Tuesday, 12 July 2016

TRAVEL: The Skinny: Living in Charleston, SC

My good friends over at The Skinny in Edinburgh (the Scotland one) asked me to write about life in Charleston with tips for folk who may want to move here one day. Read it here! 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

TRAVEL: SC Living Magazine: The Kazoo Museum, Factory, and Shop, Beaufort, SC

This was a fun piece I did for SC Living Magazine on the Kazoobie Kazoos' Kazoo Museum, Factory, and Shop in Beaufort, SC - not far from Charleston so the perfect day trip. I took my boyfriend there for his birthday, and it made for some real silly fun. We giddily left with T-shirts, several kazoos, and two big ol' smiles. Also great for your Beaufort day trip: Mikki's Schoolhouse Diner about 10 minutes away from the kazoo museum, the Highway 21 Drive-In Theater, and - on the way to or from Beaufort from Charleston - the Old Sheldon Church ruins. And if you have even more time, a wander around Huntington Beach Park will leave you totally and utterly breathless - seriously it is like an otherworldly paradise. Oh how I heart the Lowcountry:)

Friday, 11 March 2016

TRAVEL: The Sunday Times (UK): In the footsteps of Village giants + Off the beat track: surprising cities whose sounds are in tune with the big boys

Pretty excited to have gotten two pieces published in the Sunday Times last weekend. You can read 'em here or below. 

In the footsteps of Village giants

Kelly Rae Smith takes a nostalgic tour of the New York venues that spawned legends from Bob Dylan to Blondie

Kelly Rae Smith Published: 6 March 2016
Outside Niagara is a vibrant mural of Joe Strummer, a sure sign the nostalgic rock tour of Manhattan starts here. Only steps away is 23 St. Mark’s Place, a building once occupied by Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable club and house band, The Velvet Underground. About half a mile north they, plus scores more rock gods, frequented the now-defunct Max’s Kansas City, the former headquarters of the glam-rock scene.
For more ghosts of the Village past, see the former site of CBGB’s at 315 Bowery, where acts like Blondie and the Ramones solidified the venue’s cachet as the heart and soul of New York’s punk and new wave scene. It closed in 2006 and was converted into a not-so rock ’n’ roll designer shop, but some of its character — graffiti-covered walls, playbills, and stickers — has been preserved by the new owner and can still be seen inside.
Go west for a sample of Bob Dylan’s New York at Greenwich Village’s Cafe Wha?, where he made his Manhattan debut, or across the street at the Gaslight Cafe, where 1960s’ coffee drinkers snapped their fingers in the wee hours to applaud the folk legend. From there it is just a minute’s walk to the ever-active Blue Note Jazz Club, made world famous by artists such as Ray Charles and Dizzy Gillespie.
Back east at Avenue A, frills-free venues ready to carry the torch are alive and well. That’s partly thanks to musician Jesse Malin — formerly of Heart Attack, an old-school A7 regular — who has opened up a string of joints, including Niagara, to help preserve the spirit of the area’s grungier past. His latest nightlife venture is Berlin, a basement bar filled with night warriors and live music. Village venues crucial to the current scene of both new and popular acts include Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos, Arlene’s Grocery, Bowery Ballroom, and Mercury Lounge — the latter of which buoyed The Strokes 16 years ago.
You can’t go to the Big Apple without a wander through the neon lights and past the theatres of Midtown. Plenty of heydays are celebrated here, too. On 28th Street, for example, an unapparent sidewalk plaque commemorates Tin Pan Alley, where the American music industry essentially began about a century ago. The Copacabana — at its prime in the ’40s on East 60th — and the Cotton Club, formerly a jazzy Harlem haunt during the Prohibition era, have been reincarnated in Midtown and the Upper West Side, respectively, for modern audiences.
The best bets for vintage vibes are Saturdays post-midnight at the Copa for Latin music or swing dance on Mondays at the Cotton Club. And the marquee lights from disco den Studio 54, now a non-profit theatre company, can still be marvelled at on 54th Street.
So while you’re finding your way to the past — be it through a Joey Ramone Place street sign or an inconspicuous dive bar on Avenue A — don’t forget to look around. You never know where and when you’ll stumble upon another clue to Gotham’s bygone eras.

