INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HOUSTON HEARD
That’s the puzzle!
On May 8, 2015, ARCHERS HOPE from Williamsburg, Va. released their debut album Broken Anchor, which features 12 tracks packed with emotion and angst both on the surface, as well as in more subtle ways through the lyrics. Led by guitarists/vocalists Drew Mcelroy and Corey Pavlosky , the band is filled out by drummer Ben Wahls and bassist John Schuzler. Since forming in 2012, the band has developed a substantial fan base and are looking forward to what the future holds for their band.
As students at the College of William and Mary, Phillip Basnight and Colin Cross accidently met in a recording studio and came out with a collection of songs by the time they graduated. In 2013, they joined together forming the band BROKE ROYALS. A two-man band, in the studio, with Cross on drums and Basnight on vocals and guitar, they are joined on stage with guest musicians as needed. Last year, BROKE ROYALS put out their first single and released their debut album, The Luxury of Time, Part I, and they will be releasing their second EP, The Luxury of Time, Part II, this summer.
On his debut, 11-track album Above Below Average, alternative rapper and composer HOUSTON HEARD delivers sharp, quick rhymes with a flow so eloquent you might forget that he is just a teenager. Based out of Williamsburg, Va., HOUSTON HEARD is unapologetic track after track and the pop synthesized beats are equally captivating.
Following an intro track just shy of two minutes, HOUSTON HEARD introduces us to his skills with a few strokes of his keyboard before initiating his rhymes. The music itself is very bright and melodic, with a syncopated beat that can simultaneously get your head bobbing to the song and put a smile on your face. On the second track, “Tell Em,” he does not miss a beat in bringing the same energy and emotional reactions. The music is very reminiscent of OWL CITY and MC LARS.
The fourth track, “Society,” also features another Williamsburg, Va. rapper BRIAN B and Chandler Matkins of BIG MAMA SHAKES. Together, along with HOUSTON HEARD, they form the group DISTORTED AFTERSTORY. The song itself is very unique in that it criticizes what society considers important, including having to meet expectations set by others, how “people judge you how you dress and the people that you slept with,” and how social media is more important than building real connections with other people. In the end of the song, HOUSTON HEARD has that last word in an a capella rhyme saying, “The only thing changing with the seasons is the weather. As people we’re supposed to get together but our ties are constantly severed, and we’re left on our knees with nothing but our diminished pride.”
After a brief interlude lasting just over a minute where HOUSTON HEARD lets the piano do the talking, he breaks into the eighth track “Won’t Be Easy,” which discusses moving on from a break up. The song is easy going and carefree while reflecting on what he may have done wrong to cause it. But he realizes that he is better off without that person and is happy to move forward. It’s a feel good pop song, and it helps to show more of his vocal range.
The album concludes with “Brain Drain,” opening with more key strokes and cultural criticism. His lyrics flow out so smoothly, and the elements of the song mesh together so cohesively, one might assume that HOUSTON HEARD has a higher status than he currently does in the music scene. Regardless, this album is proof that he will be one to keep an eye on as his career develops.
Since forming the lifelong friendships in their hometown of Williamsburg, Va., the members of BIG MAMA SHAKES have been hard at work building a name for themselves both in the local scene and beyond the Commonwealth. After relocating their unique version of “soul rock” to the new home base in Richmond, Va., the band, whose current lineup includes guitarist and vocalist Brady Heck, keyboard, harmonica player, and vocalist Elijah Righter, guitarist and mandolin player Caleb Austin, drummer Chandler Matkins, and bassist Peter Cason, has been consistently rising to the top of the Richmond music scene. They are currently working on finishing their debut album, As She Does, which will be released in spring 2015. We caught up with the band to discuss their popular status in Richmond and the wild performances they deliver on stage, their recent Indiegogo campaign to help fund their new album, and whether or not their song “Let It Grow” is about growing out a big lumberjack beard.
Your band recently performed at The National as part of their “On the Verge: Best of the 804” concert series. How were you selected to headline that show, and how was the performance?
