Q&A: Smoke From All The Friction

In conversation with Cam Gillette and Kenny Andrews of electropop duo Smoke From All The Friction.

Substance and style; Cam Gillette and Kenny Andrews of Smoke From All The Friction are determined to have it all. The electropop duo are all about creating meaningful electropop and playing it with panache.

The duo’s discography plunges into industrial barb and coasts over sparkling EDM by turns. Andrews and Gillette clearly relish the many moods of electropop, and pride themselves on their inventive execution.

As for style, you never know what to expect from the Raleigh band’s shows. Past appearances have included flashy visuals, an audience drum circle, and experimentation with livestreams that bring fans into the Smoke From All Friction fray.

Gillette and Andrews let me in on how they met, their ideas about spectacle in live shows, and just how they built Kenny’s impressive electronic drum setup.

Cam and Kenny, you two were introduced through a yoga meetup. When did you first begin talking about music? What were those early conversations between you like?

Kenny: Yeah! We met through the acro yoga community in Raleigh and became friends. I think most of our early music conversations were about bands we are into and our musical tastes. I felt like Cam commented on a Memphis May Fire tank I was wearing at one point. I pointed out the Tool sticker on the back of his car another time. From there, we started chatting more at house gatherings and bars. I would say it took a year or so before we thought of playing together in a band. At first I was asked if I could perform at a couple SFATF gigs. From there it kind of just progressed to what we are now. I don’t think there was an “aha” moment or anything, it was all very organic. 

Cam: A band is similar to most relationships; involving maturity, humility and chemistry. I had worked and gone though a decent number of other players, and asked him to play a few shows with me. He was reliable and easy to work with. Shortly after that we had a conversation where we basically both asked each other, “what do you want out of this” and “what do you have to offer?” I’ve found if you have that kind of conversation early in a relationship of any kind, it avoids a lot of the drama and missed expectations.

Kenny, you learned to drum on a classic kit, but for Smoke From All The Friction, you and Cam built a massive electronic drum setup yourselves. What materials did you use, and where did you source them from? How has that expanded palette of sound changed your playing?

Kenny: Ah! I take back what I just said. This was the “aha” moment for me, our first creation! So Cam and I were chatting one day on how to incorporate these four electronic drum pads he has. As you mentioned, I learned drums on a classic kit and have been playing classic kits since high school. I still play on my twenty-two piece kit at my house recreationally. So because of this I have a lot of drumming hardware and pieces I’ve “broken” over the years at my disposal.

The percussion pad thing we built is made up of a broken boom cymbal stand, a Latin Percussion mount, a piece of a cowbell kick-drum mount, and the four electronic drum pads along with electronic brain. It truly is a unique creation and is so fun to play. By the powers of Cam’s computer knowledge, the four different pads change their sound from song to song, and sometimes even in the same song. So I’ve gone from playing on a twenty-two piece kit to playing four seemingly infinite pads. Also, unlike the classic performing drum setup, I play the pads front stage while standing. Last, but certainly not least, it only takes me one trip from my car to the venue and about two minutes at most to set up the percussion pad we built when we perform. #blessed.

Cam, rather than writing “genre” songs, you like to work from what you call “outlines” or “blueprints” in your songwriting process. For instance, you might try to write a song that feels like a color. Tell me more about the outlines that have structured your music, and give me an example of how you’ve integrated that inspiration into a song.

Cam: One of the advantages of doing all the different roles of a songwriter, musician, engineer and performer is that you have a lot of control over the entire product. However, the problem is that it becomes a lot to deliver for one person. So to work around that, I try to very intentionally separate my behavior into different roles. Outlining concepts and goals are a large part of that. So the more time I can spend away from the mixing console and writing out my intentions, plans, and bigger vision, the easier it is to stay on target.

An example of this would be how I wrote the album Transience. For the album, I wrote a number of interludes to connect different songs into a more cohesive theme. So I wrote the themes and feelings of the “main” tracks in the album, and with that written I could far more easily create the vision for the interludes between the tracks because I knew where I would be coming from and where I needed to end up.

This question is for both of you. The band Nine Inch Nails has come up a lot as an influence for Smoke From All The Friction, and among their many endeavors, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have scored several films together, including The Social Network, Bird Box, and Gone Girl. Let’s say the two of you could score a film together. What film genre do you think your music would best lend itself to?

Kenny: The film would definitely have to be futuristic and electronic. I’d say something along the lines of The Matrix trilogy, Tron, Ready Player One, and/or Blade Runner.  

