Jessy Lanza’s Pull My Hair Back
Normally, I get to interview young Hamiltonian musicians before the world has taken note but in the case of Jessy Lanza, a wealth of attention has already come to this musician. Lanza has collaborated with Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan on her debut CD, Pull My Hair Back, officially released this week on Greenspan’s Geej Recordings imprint and worldwide through Hyperdub Records and has already become one of the year’s most lauded discs.
It all began when Lanza started playing piano at the tender age of six. Young Jessy Lanza’s musical parents would encourage her to write and follow her dreams through post–secondary education. But while she’s a classically trained pianist, it was her early penchant for R&B that would become her focus developing early obsessions in Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey to a higher understanding of pop and R&B through the likes of Missy Elliot and Aaliyah.
“My parents were musicians and encouraged me to explore writing my own songs but it probably started getting serious when I started going to school for music,” offers Lanza. “Janet, Mariah, Paula Abdul – that’s the earliest music I can remember listening to on cassette in 1993. I remember obsessively listening to stuff like that when I was in Grade 3 or 4. Ever since middle school, that was the kind of music I listened to with my friends and there wasn’t music like that being made here publically. You couldn’t go to a local club to see that performed live but it was the biggest music in the world. I always remember it being pop music that you’d here everywhere but live in Hamilton.
Lanza’s high school years were spent becoming friends with the likes of Young Rival and watching the Junior Boys achieve their own success and she’d become familiar with some of the live music being made in her backyard. After completing her musical studies at Concordia, Lanza would return to Hamilton and begin her true musical career.
“Toronto wasn’t very much fun to live in,” offers Lanza on a temporary relocation. “It’s expensive and my family is here so I decided to move back and then decided to stay. My best friend growing up is Matt Didemus’ little sister so I’ve probably known him since I was in Grade 8 or 9. When the Junior Boys first record came out, I was probably in my first year of university so I’ve listened to them a long time. As it happened, when I came back to Hamilton, I started working with Jeremy about three years ago. It is a total collaboration but the reason we didn’t go under a band name is because Jeremy doesn’t want to tour.”
While some might oversimplify it as electronic, dance or even pop, Lanza’s deep roots in R&B coupled with her penchant to collect old and diverse electronic equipment has already put her on the vanguard of what’s being dubbed experimental R&B.
“I say the record is a tribute to R&B because that’s what I listen to the most,” notes Lanza. “The classic R&B vocals, bass lines, using synthesizers and drum machines and probably the hip hop elements in the drums of R&B influenced this record a lot. And older equipment is just different. My dad had started collecting gear years ago and let me use a bunch of that stuff. You can get amazing sounds out of old gear, warmer sounds that you can’t get out of new digital synthesizers.”
Pull My Hair Back has elements of modern funk, electro and dance but it’s Lanza’s voice that infuses a soul into this music. The first video directed by Lee Skinner for the song “Kathy Lee” features Hamilton’s dancing Jed Lifeson. It underscores the truly Hamilton character of what is already shaping up to be a global musical presence for Jessy Lanza. The video offers a fine introduction to the atmospheric joy that pervades the nuance of every melody and beat but you don’t have to be a fan of experimental R&B or otherwise be studied in underground sounds. These songs are meant for any music fan but with an international tour in the works, the world will be analyzing every note Jessy Lanza sings and every word she says.
“That’s not the most appealing part for me,” laughs Lanza. “I definitely like playing live. [The attention] is nerve–wracking but I try not to let the people that are into me know that. It is overwhelming at times but I don’t mind talking about the music that I’m making. It’s what I want to do. I’m excited about going on tour. And I don’t think you have to be well versed in anything to appreciate the music, at least I hope you don’t. I don’t draw my influences from what I’d call the underground. It’s probably better if you like pop music.”
