Not to knock the candlelit dinner or staying in with your fellow single friends, but for this Valentine’s Day, wouldn’t you rather do something a little different? The Triangle has plenty to offer for Valentine’s Day 2019…it’s just a matter of choosing your own alternative adventure.
Axe Your Ex
If you’re looking to let off some post-breakup steam, the folks at Epic Axe Throwing and Social House have a solution. This V-Day bash will include drink specials and a taco bar. Don’t forget to brush up on your throwing skills… every bullseye gets a box of chocolates!
Raleigh favorite The Pour House is hosting a Valentine’s Day edition of Local Band Local Beer: a Heartbreakin’ Ball. If dancing to Lonnie Walker, AUTOSPKR, and Echo Courts and imbibing Foothills Brewing Co. beer sounds like a good time, grab a ticket here.
Goth Prom at Arcana
Whether you live a goth lifestyle year-round or just want to go goth for a night, you can groove all night at Arcana. This Valentine’s Day 21+ dance party has 20th Century Boy spinning classic goth, dark dance, and industrial music and tarot-themed cocktails.
Suggested dress code: black. Maybe a touch of red. And more black.
It’s always a starry night at Morehead Planetarium. Get a love-themed tour of the universe in Chapel Hill on one of four dates, including February 14th. There’s even a special heartbreak edition on February 9th, if you feel so inclined.
Celebrate the single life with your friends AND support the Hands for Hearts Foundation at the Raleigh location of Boxcar Bar + Arcade. With DJ Chaperone spinning, artisanal cotton candy from Wonderpuff Cotton Candy, and a percentage of the night’s sales going to a good cause, this is fun you can feel good about.
Spend Valentine’s Night in Chapel Hill with Crazy Doberman, a “midwestern psycho jazz unit.” Nightlight is one of the best spots in the area to hear experimental tunes, so hit up W. Rosemary Street for a quirky, great time.
If you want to get in your feelings with the music of your childhood, head to Ruby Deluxe at 10 PM. DJ Luxe Posh and DJ DNLTMS will spin 90s favorites at this 21+ dance party. Sweets, drink specials, and maybe some Whitney Houston- this is what Valentine’s Day should be.
The Pinhook is hosting a night of covers of apathetic/anti bands and fundraising for the NC Women’s Prison Books Project. Come donate to this worthy cause and rock out/chuckle to covers of The White Stripes and Weezer. Good time + good cause = a great Valentine’s Day.
We’ve packed away the Moore Square acorn and swept up the confetti, but hold up- the party’s just beginning. January 2019 saw great releases from NC artists. Alex Aff, BREV., and Pinky Verde brought it with new music in the last few weeks. You can banish the January blues with red-hot tunes.
Alex Aff, Frequencies
Frequencies is Alex Aff’s first entirely self-produced project, and in less capable hands that might’ve made for a more self-indulgent record. Aff, however, is in top form on this album, taking the creative room to be more contemplative and witty than ever.
He dives headfirst into hope, ego, and social injustice, and the results shine. “In My Own Lane” stands out as the most danceable track, and where Aff might be the most lyrically astute. He dances from personal struggle, determination, and success to racial oppression and back again- and he makes it look easy.
Raleigh synth-pop artist BREV. is back with new EP Revive. Centered around the joys and perils of self-determination, this is BREV.’s most thematically cohesive EP, and undoubtedly his most fun offering to date.
The opener, “Barrel Down,” grooves like a good time – but the lyrics pack a powerful punch for anyone who’s ever felt the need to revitalize a stale life.
Lovers of grunge, listen up. You need to listen to Pinky Verde’s Infinitesimal just to get an earful of Heather Jensen’s voice. While she doesn’t scream, she has the same slouchy charisma of many of your 90s favorites.
That voice lends her intimate, observant lyrics additional heft and make listening to this Wilmington resident feel like reading the cool girl’s diary. The title track that closes the EP, “Infinitesimal (Sorry, Love),” is particularly raw and devastating, and shows Jensen at the height of her powers.
To say that Durham itself is a character in Hype, a new local web series, would be a cliché…and an understatement. In partnership with Runaway, Holland Randolph Gallagher portrays Durham as only someone who’s lived here could, with eyes that are tender and critical in equal measure.
The Durham of Hype shapes its characters, rocks them to sleep, cracks them open and gets cracked open by them in return.
The protagonist, Smiles, ends up embroiled in Durham’s rap and startup scenes. His motivation? To buy back the house his sweetheart’s family was forced out of by rising rent costs. The irrepressible Ava (Andie Morgenlander) latches onto Smiles as her partner in the startup business.
Meanwhile, a fixture in the local rap scene, Bulldoze, and his younger brother Cris (impressively played by Dartez Wright and Melvin Gray Jr.) butt heads with Rakim Wilde (Leroy Shingu). Wilde lacks Bulldoze’s talent, but is getting radio play.
When the parallel stories collide, fireworks ensue.
Shot on site, the scenery and rhythms of the city are right in ways an outsider couldn’t capture. The wide shots of local favorites Alley Twenty Six, The Durham and Motorco are fun anchors to Durham’s geography. Hype also captures the specific, lopsided lilt of a Durham house party to a tee. It doesn’t hurt that the rollicking soundtrack is packed with local talent.
So, is hyper-local Hype worth…you know…the hype? Yes. Easily so. Strong writing, direction, and cinematography would make this a series to watch in a market laden with good offerings. The acting doesn’t always hit the mark, and sometimes the writing could be a little tighter, but that’s okay. Hype has to be considered as the first of its kind. It makes a formidable launching pad for new series to be shot in the area.
When thinking of Hype as pioneering media for the Triangle, consider Hype as a title. Referring both to excitement and to the inflated self-marketing required to succeed, the characters in this web series confront the need to hype themselves up to the outside world.