Sound Tracks

● I’m Waiting for the Man The Velvet Underground
● One Way or Another Blondie
● Automatic Stop The Strokes
● I Wanna Be Sedated Ramones
● Rise Above Black Flag
● The Times They Are A-Changin’ Bob Dylan

Off the beat track: surprising cities whose sounds are in tune with the big boys

Kelly Rae Smith

Music lovers from the UK who are familiar with America’s rich history of everything from blues to country to rock ’n’ roll will already have their sights set on the usual suspects — Nashville, New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis, New York City, Chicago — when planning a trip. But don’t miss out on these other cities that have risen up as musical forces to be reckoned with.
The Pacific Northwest is ripe with worthwhile music scenes that have shone progressively bright for the past couple of decades, and the hipster haven of Portland, Oregon, with its plethora of farm-to-fork restaurants, food carts, craft breweries and urban wineries, is among the area’s must-visits. Here, artists like M. Ward, the Decemberists and Elliott Smith came of age, and now acts including piano-driven Lost Lander, singer-songwriter Natasha Kmeto and indie rockers Radiation City are among Portland’s new wave of promising gems. When you’re out and about, check out Crystal Ballroom, Holocene, or Revolution Hall for the big gigs, or immerse yourself via intimate venues, including downtown’s Mississippi Studios, with its great burgers and eccentric line-up of rock bands, DJs, and comedians. Or try the beautiful, log cabin-like Doug Fir Lounge, serving up everything from electro pop and R&B to meatloaf and martinis.


In Austin, don’t deny yourself from grabbing grub from a to-die-for taco truck, swimming with the locals at Barton Springs, or feasting your ears on all its music scene has to offer. The Texas capital is home to South by Southwest (SXSW), a music, film, and interactive conference-festival that helped put the city on the musical map of the USA. That also happened by way of Austin City Limits, the longest-running music programme in television history. And then there’s the energetic downtown scene, where names such as Spoon, Okkervil River and Explosions in the Sky cut their teeth. Nowadays, local acts like indie-pop band Wild Child and Sweet Spirit, an energetic synth-rock outfit, are leading the way. You can look out for them at spots like Stubb’s BBQ, where everyone from Muddy Waters to Johnny Cash has played for their supper. Dig into the legendary barbecue and don’t miss the gospel brunch if you’re there on a Sunday. On 6th Street, the Parish is said to have the best sound in the city, while farther east the gold wallpapered Hotel Vegas is the perfect watering hole to gaze at taxidermy and catch local and regional rock.


But the latest rising star is charming Charleston, nestled on South Carolina’s pristine coast. A picturesque city at every turn — live oaks draped with Spanish moss, antebellum mansions in pastel hues, boat-filled harbours that sparkle in the Southern sun — Charleston has a thriving music scene. Band of Horses (BoH) and Shovels & Rope call the Holy City home, and they mean to contribute to it: BoH frontman Ben Bridwell has recorded with local acts on the rise, such as alt-country band SUSTO, indie-rockers Brave Baby, and piano-pop artist David Higgins, while Shovels & Rope regularly join forces with hometown cronies, Americana duo the InLaws.
See the downtown scene in all its glory at the kitschy Royal American, where indie rock, garage punk, and homemade beef jerky reign. Call an Uber cab for off-the-beaten-track hotspots such as the bohemian Pour House on James Island (soul and blues, anyone?), West Ashley’s Tin Roof (rock ’n’ roll and a helluva hotdog menu), or the Sparrow at Park Circle, known for punk and metal shows as well as its killer pinball machines.
Of course, missing out on Memphis and the other music city staples would be a sin, but at least you have a buffet of choice — it’s the American way.

Sound Tracks

● Strung Out Again Elliott Smith
● Zombies Radiation City
● Do You Spoon
● Baby When I Close My Eyes Sweet Spirit
● Factory Band of Horses
● Birmingham Shovels & Rope

Garth Brooks interview/feature in Raleigh News & Observer

After feeling frustrated that I didn't have the time to make good use of my Garth interview in Charleston (the press conference and our one-one-one finished too late for me to turn around an article for the CCP that evening before I had to rush out and meet friends for Dr John at the Music Hall!). Besides, I'd already written a Garth essay, as did a coworker. So, rather than let the interview go to waste, I contacted the paper from the city of his next stop, Raleigh News Observer, a week or so ago, and they agreed to a small feature. Sweet:)

You can read it here.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Creative Live: 5 Inspired Instagram Tips for Savvy Sellers

My latest blog post for Creative Live is up, and it's all about what you should be doing on Instagram if you're a fashion seller or personality. You can view it here!

Friday, 19 February 2016

DIY Unicorn-Cloud Mobile

I do a lot of DIY blogging for sites like Creative Live, Shutterfly, eBay, and Goodwill. This week, I worked on a unicorn-themed nursery idea. I really wanted to do a paper mache unicorn head, but due to time constraints that idea will have to wait. I decided on a cloud mobile from which a unicorn and rainbows hang. I'll be sure to post a link when it goes live, but here's a fun little preview clip: 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Ode to Garth: For a moment, all the world was right

Today I met Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at a press conference. I wrote this piece last week but forgot to "publish" it on the City Paper site before rushing out of town. And now that I'm writing a different Garth piece, this seems more fitting for the blog anyway.

Looking back, the music of Garth Brooks immediately makes me nostalgic for my high school days and early college years. This was in the mid-’90s, the last golden era of country radio — when Alan Jackson built a pyramid of cans in the pale moonlight, Patty Loveless tried to think about Elvis, and John Michael Montgomery went down to the Grundy County Auction. But, arguably, the king of ’90s country was none other than Garth Brooks, whose “Friends in Low Places” became the barroom anthem in every dive throughout the South and beyond. 

