Ancient Ocean's music swells with gravity and delicacy, pummeling with subtlety. His upcoming release, Titan's Island, invokes the sublime vastness of the cosmic across its intimately otherworldly four tracks. It makes for gorgeous listening just as calming in the background as affecting in the foreground. The project's mastermind, J.R. Bohannon, spoke with AdHoc about composition and spaces, both familiar and extraterrestrial.
Let’s talk about your approach to composition. Do you start with a concept and build a sound and atmosphere around it? The opposite? Somewhere in between?
It generally changes. With this record, I actually spent a lot of time taking out layers from the compositions to open up the overall landscape. I spend a lot of time just tracking ideas and, over time, a complete vision starts to reveal itself—and thats what seems to make up a full album.
Vita and the Woolf is the pop project of Philadelphia-based musician Jennifer Pague. Before their show at Alphaville on October 19 with Queens of Jeans and Ritual Talk, Jen/Vita was gracious enough to share with AdHoc an epistolary photo essay of the band's trip to Paris that is part biography, part travelogue, and part personal history. The group's latest, TUNNELS, is out now.
Jennifer Pague: Hey there,
Two novelists, one romance. I write songs about the love relationship between Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf through the lens of my own life journey. If you enjoy cathartic break up songs, you might find this to be a grand place to park your mind for a bit.
As AC/DC, once put it, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock & roll.” Not so for Sheer Mag, the Philadelphia power-soul riff factory who propelled themselves from DIY basements to headlining venue tours in just a few years. They aren’t seeking a spot on the music industry summit—just a sustainable future where they exercise full control over the band and and its music, from top to bottom.
Their unwavering independence is clear, from their self-distributed albums, to their raucous self-booked tours. That ethos is consistent with the band’s message: be yourself, against all odds. Tracks like “Nobody’s Baby” and “Suffer Me” subvert the casual misogyny often found in riff rock, swapping it out for a strong sense of identity and open-mindedness. “Keep me out of your fantasy,” bellows front person Tina Halladay on the latter “Can you give me that one luxury?”
Over the phone from her Point Breeze, Philadelphia apartment, Halladay acknowledges the subversive nature of their lyrics. “People like rock & roll,” explains Halladay, “but it didn’t always come from the best place.” Their debut self-released full-length album—Need To Feel Your Love, out last June—is about taking the power back. “It’s really cool to see people sing along to ‘Nobody’s Baby’ like they would ‘The Boys Are Back In Town,’” she says.
New York's Combo Chimbita are a self-described "cumbia-not-cumbia" four-piece. Their sound is heavily indebeted to the rhythms of the aforementioned Colombian dance, but, as bassist Prince of Queens tells me, the band sees their take as “left field” cumbia: "taking the essence, blending different styles, experimenting, and making it our own." The band—which includes vocalist and guacharaca player Carolina Oliveros, drummer Dilemastronauta, and guitarist Niño Lento—cut its teeth as a collective during a residency at Brooklyn venue Barbès. Tracked live to tape, their new LP, Abya Yala, showcases their style of tight yet extroverted "tropical futurism," with an generous energy that could only come from lifelong creative partnership and friendship.
AdHoc: How did you all meet and start playing music together?
Prince of Queens: We have been friends and played in different groups for over six years. I met Niño Lento at a Colombian percussion workshop in Queens eight years ago. He introduced me to Dilemastronauta and later on to Carolina Oliveros. Combo Chimbita started pretty spontaneously—we started doing a residency at Barbès in Brooklyn on Monday nights, where we would just improvise and jam back to back with DJs. On most nights, the venue was empty, and Carolina would come hang out. One day she brought her guacharaca and joined us. It just happened naturally. We started narrowing down the jams and writing songs.
William Patrick Corgan is the solo project of the legendary Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan. He recently graced the Murmrr Theatre stage for a two-night run on October 14 and 15, playing through debut album Oglala as well as selections from the Smashing Pumpkins’ celebrated catalog. Nick Karp was on hand to take photos; check them out below.
