INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HOUSTON HEARD
That’s the puzzle!
Many metalcore vocalists have made the transition to solo careers, and DEVIN CLAWSON from Leesburg, Va., is of the latest crop moving toward more soulful, harmonic tunes. Since then, Clawson released his debut EP and played shows across the region. While his solo career is just beginning, he is learning to hone his sound and musical direction to the gear just right for him.
Creativity doesn’t always come naturally. Just like a garden, it must be grown, cared for, and worked on in order to produce beautiful results, whether it be ripe fruits and vegetables or music. Based out of Charlottesville, Va., folk singer-songwriter BEN EPPARD knows very well that music takes work, and he constantly tries to sow as many seeds in the local community near and far with the strength and kindness of his voice and guitar.
Nat Brown — also known as OKLAHOMA CAR CRASH (OKCC) — is all about DIY, from self-booked tours to more than five self-released EPs. He was even doing-it-all music wise, that is until his recent announcement of a new permanent member. While not on tour or visiting his favorite coffee shop, he is writing and recording new music, most of which for OKCC’s next release sometime this summer. We recently had a chance to get an idea of exactly what Brown was up to, as well as find out about the future of OKCC.
At first glance, SKYE ZENTZ seems like a hippie-chic, crunchy, possibly vegan, definitely vegetarian, new-aged flower child. You know the type. However, once you take a second to scratch the surface, it’s immediately clear that she is far more multifaceted than that. She is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but prefers a more paleo or carnal diet. That being said, she’ll be the first to admit she won’t turn down a slice of pizza or a piece of cake. The depth of her multifaceted nature expands far beyond her dietary preferences to include her skill sets, experiences, ideals, and tastes.
Depending on what style of genre the singer-songwriter is covering, SPENCER JOYCE wears many hats. Following the less than spectacular release of his debut album Overnight Rockstar, which failed to live up to its title, this new artist gained some perspective on life, music, and even gave him an audience that he has been steadily building.
There are few bands that can make me feel inspired in a dingy dive bar than the heart filled, angst ridden music of WATERMEDOWN. Better known as Jonny Mays, who is originally from McLean, formed this project in early 2012 following the breakup of his former pop punk band. Feeling uninspired, Mays sought out to create something that was unlike anything anybody was creating at the time. With a squeaky voice and a loud scream, Mays relentlessly worked to bring his feelings to life. With an acoustic guitar and collection of pedals, Mays started to bring his music out to the public in any way he could. Even if it meant playing on shows with aspiring pop punk bands hoping to be the next big thing. But when Mays graces the stage, all eyes and ears are drawn to him for his honestly and raw emotion that captivates the soul. We spoke with Mays regarding his unique musical delivery and his love of imperfections, his recent move to Richmond and the impact he hopes it will make on his music career, as well as his upcoming first full-length album, which is to be recorded this Saturday.
Your songs, which are a combination of singing, shouting, and spoken word, seem to have a very powerful impact on your audiences. Why did you choose to share your music in this way?
They are particular vocal styles that I tend to gravitate to, and I wanted to service them all in one project. So I just decided to do all three.
What are some of your influences that drove you toward that musical direction?
So, so many. Probably for the more recent stuff that I’ve been doing, which includes the three vocal styles, is this really good band called MANSIONS, which is incredible. That’s my main influence right now. Other than them, just countless bands that I have acquired and seen over the past three years. Every time I see a band and like it a lot, I’ll be observing, and after watching it I will just turn to my inner self and try to emulate what I like about that.
Can you tell me where the inspiration for your name comes from?
It was a long time ago. I had just broken up with my really horrible, awful pop punk band, and I wanted to do something different. I was with my older brother who was the founder with me of the band, and we were sitting in my attic listening to really mellow music. Out of nowhere I thought of something, and I was just like, “Dude, WATERMEDOWN! That sounds cool.” I never had an idea or a background behind it for the first year, but then progressively, I acquired an idea of it meaning just take me as I am. Don’t try to make me something else. Just listen, and if you don’t like it…sorry. This is what I want to do.