I have a bunch of Garth-related memories that remain fond, if progressively vague. But my two favorite memories both date back to ’97, the last year that I could really stomach country radio — or any radio station for that matter. The first was a particularly late night in Clemson when a group of us piled in someone’s boat and drunkenly sailed off to a lakefront bar. It’s one of those what-was-I-thinking recollections many of us cringe over as adults. Thankfully, we lived to tell about it, and now I can enjoy remembering this: a symphony of teenage fools mercilessly screaming the words “I’ll be as high as that ivory tower” into the night at the tip-tops of our lungs. That was one helluva summer filled with fake IDs, Bud Light, and yes, the country croons of the likes of Garth. 

Later that summer, I drove to New York to visit an ex, my first serious boyfriend. We'd just broken up, and our final goodbye would happen on the Big Lawn in the middle of Manhattan. 

That night the singer played to nearly a million (for real) fans on a perfectly clear summer night. Brooks declared he was there to raise some hell, and I was there for essentially the same reason. 

Some unforgettable guest performers were there too: Billy Joel, who created the first tape I ever bought (An Innocent Man) and Don McClean, whose “American Pie” was and remains my go-to Waffle House jukebox track. 

I can’t recall exactly how every other detail of the concert went down — it was crowded and I was thirsty, I know that much — but the song that stood out the most was “The Dance.” Having gone through my very first serious breakup that summer, my teenage emotions got the best of me as Brooks sang those dramatic words that seared through my heart, “For a moment, all the world was right/ How was I to know, that you’d ever say goodbye/ And now, I'm glad I didn't know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go/ Our lives are better left to chance/ We could've missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the Dance”

Many years later, I moved to the Big Apple for a stint. And sometimes, during my frequent runs through Central Park, I’d look back on that show and wonder things like, where did we stand that night? And, how did I survive that drive from Carolina alone with no cell phone or digital GPS in existence? Who knew I’d wind up living here and with much different taste in music? No longer was I the naive teen trying to survive a puppy love breakup with the help of a country song. 

But a country song sure don't hurt. That’s why, to this day, if there’s the right amount of beer involved and a karaoke machine in sight, I still don’t mind belting out a little song that reminds me of home. Blame it all my roots. 

Friday, 6 November 2015

PHOTOS: Brian Wilson, Al Jardine had a mini Beach Boys reunion at the Gaillard Center last night

As a journo grad student, I somehow blagged my way into the cool opera seats of Edinburgh Festival Theater in 2007 and have since proclaimed that to be the best night of my life — until now. Ten years later, Tim (my boyfriend) and I had the amazing opportunity to go backstage at the brand spankin' new Gaillard Center to photograph Brian Wilson and his band. I got to not only meet my favorite living artist but also fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine and stand-in BB from the ’70s Blondie Chaplin, who asked me to hold his drink before the crew huddled together for their pre-show pep talk and prayer. It was incredibly surreal. Here're some of our unpublished pics! 

God and I

My darlin'. Brian's crew liked his hat.

A practice shot before going backstage 

Me wondering if I'm about to actually meet Brian Wilson

Here's my review for the CCP, plus more of Tim's photographs:) 

God Only Knows

Posted by Kelly Rae Smith on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 8:01 PM

Last night, the Gaillard Center proved itself a remarkable venue in both sight and sound when the Beach Boys co-founders Brian Wilson and Al Jardine lit up the new stage with their 12-piece band and radiant vocal harmonies.

  • Tim Edgar
A dramatic velvet curtain backdropped the show, and band leader Paul Von Mertens described the stunning venue, with its apricot color scheme and tiered balconies, as being reminiscent of the Vienna Opera House.

Half an hour before the show, when the venue would fill for the sounds of Brian Wilson and his band - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • Half an hour before the show, when the venue would fill for the sounds of Brian Wilson and his band

Blondie Chaplin, who was a Beach Boy back in the ’70s on albums like Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" and Holland, also performed. Last night, he shined in leading the band in "Sail Away," which he also sang, along with Jardine, on Wilson's new album No Pier Pressure, "Wild Honey, off 1967's Wild Honey, and "Sail On, Sailor," which he also sang lead vocals for on the track's original recording in 1972.

  • Tim Edgar

The concert opened with the complex, angelic harmonies of "Our Prayer" before segueing into "Heroes and Villains," two songs that left the audience nothing short of amazed and excited about what was to come. The set was only an hour-and-a-half-long in total as Wilson and company quickly but beautifully cranked out the Beach Boys hits, some more obscure tracks, and newer Brian Wilson songs. The encore alone — "All Summer Long," "Help Me Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfing USA," "Fun, Fun, Fun," and "Love and Mercy" — was worth the hefty ticket price.