Peter: We did not headline the show. It’s a local show, and it’s set up by ticket sales. I do feel very good about the performance, though. There were 400 people there, and they were going nuts (laughs). So it was a whole lot of fun, and the rest of the bands seemed to really like us.
Brady: That show is going down in the books as one of the wildest shows we’ve played. Over the last year, we’ve been doing a whole lot of stuff, and we’ve got a reputation for being a pretty wild band live. That kind of took the cake as far as our live sets go.
Just out of curiosity, what about your performances make them so wild?
Chandler: I personally think what makes our performances so wild is the energy that we bring to the stage. Most of us have been playing together for years since high school. We all have such a passion for it and charisma, and when you bring five people together that love music as much as we do, it kind of just clicks. We just rip it wide open.
Elijah: I would like to say that one of the things that brings the energy we have on stage is Chandler and his ridiculously intense drum playing (laughing by the other band members in the background). Chandler breaks his sticks just about every show. Like imagine an octopus playing drums (collective laughter).
That’s a good analogy. Are you all originally from Richmond?
Chandler: We all grew up in Williamsburg, Va., and that’s where we all met. But we are based out of Richmond, Va. right now.
Is BIG MAMA SHAKES a reference to a movie or something?
Brady: Actually, the dumb name comes from an old band that me and our bassist Peter used to be in. One time, our keyboard player Elijah played with us, and he wasn’t actually a member of the band. So for laughs, and whatnot, we called him BIG MAMA SHAKES. … It sounds good; it’s got a good ring to it.
Currently, your band has an Indiegogo campaign in progress to fund your debut full-length album, As She Does, and, as of this interview, you have raised more than $1,300 of your $4,000 goal. Do you think crowd funding will continue to be a popular trend in the music industry for many years to come?
Caleb: I think it should be, as long as people don’t get too tired of it. But I hope not because we really need to make some money.
Peter: It’s an extremely useful tool if it’s able to get out there. When you go on the Indiegogo website, you can see all these [campaigns] that are at 150 percent of their budgeting, and they got there because they got number one on the Indiegogo views or something. They basically paid to get it. … It’s a really weird system that I don’t understand, and I hope to understand it (laughs).
With the increase in bands having a social media presence, do you think that there is less of a desire for bands to get signed to a record label to put out their music? How does BIG MAMA SHAKES feel about that?
Brady: For sure, definitely. It seems like these days record labels actually are pretty lackluster in what they offer. Most don’t offer support to upcoming bands; you have to build yourself before record labels will actually do anything for you. It kind of defeats the purpose [of getting signed to a record label] in that sense. A lot of the bands that we associate with have done bigger and better things than us. We’ve kind of had to work for everything we’ve had, and, in a sense, it seems like record labels take a little bit away from that. As rewarding as it is to have a big name backing you, it doesn’t really work [in your favor] to make out with everything that you deserve.
Peter: For an example of what Brady was just talking about, a friend’s band of ours here in Richmond — they’re relatively big — was offered a contract by a big name record lable, but they weren’t offering tour support or album support. So basically they were just doing nothing and putting their name on their CD. A lot of bands, from what I [understand], are receiving such offers. I don’t understand how that helps us at all.
Elijah: This is really unfortunate because there’s really not much that we have been able to find on our own that makes you money, like “real money,” as a band, and record labels used to be a certain amount of opportunity for that. Live music, as a whole seems to be becoming a lot less profitable, and it’s already starting to disappear a little bit. It’s probably going to keep disappearing unless we do something about it.
Chandler: I think one of the big things is that there is so many people trying to be musicians now. Everybody and their brother wants to be the “next big thing.” I think it’s good; it brings a lot of diversity to the music world and arts world in general. But it’s not always necessarily the greatest thing.
What is the current status of the songs that will be on your new album, As She Does?
Peter: All the drum tracks are done. Most of the guitar tracks are done. Almost all of the bass tracks are done. We’re nearing completion.
Where are you recording the new album, and who is producing it?