I understand that WATERMEDOWN used to be a band, but now it’s just you. Can you tell me why the other guys aren’t involved anymore?
It’s kind of complicated. More so the whole factor was that as a whole, unfortunately all of us live in different places and went to different colleges, and it just got to the point where we couldn’t play shows together and I got so invested that I didn’t want to stop this. I would record all the recordings myself, and then we would practice and jam them out and then make a live set. I thought I could always continue what I have been doing to a more convenient extent. I can just play solo shows and tour that way so it’s only revolving around my schedule.
You recently released a test press of songs called Perfect Is Pointless. What was the inspiration for that title and the album art?
The name Perfect Is Pointless is actually a lyric in a previous song that I completely scrapped. When I was on my last tour with my friend Daniel Thompson and a band called MY HEART MY ANCHOR, we were in Connecticut. and we were outside of this show that we went to go see because we had an off date. There was a band [playing the show] called MAJOR LEAGUE, and the lovely lead singer of the band talked to us for a very prolonged amount of time. He described to us the recording process for his latest record, which was produced by Will Yip, and he kind of repeated a line that Will said. He said, “If the record is not perfect, then it is perfect. The way he records, allegedly, is with nothing processed or anything. Basically, I like the idea of if something is not perfect, then it is good.
Then the album artwork kind of transcends throughout the lyrics because the main message repeats that there is this sort of storm, which is collectively building, and it’s obviously a metaphor. It’s kind of talking about me because the whole album is in first person. In the background of the album artwork there is the sunshine beaming out of the storm. My very good friend Shannon Lee painted that for me, and she is incredible.
Are there any common themes that tend to reoccur in your music?
Absolutely. I usually tend to write a lot about dark things. Everything that I write is usually from my perspective of things I see. It isn’t something made up, but it’s something that I’ll feel at the time when I write those songs. Most of the time, those feelings don’t leave me even after channeling them through songs. A lot of the time I’ll repeat a lot of lyrics from newer and older releases. All of my songs are intertwined, in a sense.
With your recent relocation to Richmond, do you have any plans to be more involved with the local music scene there?
That is definitely one of my main goals the second that I get down there. I have never really been affiliated with the Richmond scene, but I’ve always looked into it as an outsider and been like, “Wow! That’s a really amazing looking scene. I wish I could be a part of that.” The only chance I’ve had playing in Richmond was at an open mic night held by a wonderful person named Jim Dabb, and one of me and my friend’s laundry day, we had an off day and we did that open mic. It was great, and we had a fantastic time. I would definitely like to get into the larger communities down there like the DIY scene especially.
I saw on your Instagram that this Saturday you will begin recording your first full-length. Can you tell me more about that?
Me and the drummer did a 10-day tour together back in May, and the entire time we connected and bonded and shared ideas to the point where we are now. We have practiced together, even overnight, and we have written an album together, like 10 songs completely that I have just never been more proud of than anything that I have ever done. This is going to be the first release where I haven’t been the entire mind behind it, and I am really excited about it. This is going to be good. We hope to have it released by the end of the year, and I plan on pushing it to a record label that I believe in.
Do you have any upcoming shows or anything else you would like to announce at this time?
I have two shows left before I begin moving down [to Richmond], but once I get settled there I will start focusing more on music.
Though he is relatively new to the local music scene, singer/songwriter RAYTHEON DUNN of the indie rock band DEAR ADAMUS has a beautiful voice that needs to be heard. His simple and sweet acoustic songs are complimented by his soft, mellifluous tone, which echoes tranquility on each track. With one EP completed last year and another in the works, Dunn is definitely a need to know artist from the Virginia Beach local music scene. We spoke with Dunn regarding how he balances his musical priorities between DEAR ADAMUS and his personal art and music, his influences and how they are inspiring his new music, as well as his hopes to collaborate with other local artists in the near future.
When did you start writing your own music?