  • Tim Edgar

Al Jardine's son Matt Jardine, who sang lead vocals in songs like "Don't Worry Baby" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice," could have been young Brian Wilson himself with his pitch-perfect falsetto. And Jardine Senior, who led the troupe in tracks like No Pier Pressure's "The Right Time," sounded like the same young man from the 1960s. As for Wilson, sometimes he sang lead, sometimes he sang backup, and sometimes he played his piano, but he was always present, even explaining the meaning behind several tracks — like "God Only Knows."

  • Tim Edgar

Another show highlight hit home locally when percussionist/vocalist Nelson Bragg gave a shoutout to Charleston's own A Fragile Tomorrow, whose latest LP Make Me Over came out this week. And before the concert, showgoers could hear "Forever" playing from the Explorers Club, the very Beach Boys-esque band with Charleston roots. Frontman Jason Brewer says they've been doing that on the Brian Wilson tour all summer long.

I had the rare opportunity to visit with the legends Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin backstage and snap some photographs (and Blondie even asked me to hold his drink!). Enjoy this intimate look at an impressive venue as well as the performance by one of the very best composers of the past century and his magnificent band. For the full setlist, keep scrolling.

Moments before the magic
  • Moments before the magic

The man himself in his recliner, which goes with him on tour - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • The man himself in his recliner, which goes with him on tour

Backstage with Brian Wilson and Al Jardine before the concert - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • Backstage with Brian Wilson and Al Jardine before the concert
Brian Wilson and crew take to the stage - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • Brian Wilson and crew take to the stage
The rhythm section and more - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • The rhythm section and more
Al Jardine - TIM EDGAR
  • Tim Edgar
  • Al Jardine
  • Tim Edgar


    • Tim Edgar

    • Tim Edgar

    • Tim Edgar

    • Tim Edgar

    • Tim Edgar

    The setlist from the Brian Wilson, Al Jardine Oct. 20, 2015 performance at the Gaillard Center: 

    Our Prayer —> Heroes and Villains
    California Girls
    Dance, Dance, Dance
    Shut Down
    Little Deuce Coupe
    I Get Around
    You're So Good to Me
    Then I Kissed Her
    California Saga
    In My Room
    Surfer Girl
    Don't Worry Baby
    One Kind of Love
    Sail Away
    Wild Honey
    Sail On Sailor
    She Knows Me Too Well
    Surf's Up
    The Right Time
    Wouldn't It Be Nice
    Sloop John B
    God Only Knows
    Good Vibrations


    All Summer Long
    Barbara Ann
    Surfing USA
    Fun, Fun, Fun
    Love and Mercy

    REVIEW: Pharrell Williams performed "Freedom" with Mother Emanuel choir Sunday

    The "Happy" singer is working with an A&E project called Shining a Light

    Posted by Kelly Rae Smith on Sun, Nov 1, 2015 at 4:56 PM

    Pharrell and the Emanuel AME gospel choir lit up the church with "Freedom" on Sun. Nov. 1. - A&E
    • A&E
    • Pharrell and the Emanuel AME gospel choir lit up the church with "Freedom" on Sun. Nov. 1.

    This morning, R&B star Pharrell Williams paid a visit to Mother Emanuel AME and performed “Freedom” with the church’s gospel choir. Williams first released the track this year on June 30, nearly two weeks after the Emanuel shootings.

    Reverend Norvel Goff introduced the special guest to the congregation, saying Williams would be leading the choir in a “hip song.” Moments before, the entire church was on their feet singing and clapping as the choir sang an offertory hymn and the band – including a trumpet player and a lone tambourine shaker in the congregation — played in the balcony. The joyous atmosphere was just right for the performance to come.

    Wearing a black tuxedo, Williams addressed the church members earnestly, noting he’d visited a few other places in the area, including “the wharf.” He wasn’t more specific but perhaps he was referring to the waterfront site downtown that was once Gadsden’s Wharf, the former port of entry for African-Americans and the site where the African-American Museum will stand in a few years.

    The singer also commended the church on its strength — enduring fire, an earthquake, and the rain and wind of hurricanes throughout its existence.

    His appearance was brief — no more than about 15 minutes long — but the song was clearly inspiring. After Williams left the room, the reverend proceeded with the service, basing his sermon on Psalm 137: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

    Today at Mother Emanuel AME - KELLY RAE SMITH
    • Kelly Rae Smith
    • Today at Mother Emanuel AME

    Williams’ performance will appear along with a discussion about race on the A&E programShining a Light: Conversations on Race in America on Fri. Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. The two-hour presentation will feature music from other big names, like Bruce Springsteen, Jamie Fox, and John Legend.

    Local poet and musician Marcus Amaker, who has written Emanuel AME-inspired poetry for both the City Paper and August’s Hi Harmony concert at the Charleston Music Hall, was among those interviewed for the program over the weekend.

    Shining a Light will also feature conversations with family members of victims, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and clergy from Charleston, Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson in an effort to empower communities by fostering understanding, eliminating bias, and addressing inequalities.