In Hype, as in the real Durham, the bristling creativity that makes the city so exciting may also condemn it to being ruined by gentrification.
While that conflict is rarely directly addressed in the dialogue, it is keenly felt. The characters risk their livelihoods as underdogs in an underdog city. When you fail, you fail yourself, your family, and your hometown. Hype is a living, breathing portrayal of a struggle the city hasn’t resolved yet.
Hype, at its best, is simultaneously a balm and a friendly grin to anyone who’s called Durham home, as well as a primer to the area for anyone unfamiliar with its joys and pitfalls.
Yes, watch Hype. Yes, talk it up for its hometown grit and charm. But this is a series well worth watching on its own merit. Fundraising is currently underway for the next season. Get hype.
It’s NC New Releases, the very best in new music of the last few weeks. For December 6th, 2018, The Triangle Guide is spotlighting singles from Durhamites al Riggs and Danny Blaze, and Wilmington band Stray Local. With music this great, you’ll have your headphones on all through the holidays.
Danny Blaze, “7 and the 5”
Before up-and-coming rapper Danny Blaze’s career took off, he took the 7 and the 5 buses in Southside Durham to work each day. In his latest single, Blaze reflects on his former routine.
In a segue worthy of Frank Ocean circa Channel Orange, ambient conversation slides into gospel riff… and then the beat drops. The track grooves with a weary momentum, pulling us into Blaze’s old daily grind: getting up with the sun, writing rhymes as the bus carries him to his job.
The track is satisfying for both narrative fans and rap technicians. Blaze is a compelling storyteller, and his charisma and expert cadence drive home why he’s one of the most exciting rappers working in Durham right now. If you’re not chanting “take the 7 and the 5” by the song’s conclusion, you probably don’t have a pulse. Check it out here.
Stray Local, “Time” (Hourglass Studio Sessions)
Wilmington folk pop band Stray Local are back with a live performance of their new song, “Time.” Hannah Lomas’s vocals swirl over shimmering harmonies like “leaves that sweep down cobblestone streets” that she describes in “Time’s” melancholy lyrics.
While Stray Local are no strangers to the use of violin in their music, here it’s especially evocative. With pathos on par with Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, and touched with an indie sensibility, songwriters Jamie Rowen and Hannah Lomas have created a lovely new addition to the Stray Local discography. Make sure to check out the music video of their performance in Hourglass Studios here, and you can stream the song here.
al Riggs, “GODKILLER”
al Rigg’s latest track, “GODKILLER,” is electric. About a trip to a bar as a gender nonconforming person, the song positively crackles with fear, despair, and rage.
In a masterful progression of instrumental layering, an opening of tinny beats soon meets a raw, dark guitar line, and al Rigg’s voice, singing, “the downtown boys are gonna beat me down.” The track builds to an astonishing crescendo, with distorted voices singing, brass, driving percussion. It’s a beautiful and devastating outcry.
“GODKILLER” is also the title song of their upcoming album, which will be released on January 25th. You can stream “GODKILLER” the song and preorder the album here.
Grief to a mellow groove should be an oxymoron- but to synth-pop musician RJ Bergman, aka BREV., lush synths seemed like a natural palette with which to illustrate sorrow. On In My Own Dimension, the twenty-four-year-old’s contemplative first release, BREV. immerses himself in his grief over his grandmother’s death at an unhurried, melancholy pace.
“Are we all taken for granted?” BREV. asks over tinny beats and a mournful motif. Onhis first release, BREV. seeks answers to his biggest questions through musical resolutions in synth-pop instrumentals. If In My Own Dimension doesn’t offer remedies to a first experience with grief, it does offer a beat to dance to- a way to healing.
BREV. spoke to The Triangle Guide about his evolution as a musician and his writing process.
Why did you decide to become a musician?
“I became a musician not just out of desire, but out of necessity. Music has been a coping mechanism for me for as long as I’ve been writing – over a decade. Music has always been a part of my soul. The most comforting moments in my life have come when I have gone through something and needed to reflect. Music has always been the kind friend that reached out it’s hand and captivated me. I think I owe a lot of my sanity to the fact that I was able to express myself through music in my younger years. The themes I’ve written about over my life have a lot to do with self-awareness, soul searching, and growth. I think you can hear and read in a lot of my work that there is a need to understand oneself and others around us in this perplexing life.”
What is the significance of the name “BREV.”?
“For starters, the word “brev” has many meanings. In Latin and music, it is meant to signify something that is short or a note that lasts a short amount of time. BREV. is a concept dating back to 2015. The original intent was to abbreviate ‘rebel’ and ‘revolution’ in to a succinct word/ phrase. The initials of my given name spell out REB, which people have always codified as rebel, and I’ve often felt a need to revolt. My musical ideas have attempted to change myself and others through music. I found that music has the opportunity to open us up to each others struggles, to have mutual understanding. To change someone’s mind through ideas is difficult. I feel like the best way I know is to wear my emotions and insecurities on my sleeve. I think we too often try to hide these, because our societal culture has emblemized them as weak, but emotions are real, raw, and impure, and have lead me to some of the most interesting dialogues I’ve experienced.”
You’ve transitioned from being an acoustic singer-songwriter to a synth-pop artist. What inspired that change?
“In 2014 I took a very enlightening trip to Australia and New Zealand as part of a study abroad program that introduced me to a plethora of new artists, new ideas, and creating lifelong connections with other musicians that impacted me enormously. I learnt of amazing artists like Kllo, Hiatus Kaiyote, Chet Faker (Nick Murphy), Jane Tyrrell, and Sticky Fingers. I even got to be one of the singers in an 8-piece band (called ‘John Wilton & The New Dream’ if you ever check it out) and they helped provoke this change. All of these led me towards a more heavily produced and chill sound which is evident on In My Own Dimension. The acoustic stuff has always been close to my chest, but I understood the niche audience that it reached. Not only was this new sound more satisfying to my musical self, it also felt more aligned with our current times.”