Cam: I agree, I’ve always enjoyed more “futuristic” or dystopian-sounding music. So something a bit more dark, focusing on the near infinite abilities of good or ill humans can and have achieved. I really enjoyed the soundtrack of the new Blade Runner as well. I heard a quote about the Terminator 2 soundtrack, where the soundtrack was almost indistinguishable from the sound effect track, and that would be an intriguing challenge.

As Smoke From All The Friction, you guys continue to push the envelope at your live shows. Previous shows have included projected visuals, strobe light breakdowns, even an electronic drum circle involving the crowd. What does the concept of spectacle in a live show mean to you? How will you raise the bar at future shows?

Cam: We live in a culture where there’s a fine line where pushing creative borders turns into an avante-garde experience. I try to shoot for a 70/30 ratio, where we can’t violate more than 30% of something uncommon or experimental, because we want to leave the audience with some familiar to hold onto so they can focus more on the unfamiliar things we’re also bringing. Some places we’re experimenting with is having crowd interaction with lights and other media. Or having a level of interaction with our livestreamed shows, where the crowd can functionally interact with us in specific ways through the net.

Kenny: We like to leave a memorable impression at our shows. We don’t want to look or sound like just another band at a bar. We constantly change instruments and perform our songs in a way that, I feel, people aren’t used to seeing. Our visuals and light shows are custom-made to our songs. Those visuals help convey a mood and aesthetic that enhances our sound. We like to challenge ourselves to see what all we can achieve live. That being said, there’s no telling what else we may try to implement in our future performances.    

Smoke From All The Friction has a new album in the works. If you had to name a few albums by other artists that have inspired your latest project, what would they be? It could be from a thematic standpoint, a production standpoint- anything.

Cam: SFATF has a goal of trying to bring more niche ideas and sounds to an audience that doesn’t get to hear them. Some current artists include synthwave artists: Perturbator and Daniel Deluxe, pop artists: The Band CAMINO, electronic : SOPHIE and HEALTH.

What’s an interview question you’ve never been asked that you’d like to answer?

Cam: What are the wrong ways to be an artist in 2019?

Kenny: What’s your favorite instrument to play and why?

All images courtesy of Smoke From All The Friction.

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Q&A: In Conversation with Zephyranthes

I caught up with Zephyranthes on their recording process, their birth in the Raleigh underground, and their favorite conspiracy theories.

Nomenclature and musical genre fusion share a similar problem. You can shove a handful of syllables together, but that won’t make your new word pronounceable. Likewise, you can blend influences from a wide variety of genres into a band’s oeuvre, but that won’t make for a coherent sound.

Raleigh band Zephyranthes, who pull from jazz, psychedelia, math rock, and prog rock, could’ve easily gone one of two ways. By stitching together disparate elements, the listening experience could’ve become a scavenger hunt of name-that-influence, without ever coalescing into a distinct whole. They also could’ve tipped too far the other way, melting elements together into a wall of reverb, full of sound and fury, signaling nothing.

The great joy, then, of Zephyranthes, is the seemingly effortless synthesis of favorite genres into something that sounds utterly fresh. Michael Lamardo’s jazz-driven drumming creates the strong spine of a two-handed, tightly-coiled beast: namely, Elijah Melanson on guitar, and Logan Maxwell’s bass, vocals, and saxophone. Every genre component- the complex rhythms, the distorted vocals, the psychedelic guitar- remain distinct and recognizable, even as they serve the group’s greater sound. And each member of the trio gets a chance to display their (prodigious) chops without sacrificing a moment of musical synchronicity.

Over beer at Foundation, Melanson, Maxwell, and Lomardo play off one another in conversation just as well as they do in their music, scooping in and out of stories, laughter, and explanation just as they dip in and out of musical genres.

I caught up with Zephyranthes on the recording process of their latest EP, their birth in the Raleigh underground, and their favorite conspiracy theories.

TTG: For Zephyranthes III, you guys recorded at Fidelitorium out in Kernersville, and Missy Thangs produced. What made that studio the right choice for the new EP?

Elijah: It was the right choice. I think we’ve heard her work, as well as just bands around who’ve recorded at Fidelitorium. Everybody’s tracking out there and getting awesome results, so we asked around.

Logan: I had previously recorded with another group I was in.

Michael: I keep forgetting you recorded there before!

TTG: With Vacant Company, right?

Logan: Yes! I really enjoyed that experience. That whole place is like- there’s no- well, there’s a computer for the monitor, but there’s no computers or screens, and it’s all, like, old ‘70s furniture.

Elijah: They have a blue naugahyde couch, which is beautiful.

Logan: And you spend the night there. It’s usually like, you come in, you shoot it out, you go. And then you come back the next day, or whatever. But with this, there’s a guesthouse and you stay, and you cook dinner together, and you’re a team, and so it’s more immersive. And I was like…if we could repeat that with this group, we’re going to come out with something good.

