Diane Birch‘s 2009 album, Bible Belt, was one of the most promising debut LPs to emerge in the last five years. Her voice and songwriting style eschews the kind of tawdry, disposable fluff that tends to get traction on Top 40 radio, and instead hearkens back to the confessional singer-songwriter style of legends like Carole King and Laura Nyro. Aside from her 2010 digital-only cover album The Velveteen Age, she’s been holed up in the studio for the last few years working on her sophomore record. So when we heard that she would be road testing songs from her forthcoming LP (due out summer-ish) at an intimate showcase show during Day Three of the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, we dropped our previous plans and made our way over to the Intercontinental Hotel.
It turned out to be an awesome decision.
Birch played seven songs in her roughly 40 minute set, all of which were new to our ears. Whereas her work on Bible Belt alternated between torch songs and jaunty melodies, her new material was considerably more layered and widescreen in its sound. Take her first single, “Speak A Little Louder” (which premiered on Idolator yesterday), for example: She layers reverbed vocals over a bed of warm, atmospheric synths, creating a mood that we saw RCRD Label describe perfectly as “vintage chill.” Over the last few years, she seems to have spent considerable time and effort honing her songwriting craft, particularly when it comes to penning choruses that instantly get stuck in your brain. Birch even proved capable of writing anthemic melodies; the last song of her set last night contained a refrain that promised “We’re superstars tonight.” Considering the way the crowd reacted to her set, that line is certainly prophetic of Birch’s future in 2012.
New UK sensation Ed Sheeran has a new video for his single “The A Team”. The video, in an almost melancholy black and white rendering, tells the story of a young homeless girl. From the moment she wakes up in the morning on a park bench, she seems intriguing and charismatic as our heroine, but is also a profoundly sad figure as we see her day around London. From the crowded subway stations to the street where she stares longing at carts of flowers while trying to sell copies of The Big Issue, her plight is an unhappy one. Sheeran seems to be the only one noticing her, as he not only stops to buy a big issue but sits with her to talk for a while. The girl is forced to do some desperate things for money — it’s a bleak view of poverty set to Sheeran’s gorgeous vocal.
Katy Perry means business in the trailer for her new video for “Part Of Me”. Dressed in camouflage, Perry makes a formidable looking soldier, and there’s none of that “California Gurls” sugary sweet sex appeal that you’d expect from Perry. Instead, it’s all drills, helicopters and army objectives. It’s hard to tell exactly what the story could be from the video, but it looks pretty darn serious. We’re thinking there’s going to be some serious physical hardship in this video, and hopefully at least one explosion. There’s definitely guns and some fighting, but what we love most is Katy’s unmistakable blue eyes at the end of the teaser, staring out of her camo-painted face with a look of defiance and power. The full video drops next week on March 21st, so be sure to check back to see how the “Part Of Me” story unfolds, in the meantime, play the trailer on repeat and check out the cinematic promotional poster below!
Promoting their new album “The Big Roar”, The Joy Formidable played on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. A cross between M83 and Arcade Fire, with a haunting chillwave vocal, The Joy played “A Heavy Abacus”, which moved between a soaring hook and unassuming verses that built into an epic, stadium ready sound. That’s not to mention that the band themselves are pretty adorable, in that inoffensively quirky way that musicians in this newly defined genre of artists are. They Joy really are quite formidable!
During that time, she told us a little bit about her new record (“Benny Blanco produced pretty much the whole album, I did some with Darkchild and Greg Kurstin, and I have a great song (‘Gold’) that’s one of the singles that I wrote with Bruno Mars“) and what factors play in her decision to perform her new single, “Love U Betta,” in its radio-friendly form or it’s raunchier, unedited style. “Usually it’s not my decision,” Neon explained. “Usually someone is going, ‘You have to keep this clean, Neon, or there’s gonna be trouble.’ And I’m like, ‘Okayyyyyy!’” She also spent some time wandering the streets of Austin with our ace photographer, Jen Marigliano, for this very special SXSW edition of Music Seen.
DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, is a man of many talents: World class DJ, multimedia artist, writer, and technology entrepreneur. Now you can add Music Supervisor to that list, too, as Paul D. Miller (his real name) is currently hard at work putting together the score for the upcoming VH1 Rock Docs documentary film, Downloaded. We got a chance to speak to him just before midnight last night at a party celebrating the film’s upcoming release, which was also attended by the likes of Ed Sheeran (check out our interview with him!), comedian Reggie Watts, actor/director Alex Winter, multi-gazillionaire investor Sean Parker, and more. We asked him about his thoughts on Napster, what he thinks of the explosion of popularity of DJs here in America, and much more.
VH1: You’re working on putting together the score for the film Downloaded. What was it that drew you to this project?
DJ Spooky: Alex [Winter] is somebody who digs in the crates. He’s always checking out different styles. He got in touch and told me how he had a lot of my music at different times in my career. We just got along. We did a quick interview/discussion, and it just seemed like there was good energy, good dynamics, but above all, a good flow of information.
Were you a Napster user back in the day? Being a recording artist and an avid digger, I can only imagine that your relationship to such a controversial product must have been complicated.
