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When have Happyness ever taken themselves seriously? Never? And that’s why we love them. Since the 2014 release of debut album ‘Weird Little Birthday’, the band have been a wee bit busy touring around the world and adding new converts to their fandom, including while they’ve been supporting The Dandy Warhols across the UK and Europe this spring. Now, they’re ready to show us some of their new stuff.
‘SB’s Truck’ is trippy as, but that’s par for the course of Happyness, isn’t it? The band says of the video: “We always thought it was kind of a funny idea that a cartoon person might have to turn up to a big glamorous cover shoot for a magazine like “Mad”. And that ended up fusing with a pretty vague video idea we’ve had floating around for a while about what Bob Dylan does in his green room.” Watch the madness unfold in the promo video below. For past coverage of Happyness on TGTF, use this link.
Last week, Belfast alt-rock duo exmagician took time for a quick interview with TGTF ahead of their scheduled appearance at LeeFest Presents: The Neverland at the end of July. exmagician are still rather new on the UK music scene, at least in their current context, but bandmates Danny Todd and James Smith have some relevant past experience to draw upon in getting their new project started.
Todd and Smith were formerly members of one of Northern Ireland’s most buzzed-about bands, Cashier No. 9, who hit the #7 spot on our 10 for 2012 countdown back in December 2011. I happened to see Cashier No. 9 myself way back in 2010 at Northern Ireland’s Ward Park, where they played support for Snow Patrol, although it might be somewhat more accurate to say that Snow Patrol supported them. The ‘Chasing Cars’ hitmakers hosted a long list of bands for a one-day mini-festival in Bangor that year, including Cashier No. 9 and fellow Irish acts General Fiasco and Lisa Hannigan, providing an ideal venue in what would turn out to be the largest concert in Northern Irish history.
Cashier No. 9 have since dissolved as a band, with Smith and Todd citing both personal and artistic differences for the split. But the pair were “still feeling creative”, as Todd explained it, and so they decided to continue making music under a new name, with a slightly different sound to accompany the exmagician moniker. Smith describes exmagician’s work as “maybe a bit heavier, a bit darker, a bit more rough around the edges, not as shiny and sort of West Coast pop as Cashier was.”
Todd and Smith seem to have a congenial working relationship, each “chipping in” on the other’s songwriting and providing reciprocal editorial input as they worked on their debut album ‘Scan the Blue’, which was released back in March on Bella Union Records. They share the philosophy that “The song is king”, as Smith wrote in the liner notes for the album. He elaborated in our interview, “The song has to be amazing, in our own heads, before we start messing around with everything. So yeah, there’s a lot of work goes into that, before anything else happens.”
According to Smith, the pair took a very hands-on approach to recording and producing the new album as well. “We do a lot of the writing, and even a lot of the pre-production at home, in our own home studios, so a lot of it was prepared at home and brought into the studio to add to and to fix up. We knew we had enough skills of our own to kind of do it, maybe not do the whole thing on our own, which is why we got Rocky in. But it was a kind of effort to put things all on ourselves a bit more.”
Their co-producer on ‘Scan the Blue’ was Rocky O’Reilly, who has worked in the past with Northern Irish acts including And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco, and Wonder Villains. Smith describes their relationship with O’Reilly as collaborative: “He knew that we had a lot of our own ideas and he would just be kind of the facilitator. That’s not to say that he didn’t have a lot of input. But he just kind of let us mess around a lot in the studio and try out all our own kind of silly ideas, and some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But he was the one who kind of made it all cohesive and brought it all together.”
exmagician have just finished touring the new album in the UK and are gearing up for performances on the summer festival circuit. They talked rather extensively in our interview about the challenges of playing the new songs live. “These songs were recorded first, and then we figured out how to play them live afterwards, which is always a bit of a struggle,” said Todd. “There’s so much going on in them, and we feel so attached to those recordings that we want to replicate them live as well. I think we do justice to it at the moment, which is great.”
Though he and Todd are the core members of exmagician, Smith clarified that “when we perform live, we’re still performing as a four-piece band. We have a bass player and a drummer. I think people get the misconception that we are just this kind of duo that plays, but no, we need a full band to kind of create the sound that we want and re-create the sound of the album, obviously.” Some of the songs on the album presented a difficult task in that regard, particularly title track ‘Scan the Blue’. Though it’s Smith’s professed favourite track, the band aren’t currently performing it on live set lists. “We’d probably need about 20 keyboard players to pull that off live,” Todd said. “We’ll probably do a version of it [eventually], but at the moment we just need to figure things out and make it sound good live before we play it, you know?”
As a sneak peek at Part 2 of our interview, have a listen below to exmagician’s remixed version of another track from ‘Scan the Blue’.
