed’s “Frasier Pic O’ The Day” antics on Instagram, the “Cats on the Lake” shirts and totes, and the band’s passionate stage presence, it’s hard to get bored when you’re keeping tabs on this act.
AdHoc recently called Ed and Devlin for a serious conversation about celebrity look-a-likes, being knighted, and mixing meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Catch them at Baby’s All Right on Sunday, April 15, and pick up a copy of Riddles via Carpark Records.
AdHoc: So you’re currently on a national tour supporting the release of your newest album, Riddles. Where are you right now, and have you seen anything interesting on tour?
Devlin: We’re in LA right now. We saw Lake Tahoe—that was pretty cool.
Ed: We saw a person who we thought was the lead singer of Korn, but was only like 22 years old, so that wouldn’t make any sense.
Devlin: Um… Yeah, it definitely wasn’t that guy. It wasn’t Johnny Korndog.
Ed: Kornman! You heard it here first. They’re now called Kornman.