Around January of last year. The band was going through some changes, and I had some songs that I really needed to get out of my system. It was a very therapeutic process for me, and I recorded them all on my own. I recorded it through garage band and spent several months tweaking it, going over it on my own and sharing it with friends until I got it exactly how I wanted it.
Who are some of your primary influences?
That’s a beautiful question! First and foremost is Anthony Green. He is why I got into music in the first place, and he has inspired me to think out of the box in terms of my songwriting. Claudio Sanchez for his lyrical content. I really love the concept of his band, and how he has been able to write a comic book based on it. That’s something that I might want to do in the future as a musician and an artist. Jesse Clasen, because of his lyrical content, whether it’s through HRVRD or THE BEAR ROMANTIC, his music just makes me wonder goes on his head to create such a beautiful story that I want to keep listening to. I love his melodies. John Legend because growing up I listening to a lot of R&B artists, and when I was about 14, I listen to his album Once Again sort of by accident, and that album became one of my most played albums of my life next to CIRCA SURVIVE’s On Letting Go. I just loved his voice and how beautiful the record sounded. I felt something when I listen to that album, and I remember singing his music and dancing as if I was him.
On your Bandcamp page, the most recent song you posted was “Wait & See”. What is that song about?
When DEAR ADAMUS played at The NorVa, I met a girl named Morgan, and I had never met anyone before who was into our music and had felt such a positive response from it. I got to know her really well, and she told me that she had Asperger’s and Autism and that she was bullied in high school because of it. I was so compelled by her story that I wanted to surprise her with a song for her. It took me a month and a half to write it, and when she listened to it she told me it made her cry. Her parents wrote me a letter telling me how thankful they were for taking the time to write it. That’s why I do this. I feel like it’s my job to put healing music out there to help other people through what they are going through.
Do you have an EP or full-length album in the works?
I definitely have something in the works, but I’m not sure when I will release it yet. I’ve been working on some music similar to the artists DAUGHTER and CLAMS CASINO. It’s gonna be a mix of indie and dark electronic. I am also working with the drummer/guitarist of LINA to get it out possibly this winter or in January. Right now DEAR ADAMUS is the priority, but the ideas I have for this next record are so amazing. It’s going to be very eerie, and I think people will like it a lot.
How do you balance your time between DEAR ADAMUS and your solo project, and how do you determine which songs you write to use for each?
I never really sit down and say that I’m gonna just write a DEAR ADAMUS song or just a RAYTHEON DUNN song. I just write songs, and I bring them to the guys. If they like it, maybe we will use it for the band, and if not, then it can be a RAYTHEON DUNN song. There is really no median between the two. The band is of high importance to me with our new record coming out this summer, and my songs are more therapeutic. I think of it like writing a journal or diary per say. My songs allow me to choose to expose myself to let other people know where I am coming from, or to keep them to myself.
Other than the drummer of LINA, is there anyone else in the local music scene that you would possibly like to collaborate with?
There is a long list of people. I would like to work with as many people as possible in the local scene and beyond to expose myself to other artists and bands. I would also really like to do a band’s album art. That stuff really matters to me. In my opinion, all creativity is good creativity, and I want to do whatever I can for the local scene.
Not only are you talented at music, but you are also talented at drawing and illustrations. Do you design and create your own album art?
Yeah, I think that DIY is really beautiful, and I love the rawness of going about it by yourself. I did the photography for the album art for “Wait & See” and A Place To Stay on my iPhone. It’s a fun way to get out there and express myself as an artist and musician.
Do you have any plans to perform your solo music in the near future?
Hopefully in the winter I will be playing some shows in Norfolk, and I might try to get onto Your Music Show, which helps out a lot of local bands, and even helped out DEAR ADAMUS when we were just starting. I love being on stage with just an acoustic guitar, singing my heart out, but until winter, it’s DEAR ADAMUS everything.
