You’re forgiven if you haven’t yet heard of Alabama Shakes. After all, they don’t have a song on the radio, they haven’t made any music videos, and they don’t even have an album in stores for you to buy (yet). However, what they do have is a TON of internet buzz, as their soulful, southern roots rock sound has propelled them from the club circuit in the deep South into a place where they’re on the verge of entering the national consciousness. “Did you see Alabama Shakes yet?,” is a question that’s on everyone’s lips in Austin this week for the 2012 SXSW Music Festival, and we were lucky enough to be able to snag some time to sit down with Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard and drummer Steve Johnson the other afternoon.
When people reminisce about the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, there will be two things that stand out above the rest: Bruce Springsteen‘s epic keynote speech/concert, and last night’s Shady 2.0 Showcase, headlined by 50 Cent. Sadly, we weren’t able to attend the former, but we did manage to score a highly coveted ticket to the latter. Fiddy and the whole Shady Records family were celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the release of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ last night, even though the record won’t officially turn 10 until February of next year. Whatever the Shady squad lacks in calendar savvy, they MORE than make up for with their ability to throw a massive party.
Austin had been buzzing all day with rumors that the head honcho of Shady Records, Eminem, would show up to support his protégé 50 Cent as he performed his landmark, six-times platinum debut LP front-to-back. The rumors proved to be true, as Eminem made an unannounced appearance at the Austin Music Hall during “Patiently Waiting,” the second song on Get Rich and the second song to be played last night. The audience had already gone bonkers when Fitty emerged from the shadows —wearing a camouflage bullet proof vest, natch— just a few minutes earlier, but when Em hit the stage ensconced in a grey hoodie, we honestly thought the roof might come off the place. As the two traded verses while the classic Eminem-produced beat pulsated through the speakers, the energy level in the building was truly something to behold.
We told you we’d have a treat for you — and here it is! Gavin DeGraw‘s new video for his single “Sweeter.” The video sees a cheeky faced DeGraw sitting in a bar while a beautiful blonde girl fights with her boyfriend in the corner, casting furtive glances in his direction. Eventually the girl leaves with a clearly stoked DeGraw, and mischief ensues to the sound of summery beats. The pair break into a house and a montage ensues — and you all know how much we love a good montage! The video is filled with fun and ample sex appeal, from both DeGraw and his sassy female friend who ends up semi naked and parading for him on a dining table doubling as a run way. Everything certainly does seem “Sweeter” in Gavin DeGraw’s world.
Rock stars are not exactly known for their punctuality. So imagine our surprise when Tom Chaplin and Jesse Quin of Keane showed up at the Moonshine Cafe in Austin yesterday a full 20 minutes ahead of their scheduled arrival time yesterday morning. They were both bright-eyed and bushytailed and anxious to discuss their upcoming LP, Strangeland, which will be out in May.
Keane made a huge splash in both their native England and the United States back in 2004 with their debut LP, Hopes And Fears, which went platinum here Stateside and moved almost 3 million units across the pond. The band has continued to have success in the intervening years, but with Strangeland, they’re looking to recapture the success they had with American audiences in the middle portion of the last decade. “It’s a record that should do really well in America,” Tom theorized with us. We asked him to elaborate, and he obliged.
“It’s kind of widescreen, that’s the way we thought about when we playing it back to ourselves. The first single, ‘Silenced By The Night,’ has kind of got flavors of Bruce Springsteen and a sort of big, epic American sound.”
“It’s direct, as well,” Jesse chipped in. “Americans like directness, they don’t like bullsh*t, do they?”
Speaking for us, as a nation, we think not! Before we let the guys leave, we gave them a gentle ribbing about the fact that their band’s name is on every single hotel key here at the Hilton this weekend. “Do you think this will get me into Bruce Springsteen’s hotel room?”, Tom jested. To find out what Tom would do (and what Jesse thinks he should be wearing) if they did, in fact, gain access to the luxury suite of The Boss, watch our video below!
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.