Jessy Lanza plays this Saturday September 21 at This Ain’t Hollywood with Doghat, Doobie Freaks and DJ Kieran C. Dickson. Doors are at 9pm and $10 gets you in. Click on facebook.com/pages/Jessy–Lanza /245195845559981
The Emsee’s Empty Promises
For eight years, the Emsee, otherwise known as local factory worker Mathew Cathcart, has fashioned his rhymes and impressed a growing throng of local fans. But we last spoke with the Emsee back when he was gaining a national audience on the television talent show Canada’s Got Talent. They liked his story of a factory worker struggling to break his day–to–day grind and trying to show the world what kind of star he could be on stage. He didn’t win but the Emsee went all the way to the finale and made a lot of new fans and industry friends. That was back in May of 2012 and now; the Emsee has a new tale to tell with his third full length CD, Empty Promises.
“I’m kind of a storyteller and a lot of people felt my story, they appreciated it and it seemed like a lot of people were buying what I was selling,” offers Cathcart on his experience. “I thought the momentum would be different and when the show ended, things went back to the way things were. There’s still a credibility I have because of it and I met a lot of new people but life is the same. Once you’ve tasted that, you’re even hungrier. It was my dream and everything felt like I imagined it to be. It wasn’t the fame. It obviously altered my life because it’s sharpened my perspective and I see how things work so it was an important lesson. I called my new album “Empty Promises” because it seemed fitting due to the hand that I was dealt. A lot of things seemed right around the corner, and I’m not sure why things didn’t work out, but it feels like a lot of empty promises.”
Over fifteen tracks, the Emsee veers from villain to the vindicated, the tragic hero that could have had it all but seemed to fall short in the eyes of some fair–weather fans. “Empty Promises” kicks off with a sampling of Limp Bizkit covering the Who’s Behind Blue Eyes on “No 1 Knows” goes to tracks like “Stick Up” to Return and concludes with “Make It Happen”.
With the lyrics drawing on the deeply personal, the Emsee focuses on the story over a catchy chorus or clever contemporary beats, fashioning more musical vignettes than standard hip hop usually allows but that’s what Cathcart intended.
“This is the first album where I produced all of the beats,” explains Cathcart. “I grew up with my parents’ music – disco, soul, rock – and what I always appreciated about older music is the band wrote and produced their music not some team of 40 producers. Since Empty Promises is my story I wanted it to be one hundred percent me.”
“I appreciate when people pay to see me with their hard–earned money because I work hard for mine,” notes Cathcart on the Empty Promises CD release party this weekend. “That they want to support my dream is amazing to me. I’m not a fan of speaking a big game and not living up to it. I put it out for the fans that support me. I try to give people their money’s worth and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.
The Emsee plays this Friday September 20 at Club Absinthe with Transition, Topicz, D–Toxx and G–Profit. Doors open at 8pm and $5 gets you in. Click on youtube.com/emseevideos
Lo–Fi’s Green Album
Hamilton’s ass blast of punk funk is back with a newly minted colour coded disc for fans to eat up and foils to shake their head at. Lo–Fi has spent the better part of the decade crafting ass–shaking tales of debauchery and beyond on their Yellow, Red and Blue albums and playing them in any bar that wants a party. The Vince Sciara produced Green Album has been three years in the making but, Todd Knight (vocals, guitar), Jamie “Lips” Cameron (guitar), Ken Corke (bass), Vince Sciara (keyboards) with Josh Harris (drums) return to see if Lo–Fi can push the envelope a little further.
“A lot of my musical heroes say that the best music is honest music,” offers Knight. “As we go deeper into the musical journey of Lo–Fi, I’ve come to realize just how true that is. All of our songs come from real experiences we’ve had. Being in a rock band, playing shows, travelling, meeting people, we see a lot of crazy things and so the songs pretty much write themselves. It’s just real music. I enjoyed my time on a major label, and I’m not going to lie to you it would be a fun thing to experience again, but you realize after a while it’s the connection between you and the audience that gets you off. And we get that when we play so we’re very happy. We’re not looking to head anywhere, we’re already there playing in a band, making music and being happy.
“We like to laugh,” adds Knight. “I’ve been in bands where it’s about the band only, but we’re fortunate that we’re also all friends outside of Lo–Fi. When we get together, we’re the five guys in the corner with the shit–eater grins making you wonder what the hell is so funny! I love these guys like brothers. We are young at heart, I wouldn’t say we see life as one big party, but rock and roll is supposed to be fun. I was down at Supercrawl and saw the band Fucked Up playing and dude is in a pair of sweat pants, hairy back and all. That makes sense to us. That is our brand of rock and roll. Real people making a real connection on a basic level. You have to do what you do, don’t follow trends, and stay confident in what you do.”
