Oliver Kalb has been making music under the name Bellows since 2011. He released Bellows' first album, the understated indie-folk-pop masterwork, As If To Say I Hate Daylight, while attending Bard College in 2011. That release, as well as 2014's Blue Breath—an album recorded while in search for a place to call home after graduating—established Kalb's skill as a lyricist and as an arranger. His most recent release, last year's Fist and Palm, is Bellows at its best, channeling new electronic influences into Kalb's intimate acoustics. Never one to shy away from self-criticism (as is perhaps most evident on Fist and Palm) it is no surprise that Kalb was willing to reveal his five favorite and five least favorite tracks of the many he has penned in Bellows' six-year history. Read on for Kalb's own thoughts on the process, and be sure to grab tickets to Bellows' July 15 show at Baby's All Right.
Oliver Kalb: I’ve been writing and self-recording music as Bellows for the last seven years. Recording is a pretty intense and life-consuming black hole process for me. When I’m recording an album, I listen to each of the songs obsessively, trying to iron out all the lyrical flaws and dips of the production, bouncing new mixes and walking around alone trying to imagine how each song can expand and develop in its recorded world. Sometimes this makes for really cool experiments, and songs I feel really proud of — when a lot of work goes into a song and it pays off, it’s cool to listen back years later, and hear the product of long periods of intense anxiety and labor live and breathe in a finished state. But other times, when I listen back to my own records, I’ll shudder at certain tracks. There are some songs I’ve released that I just totally hate, songs that make me feel really embarrassed when I hear them.
In the myopic world of self-recording, sometimes flaws that would be really obvious to someone listening with an untrained ear won’t be apparent to the actual person making the music. It’s very easy to get tunnel-vision when you’re working on an album, and think you’ve stumbled upon a really interesting and weird experiment, that to anyone else listening just sounds like a bunch of convoluted nonsense. I can hear some of my own songs, in hindsight, as really ugly kinks that might’ve been ironed out if I’d given myself some distance from the project. Years down the line from some of the records I’ve made, I’m able to see a little more clearly which experiments were successful and which were just kind of bad or confusing ideas, in need of an editor. So I decided to use this spot to explore what I think are my 5 best songs, and why I still respond to them after so many years, and then also what I think are my 5 worst songs, and why they’re bad, or at least why I don’t consider them good vehicles for conveying the ideas or feelings I hoped they would.
Don't shelve The Vacant Lots in a vintage store. The New York two piece's music might sound nostalgic, but their punk energy and musicianship is anything but stale. On their second LP Endless Night, the group channels the spirit of influences like Suicide (whose late frontman Alan Vega's unmistakeable vocals feature on closing track, "Suicide Note") while traveling into untapped sonic territory with custom effect pedals and distinct arrangements. Ahead of their improvisatory live show June 30 at Sunnyvale, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen caught up with AdHoc to talk Alan Vega, sonic tradition, and staying punk in 2017.
AdHoc: You collaborated with Alan Vega of Suicide recently. How was it working with such an iconic musician?
JARED ARTAUD: There are few people you meet in this world that change your life forever. Alan was doubtlessly one of them for me. Here he was in his 70s working at his art every day. Writing, drawing, painting, singing, recording. He was an unstoppable force. It was infinitely inspiring working with him. No matter what medium he used, his filter and vision would shine through: for instance, you could see the force and violence and spontaneity in his drawings that reminded me of his singing and performance style. Just spending time together and talking about music and art will always be some of the most lasting and memorable experiences of my life. There was something egoless and selfless about Alan that I found refreshing. He remained true to his art until the very end.
I was actually one of the last people to see him before he died. I went over to his apartment in Manhattan to listen to Endless Night together since he was planning on writing lyrics and singing on "Suicide Note." He wouldn’t talk about himself unless you asked him to. He would always ask you how you were feeling and would always ask you about your life. His support and mentorship really was powerful. Seeing Alan’s process firsthand and experiencing the way he executed his art really was something else. I got to work with him and co-produce his final album IT, and it’s an incredible record. However, it’s a shame that someone has to die before they get some of the kind of recognition they rightly deserve.
RIPS' self-titled debut packs the kind of fervent rock energy that used to define New York City's music scene. It's impossible not to see the influence of bands such as Television, The Velvet Underground, and The Feelies on RIPS' sound, which puts them in a similar NYC rock revivalist territory to Parquet Courts (it is no surprise to see that Austin Brown of Parquet Courts produced RIPS' self-titled debut on Faux Discx). Yet, while the band wears their influences like signs for CBGB around their necks, their playlist below highlights a diversity of influences that lies well beyond those easy comparisons to early 70s and 80s NYC rock mainstays.
Listen to some of the band's favorite tracks below and come see them play Baby's All Right on July 1 for their record release show.
It makes sense that Jesse Jerome Jenkins V finds solace in isolation.
As a member of the celebrated Austin band Pure X, Jesse is well-versed in crafting hazy, pining noise pop. But on his debut solo album Hard Sky, Jesse trades the collaborative ethos of his band for a solitary, personal undertaking. It's a record full of songs about loneliness, and creating it was a lonely process, too.
Hoping to grow as an artist, as well as “cope” with the “noise” of the outside world, Jesse decamped to his Corpus Christi studio to lay down tracks between 2014 and 2016. Rather than setting out with a high concept, Hard Sky is a collection of songs that see Jesse coming to terms with (and sometimes shrugging off) heavy concepts like impermanence and loss over a backdrop of Americana guitar licks and pillowy synths. On the surprisingly buoyant “De-pression,” Jesse ponders, “What happens when you lost the time that you had before?” It’s a question that Jesse never really answers, but he still leans in to the beauty of not knowing.