    We were welcomed to the service today, however phones and cameras were not permitted. So while we don’t have a photo to share with you, we’re also pleased that the network respected the sanctity of the church and its members, keeping the focus firmly on praise and worship.

    Update: The A&E network provided us with a photo this morning we're happy to share.

    INTERVIEW: Ben Folds talks about his love of Ke$ha, food packets from Jenny Craig, and making a masterpiece

    Ben Folds' latest collaboration is with New York classical ensemble yMusic who will tour with him this month
    Ben Folds' latest collaboration is with New York classical ensemble yMusic who will tour with him this month

    Before our phone interview with Ben Folds even begins, the piano-pop star — whose humor has been well documented in his music for the past two decades — is already giving us some pretty valuable blackmail material. "A call-recording app, huh?" he says after the "record" signal sounds. "That's like something people probably use in divorces and stuff for, like, child custody. In fact, you might sell some things if I were to say stuff like [cue very Southern accent], 'Bitch, I told ya, I'm takin' the kids and goin' 'cross state lines. You cain't stop me. I'm drunk. Fuck it!' That might be helpful."
    Folds will cross state lines as soon as he embarks on a tour with classical sextet yMusic in support of last month's release, So There,a superb collection of chamber-pop songs and piano concertos. But today, he's just driving around, cracking jokes. "I'm passing a Jenny Craig next to an Edible Arrangements," he says, giving us the play-by-play. "Oh man, it's awesome. It's a Jenny Craig that'sright between a pizza kitchen and an Edible Arrangements. They just have to put blinders on and walk straight in to Jenny Craig's and get their little food packet."
    Clearly, it's a good day to get inside the head of the man who once hilariously covered Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" and rose to fame in the mid-'90s with Ben Folds Five and their goofy brand of alt rock. From the early days of the band's Whatever and Ever Amen— with its demands like, "Give me my money back, you bitch ... and don't forget to give me back my black T-shirt" ("Song for the Dumped") — to his solo career (See this year's exceptionally silly "F10-D-A" off So There), Folds has found endless creativity and a lot of success in, for the most part, keeping it lighthearted.
    For example, if you've ever been to one of his shows, you'll know he's also known to perform interactively with the audience and compose songs on the spot. In fact, he says he has a few from some Charleston shows he's performed in years past. And sometimes these songs make it to a studio album, like So There's "Phone in a Pool."
    "We record all the songs I make up when I'm playing gigs, and my sound man is kind enough to compile them for me and just send them to me," Folds explains. "So I've got hundreds from every year, and sometimes when I'm thinking about making an album, I'll just pore through them because I think they're just spontaneous, unguarded, neat little melodies."
    Folds really did throw his phone in a pool, by the way — that part's not made up. "[That song] makes me think of when I threw my phone in a pool, and Ke$ha jumped in and got it out with all her clothes on," he says.
    Yep, that Ke$ha, who Folds has openly and unapologetically admired for several years. From the time Folds covered Ke$ha's "Sleazy" in 2010 to his collaborations with everyone from Weird Al to William Shatner, Folds has never shied away from shocking his fans. And recently, with "I'm Not the Man," he almost had the chance to associate himself with Al Pacino, too.
    "It was written as an attempt to land a song for Al Pacino to sing in this movie [Danny Collins] they made him sing in," Folds says of the track, which didn't make it into the film after all. The premise sees an aging rocker rethinking his life after receiving a letter from the late John Lennon. "And it was supposed to be this watershed moment where he realized he'd grown up and he didn't need to keep repeating his younger self, and I thought that I could relate to that."
    Folds' career is full of not only ambitious efforts but spontaneous ones, too, like the time he and author Nick Hornby set out to write and record a full album (Lonely Avenue) in three days. Or when he and Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, and Damian Kulash wrote and recorded eight songs in eight hours. Folds says that, many times, projects like those are dreamed up only days beforehand. And that's what makes them so inspiring.
    "Sometimes those things happen like that," Folds says. "I'm always open to it because it reminds me that a three-and-a-half-minute song can take three-and-a-half minutes to write. And that is very helpful when you're writing, when you know it doesn't have to be a big fucking masterpiece."