Chandler: We’re recording the album in a studio in Williamsburg, Va. called Unkempt & Overcaffinated Studios. It is more of a home grown studio, not a big place. It’s got a very homey vibe to it, and they offer fantastic prices for what they are willing to give you. The studio also has great connections inside that can really help you as far as mixing and mastering, even shows. The studio engineer that is recording our album, Colin Cross, is the drummer for BROKE ROYALS, who was also one of the bands we played with at The National, and it all came together because we were recording the album together.
Have you set a release date for the new album yet?
Peter: The release date is Tuesday, May 5, and we are looking to have an album release party the weekend before that and invite people to the prerelease party. But before that, we are having two singles come out.
Chandler: The first single will be coming out on April 21, and the second single will be coming out on April 28.
Peter: It might as well be at this point (thunderous laughter).
Brady: I wrote that song, but considering that my facial hair is pretty lackluster compared to the rest of the band, it might as well be about my sheer desire to grow a full lumberjack beard (more thunderous laughter from his band members). I grew up in a really country, rural way, in the sense that my dad was real backwoods, and my whole family was like that. It’s sort of like paying homage to that, in a sense. The reference, “We were raised here by the river,” which is the first line of the song, and that is in reference to the Chickahominy River, which runs right by and through our hometown.
Probably my favorite part of that video is the two vocalists singing at each other in the same microphone. Is that common for you guys to do while recording?
Brady: Actually, yes. Me and Elijah, our keyboard player, are the two main vocalists in the group, and that’s a pretty common practice for us when we are in the studio especially if we are doing harmonies together. On one of the new songs that is coming out on the new record, we just sort of did this entire disco harmony just the two of us locked up in the room.
Elijah: A funny note about that harmony that we were doing, [while] we were doing it, we found out that we only hit the right pitches to that backing harmony when we were doing jazz hands together (laughs from the band). If you are listening to “The Fighter,” when the harmonies are blowing up in the background, just remember that jazz hands made it happen.
Brady: Those harmonies are sponsored by jazz hands. I think [singing into the microphone together] actually helps the recording quality of it, or at least the vibe altogether. Me and Elijah have the opportunity to vibe really well off each other in a setting like that, and I think it makes the entire thing more natural.
Do you have any other shows coming up that you would like to announce?
Chandler: On Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, we will be opening up for GRIFF’S ROOM BAND at Capital Ale House in Richmond. On Saturday, March 14, 2015, we will be playing a showcase at Peabody’s (18+) in Virginia Beach, hosted by Shaggy from Z104. On Friday, March 20, 2015, we will be playing a house show in D.C. called Babe City. We will be playing with THE DELTA SAINTS and THE VACANT STAIRS on Saturday, April 4, 2015 at The Camel in Richmond, Va. On Saturday, May 2, 2015, we will be playing at Cary Street Café (21+) in Richmond. We are so swamped with the album right now, but the moment it’s released, it’ll be a whole new ball game with too many shows to count. We will have a huge CD release party in May, [with more details] to be announced.
Peter: We are also going on a tour of the east coast from Richmond, Va. to Portland, Maine in June and July.
A young man sits alone on a bar stool with a microphone-stand in front of him, an acoustic guitar rests lovingly in his hands, and a harmonica holder is suspended from his neck. His coat and cowboy hat hang on a hook on the wall behind him, and his glass mason jar used to accept tips sits on the floor next to his guitar case. His gear certainly gives him the aura of a well-traveled troubadour, but his age suggests otherwise.
“Thank you all for coming out tonight, it’s really great to see some friendly faces,” TROY BRESLOW says to the small crowd of people at The Living Room tea and coffee shop in Williamsburg, VA. A fresh-faced, young man of 18 years, he has a tussle of brown hair setting on his head, dark-rimmed glasses, and is often seen in plaid or flannel button-down shirts. He gently turns a tuning peg as he strums the strings, finding just the right tone for the song he’s about to cut into. “Tonight I’m gonna play some covers and a few originals; feel free to sing along if you know the words.”
Breslow kicks off the show with a melancholy tune for the intimate audience, BOB DYLAN’s “Mississippi” from one of Troy’s favorite albums, Love and Theft. Members of the crowd sway gently to the song as they take bites of their food and sips of their hot beverages.