Music fanatics express their devotion in myriad ways. Some travel the country, carving a path in a band’s shadow; some join fan clubs, form cover bands, or get tattoos. But the New York-based group Object Collection spun their obsession with Fugazi into something far more idiosyncratic, distilling sounds from Fugazi’s extensive live archive—guitar noodling, audience noise, and stage banter—into a challenging, cacophonous, 100-minute “opera-in-suspension.” It's calledIt’s All True, and the live performance is something to behold: big lamps, balloons, and jerky, improvised choreography all work together in service of preserving Fugazi’s ethos and aura.
Stage renditions of It's All True will be performed on an upcoming tour, but leading up to that, Slip is releasing an album version on October 6. It's a pretty a disorienting listen: Opener “Introduction” and its soundcheck-esque guitar and drum noise could, theoretically, be the intro for any live album, but this familiarity is upended at the beginning of the next track, when a voice inexplicably screams out, “It could be so much fucking fun!” The rest of the the tracks follow this tumultuous pattern, with the indelible voices occasionally bleeding through, most notably Guy Piciotto’s infamous dealing with a heckler: “Ice cream-eating motherfucker…that’s what you are…” the snippet is surrounded with clanging noise, and makes his out-of-context rant all the more striking.
“All of us were both blown away and disoriented by the work—it was well beyond anything we had anticipated when agreeing to Travis’ early request,” Fugazi’s Guy Piciotto said in a statement to Object Collection. “We feel moved by Object Collection’s engagement with our archive material and salute everyone involved for their hard work and patience and for wrestling with such integrity with our sounds and words.”
This article appears in AdHoc Issue 22. 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.
Nick Corbo apologizes that he’s the only member of LVL UP on the phone. “We typically try to get at least two people on, because everybody’s opinions want to be heard,” Corbo says. “So I can’t speak for everybody, but I can at least speak for myself.”
When we chat, Corbo is just coming off a few weeks of relative solitude, describing it as “an opportunity to get back to normal” after tour. But his reluctance to speak on behalf of bandmates Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, and Greg Rutkin is testament to their close bond, as musical co-conspirators and friends.
Thanks in part to the fact that Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all write and sing in equal amount, LVL UP is much more than the sum of its parts. There is no de-facto frontman or leader calling the shots. They’re a team.
LVL UP formed at SUNY Purchase and dropped their 2011 debut, Space Brothers, on Double Double Whammy, the label that Caridi and Benton launched their sophomore year. That album was originally intended to be a split cassette between the band—then featuring Caridi, Benton, and former drummer Ben Smith—and Corbo’s solo material, but instead they released it as one band. Rutkin would join the group slightly later, for LVL UP’s first show.
Though there may be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, LVL UP’s music—especially their 2016 LP, Return to Love, on Sub Pop—highlights the members’ common ground. Heavy, distorted guitars and reverb-soaked vocals reign supreme on Return to Love, with occasional nods to ‘90s lo-fi rock heroes like Built to Spill and Guided by Voices. But whether it’s Corbo’s slow-burning grunge-mumbler “Naked in the River With the Creator,” Caridi’s bruised-yet-buoyant “Pain,” or Benton’s Neutral Milk Hotel-adjacent Biblical meditation “Hidden Driver,” it still all sounds like LVL UP.
Gearing up to reunite with the band for a short fall tour, Corbo spoke to AdHoc about what happens when a rock band grows up—and what happens when you grow up in a rock band.
LVL UP plays Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on October 6, with Yowler and Slight, and October 7, with Long Beard and Yucky Duster.
AdHoc Issue 22 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 our latest issue, responding to a reader’s question, Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer brings up “the difference between reality-you and dream-you,” and suggests that in order to realize your potential, it’s important to parse those separate identities. Navigating that separation can be tough for artists, as the other musicians featured in these pages—Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos and LVL UP’s Nick Corbo—have found out. Both write personal music for bands with cult followings, and have noticed that the more they tour and record, the more those identities—as human and as musician—start to merge. Corbo says that his collaboration with his bandmates is “entwined with my life and who I am.” Kline wonders, “Am I my job?” Yet the social aspect of music—from collaborating to engaging with fans—has helped both artists navigate that distinction. As Kline puts it, “Frankie Cosmos is so much bigger than me and who I am.” Sometimes figuring out who you are who you are requires letting others in.