Jesse: I grew up in Northeast Texas in a little town called Emory, which is between Dallas and Texarkana. It’s a town of like 1,000 people—super small.
How do you think where you’re from and how you grew up affected your perspective as an artist?
That’s a good question and actually something I’ve been thinking of recently. I think I’m seeking isolation now because that’s how I coped with things growing up. I was in this tiny town and I really hated it and I wanted to get out of there so bad. Now, I kind of realize that it was a really good place for me to grow up as an artist because it forced me to create my own world and my own fun.
On Tuesday June 6, Elysia Crampton, Moor Mother, and Total Freedom joined forces to play an incredible series of noisy sets—as haunting as they were moving. Erez Avissar was there to capture the aura of the wonderful night.
Earlier this year, Thrill Jockey released Many Waters, a 33-song compilation to benefit the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in the wake of the flood that swept the area in August of last year. The label enlisted the Baton Rouge, Louisiana doom metal five-piece Thou to help curate the release, which featured local groups from Louisiana alongside experimental metal heavyweights like Old Man Gloom and The Body. After more than a decade of touring, releasing music, and musical community-building in their home state, the band was more than up to the task.
Thou vocalist Bryan Funck in particular has tirelessly supported the Louisiana scene. After starting booking local shows in the mid-’90s, Funck founded the website noladiy.org in 1999, which features an impressively long, constantly updated list of shows, bands, venues, and promoters in southeast Louisiana. We spoke to Funck about the origins and ethos of NOLA DIY, and how some of those impulses filter into Thou’s heavy, metaphysical music—a new offering of which, Magus, is slated for release via Howling Mine, Gilead Media, and Robotic Empire later this year.
Bryan Funck: When [Thrill Jockey founder] Bettina [Richards] heard about the flood down here, she asked if we were interested in doing a benefit. She coordinated with a bunch of metal bands who were friends with Thrill Jockey, and then asked me if there was anybody from New Orleans or Baton Rouge I wanted to add—so I started rounding up all the good New Orleans and Baton Rouge bands that could contribute.
AdHoc Issue 20 is here! Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. If you happen to live outside of New York, you may order a copy as well.
In AdHoc Issue 20, we get to know three musicians who go out of their way to build community whenever they’re not making great music. Bryan Funck, who tours constantly as the vocalist of Louisiana metal band Thou, runs the website NOLA DIY, which collects information on local shows, bands, venues, and promoters, along with resources for bands just starting out. Moor Mother and Eartheater, in conversation, explain the importance of creating music in the face of systemic obstacles like class inequality and gender-based discrimination—and helping others do the same through collaboration and education. Which is to say, for each of these three, being a musician is certainly about releasing plenty of forward-thinking music—but it’s also about using that platform to help others have their voices heard.
AdHoc Issue 20's contributors:
Alexandra Drewchin is a Queens-based musician who records under the Eartheater name. She conversed with Camae Ayewa of Moor Mother for this issue.
Chris Stewart makes and performs synthy anthems under the moniker Black Marble. He composed and shot the cover for this issue.
Samuel Nigrosh is a Chicago-based illustrator who publishes books and comix under the name Trash City. He made the illustrations for this issue.
There's a live video of Aldous Harding performing single "Horizon" at Auckland, NZ's Whammy Bar rock club in 2016. She fidgets and sways on the foreground, pulling at her lip and nursing a menacing stare, delivering lines like "I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world" with blood-curdling articulation. The performance is downright terrifying in a sort of Lynchian way, the emotion palpable without any context. "That was the gnarliest version," she recounts of the performance. "I'd drunk five cans of Red Bull."
Party, Aldous Harding's 4AD debut, is a meditation of sorts: on love, loss, pain and recreation. The narrative follows a progression that feels kind of akin to molting, with her and the listener emerging after the closing track, "Swell Does The Skull," with new skin—raw and pink with change. Following many festival appearances and a national tour with Deerhunter, American audiences are just getting hip to the New Zealand songwriter—just in time for her to be working on new music, which she says she's been playing at shows lately.
Moor Mother and Eartheater like to keep busy. Moor Mother, whose debut album Fetish Bones came out in 2016, has been touring the globe with her noisey protest music, publishing and lecturing about Afrofuturist and diasporic thought, and organizing events at Community Futures Lab, a Philadelphia multimedia arts and education space she founded with her partner Rasheedah Phillips, the other half of her Black Quantum Futurism collective. Eartheater, real name Alexandra Drewchin, released two acclaimed albums in 2015—Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis—and has another full-length on the way, all while working as a visual and performance artist, and frequenting local creative hubs like Otion Front Studio in Brooklyn and Outpost Artists Resources in Queens. Both artists contributed to Show Me the Body’s recent CORPUS I mixtape, a collaborative release that aligns with their shared penchants for community-building and genre-bending.
In the following conversation, Moor Mother and Eartheater discuss their tireless work ethic, the artistic scenes around them, and the challenges of being a woman in music.
Prickly and polyrhythmic, Palm's "Shadow Expert" bristles and clangs. On the second track off their eponymous EP and upcoming Carpark debut, the Philadelphia-based four piece tumble even deeper into their bizarro corner of mathy art rock. Its ersatz drum patterns and guitar spikes interlocked in an unstable, impossibly complex lattice, the song seems buoyed only by Eve Albert's airy vocals. It's sharply effervescent and charmingly evanescent.
Before the band's June 23 release show with Palberta, Palm shared an expansive playlist with personal commentary for each track. Parse Palm's vast range of inspiration, from DJ Rashad to Broadcast, below a stream of "Shadow Expert."