What skills have you brought from your acoustic background into synth-pop writing and performance?
“My foundation has always been in writing catchy melodies and deep lyrics. Those are two main characteristics I have enhanced and grown and pulled with me into this style. One thing that is strikingly different is how stage presence is handled in this setting. I feel like more people are watching the musician on stage with this style of music, wanting to see their facial expressions and movement, unlike what you might experience in an acoustic setting. I think I bring a different edge to electronic music since my lyrics tend to be heavier and poetic.”
You’ve just released your first EP, In My Own Dimension. What were your ambitions for your first EP? What skills did you want to demonstrate on your first long-form work?
“My ambitions for this work were introduce the sounds of BREV. to the world. I wanted to offer a variety of feelings and auras, allowing people to find a song that suits their mood. I’ve been dedicating myself to these songs for the past six months – and I definitely see this project as a jumping off point. This EP has sweeping stylistic changes throughout, and I think that was important for this work. I’ve had a hard time categorizing anything I’ve written these past six months, from synth-wave, electronic pop, ‘PBR&B’, and the like, so I certainly wanted this first EP to be an exploration of this sound, since I don’t think BREV. will ever be fastened to one genre or style.”
On In My Own Dimension, you explore heavy themes- generational divides, youth, death, and grief. Why did you choose to explore those themes through a mellow groove, rather than through a more turbulent sound?
“I think there is a sound and semblance of peace in the middle of chaos and turbulence. Zoning in and finding this sound was a journey for me that took me to places where I felt vulnerable, and this vulnerability turned into songs like “Fools” and “Granted.” In my head when I create songs, they tend to sound something like Brewed or Jam. Something downbeat and also energetic.”
What’s your favorite song on In My Own Dimension? Why?
“”Granted” is most certainly my favorite song on the EP. It’s an embodiment of myself, my ancestors, and how to deal through grief. My grandmother was fairly ordinary, but our connection ran deep. Of my twenty-four years on this planet I knew her for about ten, and I can almost recall all of the times we hung out on two hands. She was my last grandparent, and the first time I’ve had to deal with grief. It’s a memorable and emotional ode to her as well as a reckoning with age and a realization of how time flies, life flies, and how these things will inevitably end.”
If you could go back in time and see any artist perform live, who would you choose and why?
“This is a really tough question. One artist I would have loved to have seen in their heyday is The Academy Is…. I was a big Fueled by Ramen head growing up (Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Cute Is What We Aim For, Cobra Starship), and I always loved William Beckett’s amazing lyrics, emotional melodies, and stage presence. There was this Halloween concert they did with Cobra Starship that a few friends went to my freshman year of High School. I was bummed to have missed this, and never got to see them or Cobra Starship! Around this time was when I saw other artists that inspired my musicianship like No Doubt, Motion City Soundtrack, and The Cab.”
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the 919 area code, The 919 Podcast is your new best friend. Host John Carter interviews the movers and shakers of the Triangle- past episodes have included Patrick Woodson of Brewery Bhavana, Durham mayor Steve Schewel, and Kathryn Bertok of Carolina Tiger Rescue. Another highlight of the podcast is the “Dinner and a Movie” series of episodes, in which Megan Spell selects local restaurants and movie offerings around town for perfectly curated dates. With guests in an array of professions, Carter gets to the heart of what makes the Triangle unique.
Whether they’re exchanging repartee or interviewing a favorite band, genial hosts Matt Dunn and Seth Beard of Damaged Goods Radio are excellent guides through the local music scene. Interviewees include local acts and bands just passing through the Triangle- Carrboro band and Hopscotch alums Fitness Womxn are interviewed alongside Straight Arrows from Sydney, Australia. Come for the interviews, stay for the A+ banter and dry humor.
Nice Price Books and Records on Hillsborough Street has been a mainstay of the music scene in Raleigh for decades. Curl up in the stacks, browse the crates of vinyl- and, since 2017, listen in on employees and friends of the store discussing new releases on The Nice Price, the shop’s podcast. Enoch, Matt Phone, and Alli B pull from their vast collective music knowledge to riff on new tunes. Great chemistry between the three hosts, genuine laughter, and hot takes on music- what more could you ask for?
“I’m feeling like I should live timeless,” Natalie Cruz sings, setting the tone for an EP guided by meditations on what it means to live without restraint in the time she’s been given. Throughout Feelings, Cruz alternates between crooning and spitting, her lyrics about the urgency of love and lust simmering over mellow beats.
Cruz’s career as an entertainer began at the tender age of ten, spanning performances at venues of every size, and sustaining an exploration of several genres. The transition between acoustic recording and R&B took place in North Carolina and New Jersey, as Cruz examined which genre would best suit her energy as a performer and a songwriter. Feelings is the result of that exploration.
Cruz spoke to The Triangle Guide about Feelings and how her career as an entertainer began.
What is your origin story? What inspired you to become a musician?
“I grew up in New Jersey playing music as a child, funny enough no one in my family has musical abilities. I had fallen in love with the way this guy at my church played guitar and I had to learn! Thankfully I was gifted a guitar around eight years old and began to teach myself and learn more. I enjoy knowledge, so entering high school I decided I couldn’t graduate until I learned every other instrument available to me in the band room. Now I can play guitar, trumpet (any horn), piano, bass, violin, and anything else put in my hands. I moved around a lot growing up so having one consistent friend was hard to keep, music was something I didn’t have to worry about leaving. My inspiration was the constant smiles I got to put on faces and knowing I was an enjoyable entertainer.”