Recently, Jones and his band performed at the bi-annual Vintage Virginia Wine Festival at Bull Run Park in Centreville, and we had the opportunity to catch their performance. After being entranced by Jones and his band, we were determined to get an interview with this talented musician.southern soul, blues, and rock
Born in Rawley Springs, VA, which is a small town just outside Harrisonburg, JUSTIN JONES is the epitome of true American rock and roll. Though he may not be African American or live in the Deep South, Jones has a true connection to blues and soul music, which is coursing through his veins with each strum of his guitar and the hum of his voice. Raised since he was a boy on southern soul, blues, and rock, Jones has been captivating audiences all over Virginia and across the country for more than 10 years, and recently, he has taken time away from the road to focus on his new band THE DEADMEN with some of his friends and fellow songwriters, as well as to be with his wife and children.
We spoke with Jones about how his music career began and some of the highlights that got him to where he is today, his signature “quintessentially American” sound that resonates through each of his songs, as well as how he plans to balance his time between THE DEADMEN and the JUSTIN JONES band going forward.
According to your story on your website, you see yourself as a 68-year-old black guy named Luther black guy with one green eye and a couple gold teeth, and you play harmonica in a blues band that plays at a dump in the ghetto. Can you tell me how this perception originally came about?
Well, that was sort of a stream of consciousness. It’s not wholly accurate with how I perceive myself and my music.
Ok then. So how would you describe your sound?
I was actually talking about this with someone recently, and I like to think it’s more about how grew up in my hometown outside of Harrisonburg.
When did you move to Arlington?
I have lived in the DC area for the past 13 years, and in July of last year, I moved from Southern Maryland to Arlington with my wife.
Your musical career spans over a decade. How did you get started playing music?
I started playing guitar when I was pretty young, and I started writing when I was pretty young. When I turned 21, I started going out to open mic nights, and I really enjoyed the attention because it fed my ego.
How did you meet the rest of your band?
The band has expanded over the years through meeting new people, people leaving, and people getting replaced. It’s not like I met them all at a bar one night and that was that. Two of the guys I met through friends have been playing with me for four years. You meet people slowly. Another two of the guys have been in my touring band for years. Now if someone can’t go on tour, I’ll just have another guy fill in. It’s always changing.
What has been some of your proudest accomplishments as a musician?
I’m not really sure. As a musician, I have played some great gigs and toured around the country, but it’s a disappointing business. Even if you think you are making it, you are quickly brought back down to earth. I sang background for LUCINDA WILLIAMS at Merriweather [Post Pavilion] with my daughter in my arms. That was two years ago with her, myself, and DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS.
Additionally, in your story, you describe your music as “quintessentially American”, but what are the specific characteristics of your music that embody this genre?
To me, the content is so derived from my environment and my experiences from traveling around the country. It’s not about Chevy trucks or the Fourth of July, but it captures the real America. Not white picket fences and manicured front lawns, but a rusted Pontiac Firebird sitting in the driveway.
Tell me about your other band THE DEADMEN. How did you get involved with that project?
I have been buddies with the guys for a while. We had talked for a while about doing a band together for a couple years, and we finally made it happen. We have been playing some gigs, and it’s been fun getting to play with some of my favorite people. I love being able to sing in the background on other people’s music and play my songs as well.
Do you feel comfortable giving up the spotlight to be more of a supporting band member rather than the lead role?
I’m not stepping out of the spotlight necessarily, but it is shared. We all sing and play guitar and write songs, so we rotate who leads each song. I like it because it lessens the importance of me. When you are the band leader, every decision is yours to be made, whether it will be where you will eat dinner while you are on tour or what the track order for your record will be. There are some band stuff that I would rather let someone else do that hasn’t done it 100 times like I have and be excited about doing it for the first time.
I read on your website that you are taking more time with them than with your own band. What motivated that decision?
I have really pushed the JUSTIN JONES moniker really hard for a long time, and we have not been growing enough recently in a tangible way to justify me being away from home for six or seven months per year. I feel like we have plateaued, and now is a good time to take a step away from it. I have worked very hard on it, but the experience of me playing can no longer be a reward for me. THE DEADMEN is about writing good music and playing shows occasionally. I tried to make a business out of music, which made me not enjoy it as much, and it’s exciting to take that step back.