Stay tuned to TGTF for Part 2 of our interview with exmagician, which will post next week. In the meantime, have a look back at our preview of LeeFest Presents: The Neverland right back here and catch up on our previous coverage of exmagician back this way.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 20th May 2016 at 12:00 pm
Words by Krystal Garcia of Distorted Heartbeat
“Honey, you’ve got to pick up the pace” is precisely what NYC’s Drowners aspire to do with the release of the second single from their forthcoming album ‘On Desire’. Where the album’s first single ‘Cruel Ways’ was a bit of a departure from the more indie pop sound of their 2014 self-titled debut, ‘Pick Up the Pace’ bridges the gap between the band’s previous Smiths-like material and the darker, more mature direction of the new album.
Produced by Claudius Mittendorfer, whose body of work includes the Jangly Guitar Master himself Johnny Marr, ‘Pick Up the Pace’ isn’t completely without dark, brooding undertones. Smiths comparisons aside, Drowners wear many other influences on their sleeves with pride: Suede’s charisma, Jarvis Cocker-like vocals and late ‘90s Cure guitar. Lyrically, Welsh frontman Matthew Hitt weaves a tale of the dangers of complacency. “The ball is dropped, so the chain reacts”, he says, in attempt to reclaim his own emotional well-being. Hitt’s smooth, confident vocals are paired with Jack Ridley’s equally confident, whimsical guitar work. Together, they are grounded by a crisp rhythm section consisting of Erik Lee Snyder on bass and Daniel Jacobs on guitar. Floating above it all is a light layer of synths that while initially may be off-putting, eventually they tie together the dark and light aspects of the song.
While not quite on the same level of their musical predecessors, ‘Pick Up the Pace’ shows that Drowners have graduated to the next level of their career: capable of writing dark melodic pop just as well if not better than their token jangly pop.
Single ‘Pick Up the Pace’ from New Yorkers Drowners is available now. ‘On Desire’, the second album from New York City’s Drowners, will be released on Frenchkiss Records on the 24th of June. More coverage of Drowners on TGTF can be found here, including editor Mary’s coverage of them at SXSW 2016.
Dot to Dot Festival 2016 will see a number of new and established acts descend on the cities of Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham during the second May bank holiday (27-29 May). The festival will be in each city for 1 day only and will showcase a number of the best acts from the surrounding area, as well as the likes of big names like Mystery Jets, The Temper Trap and Augustines who will play at each city over the weekend. For editor Mary’s preview of the weekend’s action at Dot to Dot, check out her post here.
I honestly found it tough picking out just a selection to recommend ahead of the festival, but here are some acts (in alphabetical order, mind) to catch if you find yourself heading to Dot to Dot:
Ardyn are a brother and sister duo from Gloucestershire whose atmospheric pop is otherworldly, with singer Katy Pearson showcasing her powerful vocals on the newest release ‘Over the River’. Their previous stuff is gentler and more stripped back, but no less impressive. They’re sure to be an act to catch.
Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers
With an unusual, old-world sound that feels more suited to bluegrass era, Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers is the touring name given to the folk singer/songwriter from Canada and his band. Caplan released his second album last year, ‘Birds With Broken Wings’, and will be touring throughout the summer in North America and Europe. With his eccentric look and his throaty drawl, Caplan is described as “a madman and an earnest poet” on his Web site. Sounds like the recipe for a fascinating performer.
EKKAH are Rebecca and Rebekah, a funky disco-pop duo from Birmingham. Their track ‘Last Chance to Dance’ feels a bit like Haim and Jamiroquai were merged together in some bizarre but highly successful experiment. They released single ‘Small Talk’ earlier this year, a bright, glittering synthpop number that is well worth a listen.
Haus are a five-piece from London with an indie-synth sound, citing rock, hip-hop and electronic influences. They released two singles in 2015, ‘Haze’ and ‘Blinded’, and have a number of festival dates across the UK this summer, in addition to Dot to Dot.
Into the Ark
Into the Ark are for those that prefer something a little softer, with gently strumming acoustic guitars and soulful vocals. From south Wales, the singer/songwriter pair met through their love music and have an EP scheduled for release in August. Their debut ‘Right Track’ gives you a taste of what they have to offer.
In a similar vein to Haus, King No-One are an indie rock group but from the North (York). Their music is bold, glitzy and punchy. The Northern group’s latest single ‘Stay Close’ has an addictive rhythm and is a great indie summer tune. The song also features an interesting break towards the end (with a pithy monologue!), before returning to the chorus once more.