You started performing at a very young age. What did you learn about performing early on?
“I started performing VERY young, I bounced around from covering songs around ten to thirteen, to joining a few rock bands and traveling a lot more. I was grateful to start so early because I got to learn how a lot of the industry works as far as booking and what the audience expects from the performer. It taught me how to network and market myself at such a young age for so long.”
Your first EP, Through the Night, was an acoustic venture, while your latest release, Feelings, pulls from R&B and hip-hop. What motivated that transition?
“Through the Night was written in North Carolina, as some things were not working out for me in New Jersey, I decided to move. This EP was written all on guitar about a rough breakup I had been going through. When I moved I could not bring all of my music belongings so I decided to bring the smallest guitar I had. I felt the acoustic guitar kept this EP in its rawest form, as the chords were just a part of the emotions I was soaking in as the lyrics.
After leaving North Carolina I found myself back in a rock band playing bass and singing backup vocals. As versatile my music style was getting, I figured it was time for me to stop hiding in the background and take my solo career more seriously. I found that I kept resorting back to these bands because the energy on stage couldn’t be matched with an acoustic guitar, Hip-Hop-R&B could change that.”
Did your writing process change as you switched genres? How?
“My writing process did not change too much, being that I write upon emotion for most of my songs. If the music can make me feel something writing is no problem! If the beat or groove of the song doesn’t catch my interest is when it gets a little trickier. I had gotten the beat for “December” off my album Feelings and I wrote to it in twenty minutes! Listening back and back to this single I was set on releasing it as just its own track. Throughout the process of it getting mixed and mastered I had kept writing and expanding my sound to be beyond just my guitar.
My writing process is my best in the car, I like to either record my instrumental or beat and play it on my drives and freestyle in a sense to the tracks, there is inspiration everywhere and in my car I feel most free. I can normally write a full song in the car this way, or the main hook and first verse, I like to consider that my map to my destination which would soon be the completed song!”
In “Timeless,” the first song on Feelings, you describe your desire to live in the moment. The rest of Feelings follows a similar narrative thread, with tracks about the immediacy of love and lust. Did you begin working on Feelings with the intention that all of the songs would be centered around those themes, or did that happen organically as the project developed?
“This is the first time I’ve been asked the story behind the album! Although “Timeless” is the first track on the album, “December” was the first track I had written off of guitar. I had gone to my nine-to-five job a few days later, and I had kept running into conversation about how we work work work and we lose time. I had evaluated that in myself and realized that all I do at work is look at the clock (waiting to leave) hints to the line “I’m feeling like I should live timeless, like I should look at the clock less.” I feel like time is on our side and it’s how we choose to use it. Being that music is my passion, jobs are not my favorite thing to embark in, although we have to do what we have to do to eventually do what we want to do. At the end of the day I had run home and found lyrics I had written working my previous job that had fit perfectly into my second verse after they were rewritten.
At that point in the album, I had two tracks that had gone way too smoothly, but I was still lacking energy in those songs which is where I dove into some fun hip-hop grooves. “Playin” was written next on the album, which is another song about me being such a lover and looking for someone to just let me love them and stop playin’. This album happened super organically being that I wanted to escape the hip-hop/r&b trend of drugs, sex, and money in every song and keep my purity. Everything I write is either real life-based, or watching someone go through a certain situation making every song relatable to someone in some shape or form.”
You’ve played a variety of venues, from Stone Pony to Boardwalk Hall. Do you prefer to play in large venues, or more intimate ones?
“This is a great question. Coming from a fan base of zero, I enjoy performing, being I touch one out of the five people in the crowd, or hundreds out of the largest venues I’ve played. My goal as an artist is to connect and teach others things that I’ve learned through my course of life. Although the energy of a large venue is incredible, I always love the one-on-one personal connections gained from smaller venues.”
What kind of vibe do you want your shows to have? What do you want the audience to take away from seeing you live?
“I want my shows to be a safe, saving place for people to go to and enjoy. I want people to feel at peace as I sing a slower track and embrace their emotions and turn up and enjoy life when we pick up the tempo. At each performance I like to share a different message and I hope if the stranger in the crowd doesn’t enjoy every song, they can at least take from my message I am trying to send them.
As an artist I am also a person, being that I write mostly upon emotion I want to share with everyone that they are not alone on their journey. And although we may have bad days it is not a bad life. I struggle with anxiety and depression daily and I hope if anyone going through the same can take my words and relate and know they’re not alone, and all of our hurdles are bigger than ourselves. I hope I can teach my fans to not only love and receive but to find outlets to expressing their further emotion be it music, art, writing or speaking to someone. I hope to always keep the peace within my audience.”
Who’s another artist you would love to work with? Why?
“If you know me you know Post Malone is my man! Although I listen to so much music in the course of the day, I feel like Post Malone and I have a very similar background and style. I covered his song “Falling Apart” and got such great reactions on Instagram and Twitter. Being that we both grew up listening to so many styles, me and him could really produce a great product of music.
If not Post Malone, it would have to be Kehlani, being her aura and message she sends to the youth are so powerful to me, and is what I look to do throughout my growth as a musician.”
Sean Kyd hunches over a table in a dark room, clipping coupons over otherworldly whispers. Then, he flips the table. The coupons cascade to the floor. And the bass drops.
This all takes place in the music video for Kyd’s song, “Coupons,” an ode to “working too hard, too long,” and flinging the actualization of his dreams into the faces of his skeptics. Kyd raps about forging empires, setting up his descendants, reaping the fruits of his labor. Kyd and company dance in the pile of coupons on the floor, celebrating that “money ain’t a thing.”