    PREVIEW: Sufjan Stevens: North Charleston Performing Arts Center Mon. Nov. 9

    • Provided
    BAROQUE POP | Sufjan Stevens
    w/ Gallant
    Mon. Nov. 9
    7:30 p.m.
    North Charleston Performing Arts Center
    Ever since his promotional prank of vowing to write an album for every U.S. state, Sufjan Stevens and his enthralling brand of orchestral pop have been treasured by the kinds of listeners who also hold dear Beirut, the Shins, and Arcade Fire. Stevens did complete two of those state albums, though — 2003’s Michigan, an homage to his home state, and Illinois, the 2005 release for which he is best known. The multi-instrumentalist is also loved for his lo-fi folk leanings (Seven Swans, 2004) and Christmas-themed offerings, like 2006’s five-EP box set Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10 from 2012 (tally ’em up and you have a total of 100 quirky holiday songs that’ll make any indie diehard freakishly excited about Christmas, too). This year, Stevens dropped Carrie & Lowell, a delicate collection of songs that stay true to the artist’s whimsical style without being explosively cheerful. That can be attributed to the fact that this record is named after his stepfather, who co-founded Asthmatic Kitty Records with the musician in 1999, and Stevens’ mother, who left his family when he was very young, dealt with depression, and died of cancer in 2012. The grief and retrospective longing on the record are understandably palpable. This time, Stevens’ quivering vocals are close to a whisper, and the electro-pop fervor is no more, replaced with a soundscape that is still lush and expansive yet achingly poignant — a banjo or ukulele plucking gently throughout each tender melody. Much like the ones that came before, this album is repeat-rotation worthy and certainly creates an argument to drop everything you’re doing on Monday to experience the music for yourself live. This tour comes complete with a dramatic stained-glass window-like light show to place you perfectly in Stevens’ enchanting sanctuary of song. 

    Saturday, 17 January 2015

    FLASHBACK: Bite Life Magazine, Edinburgh, Scotland 2008-2009

    Organizing my office today, I found some old issues of Bite Life, the fashion, health, and beauty magazine I edited while living in Edinburgh, Scotland. This little magazine was one my biggest joys, and I love reflecting on those days. 

    A recent graduate from journalism grad school, I'd been editing and writing for Bite, an Edinburgh-centric food and drink magazine. A quarter-page big, you can see why Bite was such a great name for the foodie mag. Anyway, my boss had the idea to launch a spin-off publication with me as the editor-in-chief. I of course jumped at the chance to curate my own magazine. 

    As editor, it was my job to attend fashion shows and visit all the new shops. For the health section, I wrote a body, mind, and soul feature occasionally, which involved me reviewing massage therapists and, one time, spending the day at a spa inside a castle. Goodness, those were the days!

    One my favorite issues is obviously the very first one. Among other things, I wrote about Rowan Joy, an amazing Edinburgh designer who often reworked vintage to give it a modern twist, turning it into something that encompassed her signature, unique look. The cover girl (above) is wearing beautiful items from her collection. I also love the cover because she's posing inside one of my very favorite pubs. 

    Since Bite Life never existed online, I cannot provide any links, but here are a few images of what once was. Because of the heavy lifting my publisher had to do for two publications, Bite Life had to go after only one year. 

    I'll always remember that year as not only the year of living it up in Scotland's capital, but I'll also remember it fondly for the beautiful little magazines I curated all myself and created with the help of a lot of amazing writer friends like Lindsay Bower, Michelle Wards, Annie Cassidy, Alison Grieve, and Tom Farrington. 

    Here's to you, Bite Life! 

    Sunday, 26 October 2014

    CCP MUSIC | INTERVIEW: Former members of The Explorers Club join forces in Honeysmoke

    PHOTO BY Shannon Cunningham Oleksak
    Honeysmoke doesn't claim to have created its own genre, but we think the local band's blend of bluesy guitars and breezy island instrumentation is pretty unique. The foursome uses lap steel, ukulele, harmonica, resonator guitar, upright bass, and the occasional accordion to achieve a sound that's ripe with both Mississippian as well as Hawaiian flavor. And it's all quite fitting for Charleston, a place that can certainly appreciate sunshine-meets-swamp music.
    Though the band officially formed last summer, frontman Dave Ellis, slide guitarist Justin James, and bassist Michael Rogers played music together for years as former members in the Beach Boys-esque band The Explorers Club. Their new project — the trio is joined by drummer Oleksak — is heavily inspired by the Delta blues.
    For Ellis, the musical change of direction started while he was browsing around a music store. He saw something shiny and knew he had to have it.
    "I bought one of these resonator guitars," Ellis says. "I was always kind of interested in them, and I was getting into the Robert Johnson thing, and there was one at Ye Olde Music Shop for cheap. So I bought it, and it inspired the whole idea [of Honeysmoke]."
    When it came to scratching the itch, he wasn't alone. "Justin was really into the blues and plays a really great slide steel guitar, so we just jammed some blues standards. Justin came and had upright bass, and Mike started figuring it out and learned it. And then Jake joined us in August, so I started doing some recordings of some songs I had previously done in this style, and that's where the album kind of came from."
    Honeysmoke released its self-titled debut this month, a simple seven-song disc. The record contains covers of Tom Waits ("Jockey Full of Bourbon") and Robert Johnson ("Come on in My Kitchen"), plus the band's own tunes, like "Sullivan's Blues," a song Ellis co-wrote with James. "The Ballad of Honeysmoke" is the leadoff track and a basic blues jam. "My wife was cooking dinner, and I thought it might be fun to just have a straightforward 12-bar blues kind of song, so I just pulled it out at rehearsal and it worked," Ellis says. "It's just about the person you love cooking you dinner in the kitchen. It's about just feelin' in love, you know, and coming home from a hard day's work and the person you love is there with you."
    The album's fourth track, "Sunny California," is a song Ellis penned about a past relationship while he and The Explorer's Club were in Los Angeles. The influence of his former band is obvious in this particularly laid-back tune, which is probably best heard under the haze of a setting sun. "On Holiday" is in the same vein, and like Ellis' blues excursion, it was inspired by an instrument.
    "That one I wrote last summer while on vacation with Justin and his family in St. John," Ellis recalls. "I was there for 10 days, and I bought a ukulele before the trip and just learned it while I was there. I wrote that song on the second day.
    For Ellis, learning a new instrument inspires creativity. "An unfamiliar instrument can sometimes inspire you creatively, because you don't really know all the rules yet, and you haven't really gotten locked into a typical way of playing it. It's been that way for both Justin and myself on ukulele," Ellis explains. "And a lot of the material we are currently writing has started on the ukulele. Sometimes it takes getting away from the everyday grind of life for me to be inspired."
    As for the band's name, Ellis feels it's a remarkably apt way to describe Honeysmoke's sweet but bluesy sound.
    "I was just researching blues terminology and stuff," Ellis tells us, "and there was this one [reference] called the Honeydripper, a guy who was just a smooth-talking guy with the ladies or something. So I liked that, but Robert Plant actually had a group in the '80s called The Honeydrippers. So we couldn't use that. And then [the research] also talked about smokestacks, so I decided to put the two together."
    He adds, "Honey and smoke has a kind of cool little image of something sweet and something smoky —something that drips, something that rises — like two opposite ends of the spectrum put together. And it's kind of weird how it worked out with our group because we do the sultry, smoky blues, but we also like the sweet, mellow sound of the islands."