Since you won’t be doing music full-time, what do you plan to do as a career?
I have been bartending at the 9:30 Club for the past nine years. It’s not much of a career, but I make a decent amount of money to support myself and my family. I have lots of ideas about potential careers, but I’m not sure yet what will make sense for me.
What does the future have in store for the JUSTIN JONES band? Will it co-exist with THE DEADMEN?
It has to co-exist. I can’t give up on this thing that I have put 10+ years into. Honestly, I’d like to record an acoustic album for my next project. I recorded acoustic for my first album, and I would really like to do that again.
Though she is only 20-years-old, SAVANNAH VALENTINO is way beyond her years in terms of her songwriting prowess and natural ability to capture deep emotional responses through her music. Raised in Richmond, Valentino has taken inspiration from the local environment, it’s diverse population, and fused it together to create her own unique brand of folk for a new, younger generation. After performing at this year’s South by Southwest Festival, Valentino is on her way to be one of the top need-to-know artists in the country, and she hasn’t even released a debut record yet! I had the chance to catch up with her to get to know her better and see what she has in store for the folk music world.
Congratulations on playing South by Southwest this year. Was this your first time performing at the festival?
Yes it was.
What were some of the highlights this year?
It was cool being able to walk around and feed off the energy of the crowd. There were [hundreds] of people on both sides of the street. Also, it was really cool being able to play out and meet new people, as well as see friends that I have met before. A radio DJ from Norway that I met in September came just to see me play.
How did you get started playing music and writing your own songs?
Since I was 14, I listened to a lot of folk music, and I wanted to put my own experiences into pretty songs.
And the rest is history (laughs). Who were you listening to at that time that influenced you to start writing?
Other than folk music, I listened to CONOR OBERST of BRIGHT EYES, ELLIOTT SMITH, GLASSJAW, as well as old alternative bands.
How was GLASSJAW an inspiration for you?
It gave me a lot of inspiration because the music is full of so much emotion, loneliness, and heartache. On one of their albums, there is a hidden track that is slow and sad, which inspired me a lot.
You have more facial piercings than any other country or folk singer I have ever seen. Has it ever worried you that people might not like your “pierced” image?
Not at all! I have tattoos as well, and my fans love me and my style because I am who I am. Also, they help set me apart. I recently played at the Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, and though sometimes there is predominantly an older crowd, there are always people there of any age or demographic at any show I play.
What is one of the most personal songs of your set, and what is it about?
One of my most personal songs is “Painted Lover”, and I wrote that as a letter to someone that I didn’t get the chance to say directly related to a situation we were in together.
Can you tell me what kind of situation that was?
It was one of those “romance gone wrong kinda deals”, and I took all the hurtful things that happened and wrapped it up into a song. The lyrics are so specific that anyone who has been in that situation will know what I’m talking about.
I heard a rumor that you will be performing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon soon. Is that true?
Not yet, but if you hear something let me know (laughs).
I was trying to find some recordings of your songs, and I was only able to find the two on your MySpace page and some recordings of performances on YouTube. Are you working on an EP or full-length album?
Indeed, I am working on a full-length. I haven’t touched that MySpace page since I was 15, but it’s cool to know that is still out there. I have a couple newer recordings on my personal Tumblr. I am about half way through the writing process, but I still need to polish a few of the songs and write some more. There is no tentative release date yet, but we plan on recording it either in Nashville or Austin either in the fall or next winter. I have a good team around me, and we are not trying to rush it.
When you ultimately do release it, where will it be announced?
When it comes out, you will know (laughs). We are working on getting a website up, and we will also be making announcements over Facebook. We will have hard copies and digital copies, mp3’s, CDs, and vinyl.
How did growing up in Richmond affect your outlook on the world, life, etc. in terms of your songwriting?
I love Richmond! It’s a fantastic city, and the people are amazing. I get inspiration from the river at Belle Isle, the Church Hill area, and even the trains that come through the city. I worked at an overnight diner in downtown for a while, and it helped me to see the city in a completely different light.