Troy has played The Living Room a handful of times since it opened in early 2013, and his tip jar was a gift from owner Joseph, who also accompanies Troy on the bongos from time to time. His sets typically include a number of classic folk and blues tunes from artists like Dylan, MUDDY WATERS, WOODY GUTHRIE, and more contemporary artists like JOHN MAYER or CONOR OBERST. He interjects his original work whenever the mood seems right.
After finishing up a few songs and taking a swig of water, Breslow plays a song of his own called “Thunder Down the Road,” a slow and melodious ballad that tackles unfulfilled love and the difficulty of moving on.
His most striking tune, however, might be the introspective and hopeful “Dry Land,” a drifter song about growing up, reflecting on past relationships and the places a person calls home, and trying to stay hopeful about the future.
“Close your eyes and go to sleep young man / when you rise, you will be on dry land / breathe a bit with every step you take / keep in mind, it’s good to be afraid…” Breslow lets the words of his chorus rise up powerfully from his lungs, his eyes pinched shut and his fingers striking the strings of the guitar with an emphatic twang.
“If there is any song that is purely me, it is that one.” Breslow said after the show. “I went through many loves won and lost, many trials with friends – and with myself. It was through these trials that I realized I needed to learn to figure out whom I was and that sometimes it was okay to be alone in life.”
Troy, a Chesapeake Native, only just graduated from Tabb High School, but in a matter of moments of conversation one can sense that he is an old soul. In an era where many young artists are routinely strapped to fluffy and constructed pop tunes, it’s refreshing to hear thoughtful and inspired words from a teenager. His maturity can surely be credited to his upbringing and some of the emotional stability that performing with friends and family has provided. Although he was always a fan of music, it was in middle school when his attention to the art took a serious turn.
“I actively listened to music on my commute to school and back home again because it was an hour both ways,” Breslow said. Then his parents moved their privately owned business to Yorktown, VA next to a music store and his exposure to music expanded. “I started hanging out in the store more and more often where I’d just fiddle around with the electric drum set that was set up in the back for demo. My mother bought an electric Kurtzweill piano from that same store, and it sat in the back of our store for several years, where I learned to play it. Soon I started discovering how to play a bass guitar, and then I wound up fiddling with a regular guitar.”
At the age of 13, he picked up a book on BOB DYLAN that his mother had given him (which had sat untouched for months) and his self-proclaimed obsession with folk music began. His parents encouraged his emerging passion.
“If it weren’t for my parents I wouldn’t have musical ability,” he admitted. “My mom played guitar for me as a child and was always singing. My parents always had sing-a-long tapes going in the car. My dad always read me books with rhyming stories, and I suppose that was my first exposure to poetry.”
Troy dove deep into Dylan’s catalog, spending many nights pouring over lyrics and daydreaming about the American landscape. Troy was inspired to perform “Mr. Tambourine Man” at his 8th grade talent show and again in 10th grade where he won third place. He would go on to befriend many of Tabb High’s most talented musicians who inspired him to practice more frequently. He soon immersed himself in the culture of performing live music.
Since graduating high school, Troy has struggled with the challenges of self-promotion and finding time exclusively for performing at live venues. He has, however, been able to focus on honing his songwriting style. “My writing process tends to have a nature of its own a lot of times,” Breslow said with a wry smile. “When I write a song that has a lot to say, I never see it coming. Those are the real important songs. Some ideas remain in the back of my mind until they blow up.”
As he continues to develop and grow as an artist and person, Troy welcomes new challenges and is constantly looking to expand his musical universe. He carries himself with a certain confidence that a star-in-the-making would need, yet he doesn’t have the suggestion of arrogance that brings down so many aspiring talents. Things certainly are looking promising for his career and 2014 has already been a year of progress. He’s put hard-work into his debut EP, which is currently streaming on Soundcloud, and hopes to release it physically in the next few months. Until then, he’ll continue dissecting the lyrics of his inspirations and scribbling words in his multitude of notebooks, searching for gold in the vast musical frontier.