As competent as they are confident at raising eyebrows with their lyrical content, Lo–Fi equals themselves with the guitar riffs and funky rhythms on the Green Album and Knight confirms the adage, if you’re going to do something, why not go all the way?
“I’d say this is our most off–color record so far, and if you know Lo–Fi’s past records, that’s saying something,” smiles Knight. “We don’t set out to be ignorant or funny really, it’s just how we write. It’s what we do best. I don’t know what that means on a psychological level and I’m not sure I want to. We don’t just do straight dirty lyrics though, sometimes we do but mostly we try and deliver the songs in a cheeky way. I love watching people’s faces who are listening to a Lo–Fi song for the first time. Their eyes open wide, then they laugh, and then they usually turn to me and say, ‘Dude that is SO wrong.’ That’s when I know we’re on to something.”
And while the recordings offer something for fans to take home, it’s the live show where Lo–Fi’s music takes flight. They’re a band proud to act as a magnet to the crazy, the bawdy, the beautiful and the disfigured alike – if you like to get a little silly and party with the best, you go see Lo–Fi.
Lo–Fi plays this Saturday September 21 at the Lazy Flamingo. Doors are at 9pm and there is no cover. Click on lofirules.com.
Still Life’s Lost In Orbit
It was September 2012 that we were introduced to Still Life with their debut CDEP, Page One and with a year of growth, Evan Bowers (vocals and rhythm guitar), Mike Dojcsak (lead guitar), Erik Thorkildsen (drums) and newest recruit Graham King (bass) return with the band’s full–length debut Lost in Orbit.
“We all realize that music is a slow and difficult climb, so we’re pleased with the ground we’ve gained this year,” offers Bowers. “The title of the new CD has a very literal meaning. Over the last year, it feels like we’ve just launched into orbit and we’re at the mercy of the industry. Essentially, we’re feeling ready for whatever is ahead of us. It’s about going with the flow of life and getting lost within that. A lot of the lyrics in the songs really encapsulate that same train of thought as well — be true to yourself and let things come as they are.”
With a strong penchant for the guitar driven art rock of Radiohead and the sweeter pop sounds of Coldplay, Still Life and producer Adam Newcomb have crafted a strong collection of songs that could appeal to either band’s fans but the band figures that while wearing their influences on their sleeves, they do break new ground.
“Listening to music fuels your writing,” notes Bowers. “We listen to all genres of music, including the genres that you mentioned. I think my musical taste is always changing. For example, a band like Radiohead, which is a huge influence of mine: they were echoes of Jeff Buckley and 90s artists of the like when they started out. As they progressed, their influences changed, their music changed. I don’t think any bands are exceptions to this. It’s literally as simple as this; I enjoy listening to alternative rock and it has left its mark on me. There’s nothing wrong with writing something great that’s already been touched on before. More people should embrace the remix.”
Whatever their past, Still Life hope the future has Lost in Orbit catapult them into the stratosphere, although dreams of rock stardom are tempered with more realistic goals.
“We think that a lot of people take a lot of different things away from our music, and that’s reflective through feedback that we hear at the merch table,” offers Bowers. “We’ve played a lot of metal gigs in Guelph, some rock gigs in London and Toronto, some indie gigs in St. Catharines, and everyone says something different to us. Some people say Radiohead, some say System of a Down–meets–Thrice–meets–Muse, others have said Sloan–meets–Incubus. Regardless of which genres people like, I think that most people could find something in our music that they can appreciate. Whether it’s my vocal style, Mike’s Brand New–esque leads, Erik’s active drum style, Graham’s Coheed–inspired backups and resonant bass lines, etc., I think that a lot of people appreciate the dynamics in our songs.” V
Still Life plays on Saturday September 21 at The Casbah with the Baxters (London), the Archives (Toronto), and Gentlemen Spectres (Hamilton). Doors are at 7:30 pm and $12 gets you in. Click on Facebook.com/StillLifeHamilton