Most of Kyd’s lyrics are about ambition- getting it, sustaining it, the toll it takes ultimately being worth it. The Raleigh native has big dreams, and he wants the world to know it. Kyd lets us in on his formative experiences, the source of his drive, and his future plans.
What is your origin story?
Well, I was born and raised in Raleigh, NC. Lived here for most of my life outside of me living in Atlanta for a year. I first got into music and wanting to make music by sneaking and listening to my brother’s rap albums before school. We shared a room so when his bus picked him up I’d run to the boombox, load up a CD and press play. My mom is a single parent of three so I refrained from asking her for a CD player for myself. Eventually I saved up and got my own CD player from a thrift shop (way before the iPods) and would listen to rap albums on the bus to school. When eighth grade rolled around my school decided to put on a talent show. My friends talked me into being in it with them and decided they wanted to rap, I was all for it. That night I went home and wrote a rap, came back the next day (the only one who wrote a rap), rapped it to my friends and they loved it. I kept writing and saved up some more to buy basic recording equipment, installed it onto the family computer, made a few songs to put on my Myspace page (way before Soundcloud) and the rest is history!
Which artists did you listen to the most growing up? How did they influence your style?
Most of the artists I listened to growing up were mostly because of my brother’s CDs until I was old enough to buy my own music. Even with that though he had pretty good taste. The artist I gravitated to the most in the beginning were Ludacris & Busta Rhymes. I loved how they mastered the art of rapping fast, breaking apart words by syllables to make a word longer than it is, and how they would tweak vowel sounds to make words rhyme that wouldn’t otherwise. When you listen to my early music you can hear their influence a lot. I also listened to A LOT of Lil Wayne (Hot Boyz Lil Wayne) and A LOT of Master P. When I was twelve I got introduced to Kanye West’s music by one of my cousins who was the same age as me. The College Dropout. That album taught me that even though I didn’t have a “street” background there were still ways I could flip everyday experiences so every listener could relate to the story I’m telling.
You open your Twitter bio with the words, “You deserve what you settle for,” and ambition is a theme you touch on quite a bit in your music- “Buckle Down” and “Coupons” especially. Where does your drive come from? How do you want to push yourself going forward in your artistic career?
Growing up I learned quickly that ambition is something NOBODY can take from you. My grandpa never finished school but was able to provide for the family off of a business he created from scratch. My mom was a single parent, worked two jobs and still found a way to provide for my sister, brother, and myself. “If you don’t work you don’t eat,” my grandma would always tell me. I’ve been able to accomplish a good amount solely off of my drive and ambition. It’s not easy, far from that, but in a moment of breakthrough or achieving a goal it feels good to take a moment and say, “I did this, I accomplished this.” There may be someone in the world more talented than me (I’m sure of it) but hard work takes you places talent can’t. I want my art or anything I create to be able to provide for my family forever. ANYBODY can work hard and I hope my music can help people realize the greatness they have within and motivate people to chase their dreams.
What’s your favorite verse you’ve written and why?
I have two favorite verses. One is from a song I made when I was sixteen called “I Got It.” This was one of my favorite songs of mine when I first started making music. It ended up being the standout song on my first mixtape “Just Kydding.” This is back when my artist name was Kyd Daze. Everybody from the local scene loved the song as well which had me pretty excited. When I would show up to local showcases at Pour House, The Brewery, or Shakedown Street (rest in peace Shakedown Street) they’d request me to come on stage and perform that song and it solidified the idea of “I can really do this.” My next favorite verse is from a newer unreleased song called “Hold Me Down.” I’m learning to become a lot more vulnerable with my music and the first verse does a good job of conveying the place I currently am mentally.
If you had to characterize your writing process in three words, what would they be?
My writing process in three words would have to be patient, relaxed, and focused. Sometimes it takes me minutes to write a song, sometimes a week or two. I’ve learned over the years that forcing anything won’t give the best results. I give myself some time to rest my mind if needed as well. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to make “the greatest song ever,” I just create. I know what sounds good to me and from there I make adjustments or experiment with sounds, my voice, or patterns. I mentally go to another place whenever I write music and I try to stay in that mindset until the song is finished or I can find a good stopping point. I hold things in- writing is my release so sometimes the tone is angry, sometimes it’s mellow, sometimes it’s somber, but they’re all different elements to me as a whole.
What would be your dream venue to perform in?
My dream venue would be a sold-out Madison Square Garden, hands down. I remember growing up, if a rapper sold out The Garden it was a HUGE deal. I know today more concerts are leaning towards the “festival” atmosphere and there are plenty of festivals I would love to perform at as well, but being able to say “I performed at Madison Square Garden” would be a dream come true. It would be my “I worked my ass off and now I’ve arrived” moment. Outside of that, being able to perform overseas would be cool too!
If you could collaborate with any living producer, who would you choose?
If I could collaborate with any living producer it would be Pharrell. His ear is crazy and he isn’t afraid to take risks and I like that. It doesn’t matter if it’s his beats or his singing/rapping, his sound is one hundred percent authentic.
You have an exciting project coming up that’s under wraps- what can you tell us about it?
Yes, there is a project I’ve been working on for about a year now. I’ve been taking my time with this one. My goal is to create a body of work to where my old fans can hear how much my sound has matured and also bring in new listeners. I’ve been compared to Big Sean a lot in the past (because our voices are similar) so I’ve been taking time to make my sound one hundred percent Sean Kyd, no room for comparisons. It’ll basically be an album to motivate listeners that anything is possible. When I say that I don’t mean the cliche “anything is possible” that you see at the end of a movie that makes you feel all good inside. I mean ANYTHING is possible: happiness, sadness, death, life, depression, anxiety, triumph, success. It’s a project that takes you from rock bottom to optimism, and I hope when it is complete it will change my life as well as the listener’s.