AdHoc Issue 22's contributors:
Phil Elverum has produced two decades worth of records as The Microphones and Mount Eerie that span a wide spectrum, from studio heavy atmospheric landscaping to simple, raw songs. He made the cover for this issue.
Aubrey Nolan is a Queens-based illustrator, cartoonist, and host of a monthly reading series for cartoonists, Panels to the People. She made the illustrations for this issue.
For IAN SWEET’s Jilian Medford, touring is a form of therapy.
“I feel like I have to tour and play these songs constantly and live with them in order to be meditative and be able to process my mental health issues,” Medford tells AdHoc over the phone.
After playing solo shows in Boston’s DIY scene as IAN (a throwback to her high school skateboarding nickname), Medford teamed up with drummer Tim Cheney and bassist Damien Scalise to form IAN SWEET.
The band’s debut album, Shapeshifter, which dropped in September 2016 via Hardly Art, sees Medford processing and pondering those issues—anxiety, depression, panic attacks — on lo-fi, guitar-driven anthems referencing Nickelodeon and Michael Jordan. While Medford’s plaintive, reverb-drenched vocals anchor the record, Shapeshifter is enriched by the trio’s sheer musical chemistry, transforming complex arrangements into undeniably hooky garage-pop.
“It’s IAN when I’m on my own, but they add the SWEET,” Medford says, pausing for a second before cracking herself up.
Jilian Medford: Some of my heroes were people my parents were listening to, like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. They’ve always been heroes of mine as far as music goes, and they’ve shaped the way that I approach and think about music—a more “freaky” way [laughs]. Also, the way they involve theatrics, but not in an over-the-top way, was really influential.
Also, a big hero of mine that comes up in a lot of our music and art that we make is Michael Jordan. My dad was a basketball referee while I was growing up and was always taking me to games and involving me in that world.
The jump from Peter Gabriel to Michael Jordan is pretty funny.
Madeline Kenney loves to move. In the most literal sense, she’s talking about her Oakland home: “I don’t know if I can pay expensive rent just to be touring all the time,” she tells AdHoc over email, ahead of her headlining set at Trans-Pecos. But getting to this point in her life–California, touring musician–took a lot of moving, both physically and figuratively. Tracing the winding path of Kenney’s life reveals frequent and seemingly random detours: she’s studied neurobiology and has had a nearly decade-long career as a baker before focusing her energy as a musician.
Kenney’s endless curiosity and wandering spirit, though, shows itself in full force through her music. Her debut album, Night Night at the First Landing, is full of musical and lyrical detours–the cascading melody of “Always” seems to be searching for answers; the twinkling piano provides a guide. On several songs, Kenney loops her voice into a round, with each part singing the same mantra: “Don’t you worry about a thing.” With each piece of her musical puzzle, Kenney contends with her place in the universe, and the simultaneous excitement and uncertainty of innumerable possibilities.
AdHoc: I wanted to talk about your approach to composition. Your music, to me, is kaleidoscopic, meandering, searching; you layer sounds–fingerpicked guitar, harmonized vocals, steady drums–that create an almost ethereal space. You wrote, arranged, and tracked every song on the album–what’s your thought process when you begin to write a song, and when arranging it?
Madeline Kenney: Wow, thanks for such a thoughtful and kind description of my sound! Sometimes songs come together from a melodic idea on guitar or on my loop pedal, but more often than not I come up with melodies when I'm nowhere near an instrument. Then I have to do the work to put music to the lyrics or melody I've come up with. As far as arranging and layering sounds, I think that comes from hearing many melodies at once and wanting to squeeze everything in.