    CCP MUSIC | INTERVIEW: Vlado Meller has mastered records for a long list of legends

    When Vlado Meller was 21 years old, he turned up at CBS Studios intent on doing one thing with his life: mastering records. Rather than pursue the more popular careers of mixing or producing, Meller was resolute on becoming the record's sound enhancer, and his perseverance paid off. The big boys took him in that day back in 1969. They trained him on the job, and before Meller knew it, he was cutting vinyls and working with one of the most impressive musical catalogs imaginable. His first big client — Pink Floyd. From then on he worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Weezer to Metallica and Duran Duran.
    "I'm not a genius or anything," Meller says of his remarkable resume. "I just worked for the labels, and they fed me work. I had a huge clientele in every genre — classical, country, rock, Broadway, Christian music. I mean, whatever they had, I worked with them. So in the morning, they'd drop Streisand off to me, in the afternoon, Johnny Cash — next day, Aerosmith. So I was used to this catalog. I didn't know any better — I thought this was normal. I was just constantly fed the top-line music. It was delivered to me on a silver plate. They sold millions of records, and it worked out very nicely."
    Meller hasn't skipped a beat for the past four decades, despite leaving New York City back in March. After visiting the Lowcountry often while his daughter attended the University of South Carolina, one day he decided to trade the skyscrapers for steeples. A colleague of Meller's had also told him about Truphonic Recording Studios in West Ashley.
    "I thought, 'Who has a studio in Charleston?' I was very skeptical," Meller says with a smile. "And he said, 'No, no, you have to see it. It's a little gem. It's behind a liquor store. I said, 'Behind a liquor store?' I'm used to Fifth Avenue, you know. So I came over here, and I was pleasantly surprised."
    Now with a growing number of local clients like The Royal Tinfoil and Dangermuffin, Meller is comfortably settled in the new space here in the Holy City. Massive speakers reminiscent of jet engines swallow his studio whole, while gold record after gold record line the walls of the lobby — it's like a museum in there. He points to a Paul McCartney record and recalls working with him while the Beatle's kids were in a playpen. There's a story with every artist: Wham, Oasis, Elton John. The list is seemingly infinite.
    During the height of the record-selling business — back when a hit meant selling millions of records rather than the laughable six-digit numbers of today — Meller even went on vacations in exotic, far-flung places with successful clients, the names of which he keeps under wraps.
    One of only eight professional mastering engineers in America, Meller has also picked up a couple of Grammys (via Shakira), though many more of his clients were Grammy winners. Meller says that his eligibility to get the award is only a relatively recent thing. Since mastering is the final step in the recording process, the role of the audio mastering engineer is an important one. And these guys are finally getting proper recognition. But in order for the engineers to get a Grammy, the clients have to win Album of the Year. Take Kanye West, for example. Meller mastered six of West's hit albums, and the musician picked up a slew of Grammys, but never for Album of the Year. Instead of trophies, Meller has a stack of certificates — not that he's complaining. He is more than content with what he's accomplished.
    "It's a very interesting job," Meller says. "It's a very beautiful job, and I enjoy every minute of it. I've never had any regrets. Now in my later years, I hope I can also help teach the younger generation."
    Meller instructs mastering workshops at the studio now. He's led two so far, with one three-day class planned for December. Next year, he plans to expand to a five-day workshop where students can learn tracking, mixing, production, editing, and mastering. Today, he can comprehensively pass on his extraordinary knowledge while continuing to do what he loves, and that helps make the move down South another triumph for Meller.
    "I've made my transition, and this is my life now," Meller says. "I never worked in any other industry. I never did anything else except mastering. Many are mixers for a few years and they move on to producers, and some master for a year or two, then go back to mixing. I stick with what I do, and I'm very happy that I stuck with it."
    Vlado Meller Mastering is located in Truphonic Recording Studios, West Ashley and can be reached at vladomastering.com.