“The only voices that can stop me are the ones inside my head,” sings Sierra Shell in Case Sensitive’s simmering single “Count Your Blessings.” But it’s difficult to imagine anything stopping this Chapel Hill-based band. Since their nearly sold-out release show at The Station in February 2018, Sierra Shell (vocals, bass, and keys), Chesley Kalnen (guitar), and Mary Koenig (drums and supporting vocals) have been racking up fans of their otherworldly sound. And they show no signs of stopping, with upcoming appearances at Hopscotch day parties and an EP in the works.
They announced that first release show with a dancing Grim Reaper gif on Twitter- an entirely on-brand choice, given that their social media is full of black cats, haunted woods, and other witchy aesthetics. It’s an appropriate branding decision, given their sound. Their first release is singularly haunting and atmospheric- “Count Your Blessings/Six Feet”- is colored by sonic distortion, and guided by pensive lyrics. It’s a bewitching combination. Case Sensitive’s distinctive sound and charismatic live performances have cemented them as talents to watch in the Triangle music scene.
Koenig, Kalnen, and Shell spoke to The Triangle Guide about the songwriting process and their methods of collaboration.
What is Case Sensitive’s origin story?
SS: Back around 2014, several women were meeting together in a friend’s basement in the hopes of learning and playing together. Most of us were quite new to our instruments. We wanted a safe space to grow, and found that playing with other women was both fun and encouraging. At a certain point, Mary, Chesley, and I wanted to start writing our own songs and begin performing, so we broke away from the group in order to pursue music more intensely.
From your otherworldly sound down to the skeleton gifs on your social media, Case Sensitive very much aligns itself with a “spooky” aesthetic. Tell me about what inspired that aesthetic choice. Did you guys plan to align yourselves with an “ethereal/eerie” sound from the beginning of the project?
SS: We didn’t plan that initially, no. Originally, the music we were writing was much more poppy and upbeat.
CK: We started off very alt-pop and pop rock, heavily influenced by Marina & The Diamonds. We wrote two songs with that inspiration. One of those songs never felt right when performing it, and we ended up ditching it. The other song is Count Your Blessings, which was released February 2018 as a double-single. Often at practice, one of us will noodle on an idea, and the others jump in for an impromptu jam. There was one instance where I was playing a really simple line, and I kicked on a fuzz and octave pedal. The sound was heavy and gnarly, and our eyes lit up. That song became Six Feet, the other half of the double-single release. I think we all were really drawn to that sound (it was so intriguing and haunting) and interested in exploring beyond that. Tone is a really important element to me, and having the band be in to this new vibe was exciting. While we all like spooky things and our band has a quietly-heavy sound, we still hold tight to having a pop-informed ear to our songs, but now have these elements of floral, goth, and fuzzy indie mixed in.
Tell me about how you guys collaborate while songwriting. How do you allocate songwriting responsibilities? Does Mary [Koenig] have final say over drums, Sierra [Shell] have final say over keys, and Chesley [Kalnen] have sole control over guitar, for example, or do you each of you contribute to every aspect of the process?
SS: None of us really has the final say. We all contribute to the melody, the keys, guitar parts, and drums. In fact, Mary has written some of the key parts that I play and love. In reality, we play something over and over, and one of us will get inspired about a part, even if it isn’t our instrument. We’ve gotten good at communicating with one another in ways we can all understand, regardless of the instruments we play in the band.
MK: We have gotten good at communicating parts, but even better at listening and translating, I think! For example, I’m not very familiar with guitar, so sometimes my ideas for Chesley end up sounding like, “what about if you did dun-dun-dun-dun instead?” By some miracle, she takes it and makes it sound good. We’ve all written parts on each other’s instruments this way, and it often results in our best moments.
What’s something unique that each of you brings to the songwriting table?
CK: Sierra can come up with lyrics on the spot. Like, she will be playing bass or keys, and just start spitballing lyrics while coming up with a stellar melody. It’s bananas to watch her do, and we have to record it to catch what she’s doing, so we can remember/transcribe lyrics later. A lot of them stick for our songs, as well as the melody lines. It’s really organic and kinda magical. Mary, in addition to grounding us with percussion and being her own creative force, is a really grounding member of the band. She’s an amazing facilitator, and absolutely amazing when it comes to working through tough things (both with songwriting, as well as processing personal things as well as the current political/social climate).
MK: I echo Chesley. Sierra can write a catchy melody effortlessly. It just comes out of her mouth, lyrics and all, completely naturally. Part of the beauty of what she does is that she does it with no ego: she’s not held back by having to make it perfect on the first try. We then take the best bits and add just a little something (or sometimes, nothing at all!) and it’s a complete vocal part. I see Chesley as the one who encourages us to be “extra”, but she’s also the one to gently push back when we say we’re doing “too much.” She contributes a lot to our crunchier, heavier vibe and brings out the angsty kid in all of us, plus writes those dark, moody lyrics that are so fun to yell along to.
SS: I think Mary brings a certain gentleness and sweetness, a high-femme feel, to the project. She’s great at coming up with catchy pop lyrics and supportive synth parts. Chesley brings the fire, and probably represents our wild side. Chesley has driven a lot of the genre that we play, and pushed us toward our heavy, fuzzy, grungy sound.
Do you ever have disagreements about the direction a song should go in? If so, how have you settled them?
MK: We have disagreed about the direction a song should go in, and we always address it in the moment. We talk through our reasoning for wanting the direction we want and then come up with a solution together. The best part of how we settle disagreements, I think, is that we don’t ever let someone be “out-voted” into doing or playing something they’re not comfortable or happy with. We keep putting in the work until we come up with something that feels right to all of us.