Palace Winter are a synthpop duo from Copenhagen, whose latest single ‘H. W. Running’ is atmospheric and smooth, with a momentum layered with a pleasing synth composition: it’s very easy to get into and I can imagine it being a good accompaniment for a morning jog or a late night at the club.
The blues-rock band The Rubens have been around since 2011 and are signed to Ivy League Records back home in Australia. The band have a following on their native continent but will be appearing at both The Great Escape and Dot to Dot halfway across the world to share their music. The band released their second album ‘Hoops’ last year, and they released their third single from the album, ‘Hold Me Back’, earlier this year.
The Sherlocks (pictured at top)
The Sherlocks are a Northern foursome, who have recently been travelling further afield after building a loyal home support around Sheffield. Their latest single ‘Last Night’ is a punchy indie tune with a catchy chorus and guitar hooks aplenty!
Will Joseph Cook
Will Joseph Cook is a fresh-sounding singer whose single ‘Girls Like Me’ has an upbeat feeling that is positively contagious. From Tunbridge Wells, the singer is gaining momentum with a couple of his songs reaching a couple of million plays on Spotify. If you’re a fan of upbeat, sunshine pop that begs to be danced along to, Will Joseph Cook might be the one for you.
Regardless of which day you attend the festival you’ll be able to catch the above, plus a wide variety of up-and-coming regional acts too. Tickets are still available for each city of the festival, so head to Alt Tickets to purchase your own for this upcoming bank holiday weekend.
Header photo by Aodhagán O’Flaherty
Irish neo-folk duo Saint Sister, comprising Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, first came to our attention at TGTF when they brought their highly-specialised brand of “atmosfolk” to SXSW 2016 earlier this year. I had the opportunity to interview Doherty and MacIntyre during our time in Austin, as well as hearing them play at Music From Ireland’s Full Irish Breakfast on the Friday of the festival. A mere two months on from that occasion, the pair have just unveiled a new video for their hypnotic track ‘Madrid’, which epitomises the juxtaposition of traditional folk and contemporary electronic sounds at the heart of their music.
The video, directed by Bob Gallagher, stars Morgan MacIntyre’s sister Orla as its heroine, in a visual story that at first seems to combine the classic fairly tales ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’ Orla’s character walks through the scenic Northern Irish countryside, following a trail of red apple cores that match an apple she has recently eaten herself. But in a peculiar and thoroughly modern twist to the story, she is quickly caught up in a harrowing chase, at the end of which she finds herself face-to-face with . . . herself.
‘Madrid’ is the title track on Saint Sister’s debut EP, which was released last November on Trout Records. Saint Sister are scheduled for live appearances at a host of festivals in the UK and Ireland this summer, including The Great Escape 2016. You can find all the details of Saint Sister’s upcoming live dates on their official Web site.
Header photo by Mickey Clement
London singer/songwriter Benjamin Clementine won the 2015 Mercury Prize for Album of the Year on the strength of his genre-challenging debut LP ‘At Least for Now’. Clementine’s songwriting on the album combines a very classical aesthetic with pop vocals and art rock structures in a composite style that truly thinks outside the box of any commonly defined musical classification. Earlier this spring, Clementine released a new deluxe version of ‘At Least for Now’ with three added tracks and an extended version of one more from the original release.
Taken from the new deluxe version of the album, Clementine’s upcoming single ‘I Won’t Complain’ has already received attention on American shores from The Fader and The Late Late Show with James Corden. But Clementine himself didn’t have a lot of exposure to pop culture in either music or television as he was growing up. Raised in a strict religious household in North London before fleeing to Paris at age 20, Clementine’s earliest artistic influences included French pianist and composer Erik Satie and American avant-garde musicians Antony and the Johnsons.
Clementine’s mix of background influences are intriguing to say the least, and I found myself curious as to what the synthesis of those ingredients might sound like. In the case of ‘I Won’t Complain’, it reads at first like a classical art song, arranged simply for piano and voice. The piano accompaniment is shimmeringly impressionistic and without a quickly discernable structure. But Clementine’s vocals are unmistakably vernacular, stating his poignant lyrics in a stark hybrid of speech and singing that broadens to a climax of raw emotional expression over the refrain “but I won’t complain / no, I won’t complain / though my good days are far gone / they’ll surely come back one morn / so I won’t complain”.
‘I Won’t Complain’ is a unique and powerful blend of fragility and strength from a songwriter who has experienced his fair share of both in the course of his 27 years. His increasingly rare combination of musical elegance and lyrical eloquence finds exquisite visual expression in the abstract black and white promo video below.
The deluxe version of Benjamin Clementine’s ‘At Least For Now’ is currently available, and new single ‘I Won’t Complain’ will impact on the 27th of May on Virgin EMI in the UK and Capitol Records in America.
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