    CCP MUSIC | REVIEW: Shovels & Rope craft a sublime new LP, Swimmin' Time

    This has been one long summer waiting on Swimmin' Time, the third release from Charleston's favorite sloppy-tonkin' husband-and-wife pair, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent. A teaser video was posted on Shovels & Rope's YouTube channel way back in April, taunting fans with a mere 30-odd seconds from the title track. Then in June, the band introduced the single "The Devil is All Around," a tasty treat that went a ways in satiating the ShoRo public until the album's release on August 26. And now? It's finally time for Swimmin' Time. And boy was it worth the wait.
    Listen Now: NPR currently has "Swimmin' Time" available to stream in its entirety as this week's "First Listen"
    The liner notes alone are fascinating. Vintage photographs of flooded scenes from landmarks like the Ashley and Edisto rivers accompany the lyrics. Judging from the album's title, images, and much of the language used in the songs, it's clear that the Johns Island couple, and indeed Swimmin' Time, is massively inspired by the waters seeping through the Lowcountry. We can't wait to dip our toes right on in.
    "Swimmin' Time" liner notes - SAM SPENCE
    • Sam Spence
    • "Swimmin' Time" liner notes
    It's obvious you're in for a spiritual experience when the record kicks off with the tones of an organ before Hearst and Trent launch into "The Devil is All Around," a deceivingly uplifting song about getting your life back on track despite your former sins. The twosome's incomparably powerful harmonies excite and calm the soul when they sing "I'm going down a long road/ Maybe it's the wrong road/ But either way I gotta find my way back home again." Another survival anthem "After the Storm" is a slow and stunning track, glued together with hopeful words and those two voices that know one another like only lovers can.

    With a rattlesnake hum and talk of fire and floods, the ominous title track is a Revelations-like warning ("I can see it coming/ In the distance is the gloom of the end of days") and the most haunting of the water-themed songs. Another tragic aquatic tale is told on "Thresher," where a 1963 submarine sinks while an "unending black sea held everyone's gaze in a quiet humility." "Stono River Blues" is another swamp-filled song and a history lesson about the 1739 Stono slave rebellion that'll make locals want to re-enroll in school. "The mayor borrowed all of the money he need/ To put in a bridge with deliberate speed/ They cut down the oaks with a tip of his hat/ And God will never forgive him for that."
    Cary Ann and Michael play a show at Charleston Music Hall in January 2014 - JOHN A. ZARA FILE PHOTO
    • John A. Zara file photo
    • Cary Ann and Michael play a show at Charleston Music Hall in January 2014
    Dark undertones continue to weave in and out of the record, again notably with "Ohio," a good and grim New Orleans-style tune that's all brass and bullets. And the silly side of Shovels & Rope is everywhere, too, like in "Fish Assassin'," a song that genuinely needs no further introduction except to say it's a stomping, fiery railroad-style hymn about fussin', fishin', and fryin'. "Coping Mechanism" is a sassy, 1950s ditty that saunters, sways, and tells the clean truths about dirty drugs.

    Another standout track is "Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan," the most joyful, terribly sweet song we've heard in a long time and a wedding tune if there ever was one. This story about an ex-soldier/current writer and his circus waitress soul mate brought a few — OK, a ton — of tears to our faces, even after a dozen listens. Then there's "Save the World," a song that's not so much an Earth Day ode, but rather a poignant reminder that simply carrying out small, kind gestures is the sort of action that'll save mankind.
    While influences from Jack White to Tom Waits are evident throughout the record,Swimmin' Time is uniquely Hearst and Trent through and through. Full of raw energy, homegrown spirit, and rock 'n' roll magic, this whole album sublimely balances the bright with the bleak. Every note leaves us baffled as to how these two miraculously found each other, but we're awfully glad they did.
    Monster Music and Movies is having a Swimmin' Time listening party Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. Free pizza will be on hand and probably some free beer, plus the store will give away a few records that day. The first five people to purchase the new album that morning when the doors open at 10 a.m. will get a free Shovels & Rope seven-inch Johnnny 99 record the twosome recorded at Jack White's Third Man Studios last year. There will also be a drawing that evening for five additional free copies of the 45, which features ShoRo covers of Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99" and Tom Waits' "Bad as Me."