Your first release, “Count Your Blessings/Six Feet,” shows two very different sides of what Case Sensitive is capable of. Lyrically and sonically, “Count Your Blessings” comes from a place of melancholy, and “Six Feet” rages. How important was it to the three of you to demonstrate a range of emotion and technical prowess in your first release? As it’s a double-single, do the two songs connect, or are they separate beasts?
SS: “Count Your Blessings” was one of our earliest tracks. When we wrote that song, we hadn’t quite figured out our direction or sound. I improvised many of the lyrics to that tune off the cuff, so it probably came from a more personal place for me than some of our others. Chesley brought in the lyrics for “Six Feet,” and the themes were pretty different from CYB. But once we wrote the beginning of the song, with the searing synth coming in and the drums banging, I think we realized we loved the high intensity and energy and, really, anger the song drew from us. I think we wanted to keep walking down a similar path, and that feeling led us to write the songs “Dirty Habit” and “Can You Stand It.”
MK: Honestly, I think initially we selected “Six Feet” and “Count Your Blessings” because they were our favorites and the ones that a lot of folks coming to our shows responded particularly well to. But as we started thinking about how they fit together more and more leading up to the release, we started seeing them as “sisters, not twins.” They both bring out different manifestations of feeling listless, stagnant, or anxious to change. While “Count Your Blessings” explores the more melancholy side of that, “Six Feet” is like an outlet for the frustration that feeling can produce.
Drum roll…you have plans to release an EP! What themes will you be exploring in the EP? What are you most excited to show the world about Case Sensitive?
MK: We do! Our EP explores a lot of themes that are more interrelated than they sound: from the anxiety of change to frustration with current politics to strange intense friendships to toxic exes to how Marilyn Monroe was maybe killed by the U.S. government (that last one isn’t a joke). They are all rooted in our feelings and emotions. A lot of those feelings are universal, but a lot of them are rooted in our experiences with gender and the stage of life we’re in: figuring out relationships, identity, and self-expression. I hope that people find something that they identify with in the EP and feel a little less alone in their anxiety, anger, wistfulness, or late-night conspiracy theory binging.
What’s your favorite gig you’ve ever played? What do the three of you find makes for a great show?
SS: My favorite gig was our single release show at the Station. We had such a huge crowd, but more importantly, so many of our close friends came out to see us play. There was a lot of excitement in that room. My favorite thing about a show is the audience, mostly because I’m trying to speak directly to them when I sing. I prefer a crowd of friendly and supportive faces, but also enjoy a crowd of absolute strangers. I’m confident in our ability to connect with the audience, so I enjoy playing for strangers and watching them react, even having no idea who we are or what our music is like initially.
CK: Playing The Cave in Chapel Hill for Manifest 2017 has been one of my favorite shows to date. The crowd packed it in, there was a lot of interaction and smiles, the energy around the fest (featuring artists of marginalized identities) was buzzing, and we just really felt embraced in that moment.
Paul Gallant and Wayne Leechford of duo Kattalax have not made a typical electronica debut- but then, they’re not your typical electronica musicians. Leechford is best known for his work as a classical baritone saxophonist in addition to playing in Triangle bands, and Gallant has run the gamut of genres in a wide variety of musical acts that include Battlestar Canada!, My Kat Randi, Scientific Superstar, and many more. Both have witnessed the maturation of the Triangle music scene as active members since the 80s. Their unique perspectives, and unusual method of songwriting- almost entirely remotely via the Cloud- have resulted in Kattalax’s truly individual sound.
Kattalax’s eponymous debut album is composed of eleven songs, defined by the vocorder-heavy conceptual lyrics, unusual instruments (horns and sax, anyone?), and driven by electronic beats. What results is a richly-textured ride, guided by two staples of the Triangle music scene. Gallant and Leechford spoke to The Triangle Guide about the evolution of music in the area, and the genesis of Kattalax’s distinctive sound.
You’ve been musical collaborators since the early 90s. How did you two meet?
WL: It was so long ago I can’t remember! I knew his brother Danny first. I probably met Paul through Danny.
PG: Wayne was a friend that hung out in my brother’s circle. The first song he ever heard of mine was My Kat Randi’s “Funky Puppy.” After he heard it he was always saying, “Play that funky fish song again!”
How would you describe your pre-Kattalax collaborations with one another?
WL: I always had a good time working with Paul in the past. His style is unique. The past projects always had a sense of humor. Kind of in a Zappa-esque kind of way. My role was more limited in those projects. I didn’t have much of a say in the songwriting process. I would just add to what was already there. Like, coming up with horn lines and solos.
PG: Wayne joined My Kat Randi in the second phase of the band where we decided that horns would be a good addition. He played guitar in the local prog band Mind over Matter at the time so I think being able to play sax in a different kind of band seemed appealing to him. He would always be happy to come play sax on songs in my later projects when I asked him.
What inspired you, in 2016, to form Kattalax?
WL: I have been listening to electronic music since the 90s. I’ve always enjoyed it. It was only in the past several years that I started to see “bands” playing electronic music live. I put that in quotes because most of the bands I see performing are one or two people and usually not playing “instruments”. Another quote because most of these bands are just turning knobs to pre-recorded material and not playing traditional instruments. It’s the vibe, energy and presentation of the material that are enjoyable. And, the actual music coming through the speakers, of course. I have been a traditional multi-instrumentalist for most of my life. Earlier in my life I would have shunned these type of performances. I think that is the problem with some people when it comes to this. They don’t see anyone playing and it’s obvious there is canned music. The stereotypical DJ set. A lot of people don’t get it. They don’t see the musicianship. It took me a while. But, after attending Moogfest, Coachella and a bunch of other shows, I was sold on this way of making music. Then, I had to embrace the technology that artists use to create it. A huge learning curve! So, back in 2013 I bought some gear and tried to start making some of my own music. The technology broke me. I gave up quickly. But, in all fairness, I was busy managing a career of traditional performances and teaching music. I knew I would get back around to it sometime. That time happened in the summer of 2016 when I ran into Paul at Duke Hospital. Unfortunately, my wife, Julie, was there as a patient for several days. Paul and his wife Ann were some of the few people that visited us. We got to talking and it turns out we both wanted to start a new project. I was itching to get back to electronic music and write music of my own since most of my work is playing other peoples’ music. Paul was interested. So, we started writing soon after that and the rest is history.