Most of the stuff that I was really interested in was the idea of the “archive” and the “exchange.” And when I say “exchange,” I mean this networked system that somehow enabled so many people to really begin to understand how deep the networks were. Napster, to me, was one of those seminal moments where the extreme volume of information that everyone has about music was able to come alive.
Napster is no longer a living, breathing product, but thanks to some breakthroughs in both technology and record label innovation, streaming services like Spotify now exist. As an artist, what’s your view on streaming versus physical media?
As an avid record collector, the thing that comes to mind is scarcity. Records have made a comeback and have become collector’s items. Vinyl versus digital files? To me, the greatest selling album all time is the blank CD. You can put anything you want on it, but vinyl had this artwork, all sorts of beautiful graphic design, things that are difficult to replicate in digital files. Actually, I believe apps have taken over the role of diminishing vinyl in the culture.
Justin Hawkins Talks About The Darkness; “We All Hate Each Other”
In an interview with Spin The Darkness‘ Justin Hawkins talks at length about the The Darkness, his addictions and personality. Of The Darkness, he says, “we all hate each other. That’s why we make great music. You can’t make fire without friction. Well, maybe you can, but it’s like a chemical fire which would tear your skin off.” There’s lots of other great tid bits in there so when you have a spare moment make sure to give the interview a read. [Spin]
Elton John’s New Record Is “Exciting” Elton John says his forthcoming record is, “The most exciting solo record I’ve done in a long, long time.” We know we’re definitely ready for the return of the Rocket Man. [NME]
Are y’all ready for this? Oprah has infiltrated the house of Gaga — and will be the first member of the media to interview Lady Gaga and the real Mother Monster (Gaga’s mom) in their family home. The trailer for the episode is compelling, with Mrs. Germanotta describing how she and her husband thought their daughter had a “screw loose”, and according to Oprah’s website, “Gaga’s mother, Cynthia, breaks her silence on what it’s like to be the mom of the world’s most famous pop star”. Watching the video it’s easy to see the closeness between Gaga and Mother Gaga, as together with Oprah they laugh and banter naturally.
But the most intriguing part of the trailer is when Gaga, very earnestly, tells Oprah that she’ll be keeping quiet following the interview. Making emphatic hand gestures, Gaga says, “Other than this interview, Oprah, I do not intend to speak to anyone for a very long time.” We’re guessing she means the media and interview type scenarios, but what if it’s more general than that? What if Lady Gaga intends not to speak to anyone at all? HOW WILL SHE MAKE PHONE CALLS? Jokes aside, these are big words coming from the master of spectacle — Gaga is known for being vocal not only regarding her own art, but in social issues including bullying and LGBT issues. Who will speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, if Gaga wont? We’re hoping that the statement is cryptic, and that while she might not be speaking, she’ll be singing, and communicating through song and dance!
Rihanna courted controversy last month by releasing not one, but two tracks with ex-boyfriend and convicted criminal Chris Brown, who maliciously beat her in 2009. Brown provided guest vocals for a fully realised version of Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” while in return RiRi sang on a remix of Brown’s “Turn Up The Music”. Feelings in the industry and public were mixed following the releases, with both Rihanna and Brown zealously defending their work-place reunion. Rihanna has now spoken at length about her decision to work with Brown, and on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show, divulged the following:
“The first song that came about was ‘Birthday Cake.’ I mean we ended up recording them at the same time and executing them together, but I reached out to him about doing ‘Birthday Cake’ because that’s the only person that really–it made sense to do the record. Just as a musician despite everything else that was going to be the person. You know I thought about rappers, and I’ve done that so many times, and the hottest R&B artist out right now is Chris Brown.
So I wanted him on the track, and then in turn he was like ‘Why don’t you do the remix to my track?’ and it was a trade off. We did two records. One for my fans. One for his fans, and that way our fans can come together. There shouldn’t be a divide. You know? It’s music, and it’s innocent.”
As an autonomous adult, Rihanna seems to be totally in control of her decisions, and from what she says working with Chris Brown was more of a savvy business move than anything else. And as long as it’s abuse free, good luck to her.
Lana Del Rey has released the single art for “Blue Jeans” and it’s a little bit controversial, extremely beautiful, and decidedly NSFW, so you’ll have to check it out after the jump. Featuring a napping or possibly (acting) dead Lana Del Rey lying at what appears to be the bottom of the ocean, a heavily and profanely tattooed male hand clasps her neck in what could be interpreted as a strangulation. The male hand is slightly disturbing, given Lana’s propensity to write lyrics about dying for love, and about her bad boy lovers. It seems to be that the metaphor here has something to do with drowning for love — but that’s based on interpretation only. We’re guessing someone is going to have to have something to say about this imagery and it’s connection to domestic violence and abuse, and we’re probably about to see the controversy monster that is Lana Del Rey critique awaking yet again. What do you think? Does the imagery give you chills in all the wrong places? Or do you think it’s innocent — maybe he’s just checking her pulse and is moments away from reviving her! Check it out after the jump and let us know your opinion in the comments section!