PG: Kattalax was Wayne’s idea. He approached me with the idea a couple of years back. At first I was kind of hesitant because I had it in my mind that I wasn’t interested in being in a “Band” anymore, but I had never tried to write vocals for electronic music before so I decided to give it a shot.
In your time as a musician in the Triangle, how have you seen the music scene evolve?
WL: I hate to say “back in the day”, but I will here. Back in the day (80s/90s), the music scene seemed more vibrant in the Triangle and there was more of a community. There were less clubs and bands, so it was easier to put your finger on what was going on in the scene. There are so many bands and so many clubs now, you really have to do your homework to tell what is going on. Also, there is very limited coverage of the scene by the few major, local print outlets that are still left standing. You gotta get your info on Facebook now and it is disseminated in a way that is hard to navigate. There are so many talented artists in this area and a lucky few have reached stardom. There is no question that there is something in the water here.
PG: The Triangle has always been an interesting music scene over the years because we are smaller than the big metro areas but we always seemed to have people around here making it big in one genre or another. I remember in the 90’s when Chapel Hill was going to be the “Next Seattle.”
In your view, what distinguishes music from the Triangle from music coming from elsewhere in the country?
WL: It seems the music that is most celebrated and applauded in the Triangle is Americana and garage rock. In reality, it’s a big mix and anything goes. You just have to find your place.
PG: The one thing the Triangle has always has been good at is making bands that have their own sound. Folks around here tend to pull from all kinds of influences to make their music. We are happy to continue that trend.
You wrote Kattalax’s self-titled debut album in an interesting way. You collaborated separately, working through the Cloud, and only came together in person for the most essential production processes. What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating this way?
WL: Working this way is fantastic. One of the things I loathe about bands is rehearsal. Usually, someone doesn’t show up (at the last minute) and it is hard to come up with something collectively by “jamming”. Paul and I have found a way to collaborate that is more efficient and that we both enjoy. I do not see a downside to this method. We are saving so much on gas, time and polluting the environment less by doing it this way, so it’s all good. We do get together to rehearse our live show.
PG: There really isn’t much “jamming” in electronic music so it really was a good way to write stuff. It was common that we would toss a song back and forth dozens of times before it really took shape. We are adding elements to the live show that gives us the freedom to jam some and go off the path of the written track. It’s always been a goal to play real instruments on stage. We never wanted to be a group that hit play on a laptop and let the laser go.
Will you continue to collaborate this way going forward?
WL: Most definitely.
PG: It’s working great now so I’m sure we will. We keep adding new instruments all the time as technology continues to evolve.
Wayne, you’re a woodwind performer, instructor, and music coordinator- and are probably best known as a classical baritone saxophonist. What skills have you brought from the classical world into electronica writing and performance?
WL: I feel that everything I have done in my life has led me to this point in time. I am able to integrate my classical training in woodwinds, my love of electronic music and my creative muse all into one package. My classical side demands that things be precise, clean and in tune. Paul is a self-taught musician and sometimes we butt heads about my perfectionism. We have managed to overcome this because of our friendship. We understand each other. And, collaboration is compromise. You have to know when you can push something and when you can’t. Also, I hear things orchestrally. I have played in so many orchestras and pit bands in my career. I love integrating different instrumental textures like harp, vibraphone, strings, etc. It is so easy now with sampled instruments. The orchestra at your fingertips. I feel it has let me tap into the music I am hearing in my head without limitations. Also, there has been a boom in alternate ways to create music via MIDI controllers. And, recently MPE MIDI – ways to use a MIDI controller with 5D touch like the Artiphon and Roli. It has opened up my creativity in ways I did not expect and could not do with traditional instruments. Sometimes, my writing starts with the technology and I go wherever it leads.
Paul, Kattalax and your previous musical projects pull from many genres, moods, and “vibes,” but all of them sound cinematic.
In My Kat Randi, you were inspired by 60s spy music and 70s cop show soundtracks. Your body of work under Battlestar Canada! sounds very scifi. And the Scientific Superstar albums were intended as an extension of the storytelling of an accompanying comic magazine and its universe- they were, in essence, soundtracks.
How have film scores and television show soundtracks inspired you as a musician? Which were most influential?
PG: When I was a teenager I learned how to play guitar by playing along with “spi” type music like Henry Mancini/Peter Gunn, The Ventures and the B-52’s. It always kind of stuck with me over the years. Before Wayne approached me with this project I was thinking of getting into soundtrack work as full time hobby. I wrote all the music for a local film titled “Basilisk” a few years ago. It was a lot of fun.
Besides yourself, who are your favorite musical artists working in the Triangle right now? Who do we need to be listening to?
WL: Unfortunately, with everything else going on in my life, I do not get out to clubs very often. And, if I do, it is usually to see a touring artist. Maybe I am out of touch, but it seems like it is harder than ever to get people out to see local bands. People seem so content just sitting around looking at their phones. I think to get people out you really need to make it an event. Book several bands together and hope a collective fan base will make it a success.
PG: I listen to a lot of local music but the one artist who has always stood out to me is Wendy Spitzer/Felix Obelix. Her music is always genuinely different and her own thing outside of what may be going on musically at the time. She really goes out of her way to add visuals as well.