TTG: I want to talk to you guys about your experiences with math rock as a genre. What led to you embracing math rock right out of the gate?

Elijah: That’s a really tricky question because I think it’s such a wide label, and I think we’re trying to embrace that aspect of it. Because it’s just outsider music, in a way.

It’s interesting that the psychedelic scene has so much to do with progressive rock, which as a lot to do with math rock…they’re all sort of intertwined, and I think we’re somewhere in the confluence of all three of those things.

TTG: Michael, tell me about your training. Did you study classic jazz, or was it more jazz-infused rock from the beginning?

Michael: So, the thing is, I didn’t go to school for music. I went to school at a very unrefined music business program at a small school in upstate New York.

I played through high school and college, but I didn’t really- I took lessons through a guy in Syracuse in New York, where I’m from, but like, mostly, I’m pretty much self-taught in a lot of ways. But yeah, I admit I was kind of an insufferable jazz purist for like, about five, six years.

Logan: He knows all the standards.

Michael: Mostly in high school. And then I guess I went to college, and I guess it’s the typical freshman in college, who like, smokes pot once and gets introduced to crazy stuff.

But then, I don’t know, my palette started to expand and I still love jazz, I still take it very seriously. If you talked to me ten years ago, I would’ve never imagined playing in a project like this. Ever. Not for any bad reason. My drumsticks back then were essentially toothpicks, but I never played with 5A rock sticks until now. It’s kind of funny how it evolved.

I think it’s interesting to approach what we’re doing with jazz…I don’t want to say chops, that’s a very tense word. I don’t know, I’ve kind of always wanted to experiment with those elements. Drummers like Jack DeJohnette and Brian Blade and people like that. And if I can mix that into a prog and math rock environment…and it has its ups and downs, sometimes it doesn’t always fit, but that’s the point of it.

Elijah: Yeah, Logan and I were both saxophone players. He plays saxophone- I’m not nearly the saxophone player he is. So we both did the jazz thing too. I was actually a jazz fusion performance major at school. Which I never say that anymore ‘cause I don’t want to get roped into playing jazz.

Logan: When I grew up, I was listening to Stan Getz. Because I was playing saxophone, so I’d be listening to that type of music. So it formulated early for all of us.

Elijah: Where I think it comes together is where we improvise so much together. Where every time we get together we’re improvising.

Logan: That’s usually how we start rehearsal.

Elijah: We always jam. And I think that’s fundamental to, like, the jazz experience. It’s just…wanting to improvise with structure.

Logan: Make something new!

Elijah: Continually. We have a track that we play live, too, “Nigredo,” which is like our weird, misshapen jazz ballad. It’s guitar and saxophone and then we just get really crazy every time. It’s like a little performance art piece.

TTG: Tell me more about jamming at the beginning of rehearsal. Does that loosen…the…I’m trying to think of a good phrase. I was going to say “loosen the juice” but that’s maybe the worst thing that’s ever come out of anybody’s mouth.

Elijah: Loosen the juice!

Logan: That’s actually the first track of our next EP! No, that just kind of happened naturally, like, none of us were like, “Hey! Every time we step in we should definitely improvise together.” We all love to make stuff up and like…it’s honestly hard to reign us in sometimes during rehearsals.

Elijah: It’s a big tension releaser, and it really helps reset the tone. It’s fundamental to our process of developing new material.

Logan: It’s communicative. In a good week, we’ll practice once a week. And we haven’t seen each other in a while, and we just like, walk in, and somebody will be noodling and then we’ll all be like-

Michael: Cool!

Logan: Yeah, let’s just noodle. Y’know what I mean? I really like it.

Michael: Fifty percent of it, let’s be real, is just procrastination. When we actually have to do some work.

TTG: In terms of your songwriting process, you guys have mentioned in previous interviews that it’s pretty democratic. How do you keep that process democratic?

Logan: The democratic process is tough. And I don’t even know that it’s democratic, because we’re not voting. It’s just like, “Yo, play that. Oh, that sounds pretty good. Eh, let’s try something else. ” And it’s almost like- I think what helps is that we all have similar and dissimilar influences, but are trying to create something that sounds really good and is cohesive. And if you as a unit have a similar end goal in mind, the nuances work themselves out

Elijah: We all have dissimilar influences but we all agree that it can’t be certain things.

Logan: It has to be new. At the end, we’ll play sections and we’ll be like, “That would be good if we were a funk band. But we’re not.” So we’ve got to figure out a way to make it us.

Michael: Lots of tweaking!

Logan: I have to say, yeah, there totally is. Elijah is very good in particular at being able to take a section, and even though it’s a verse, we’re trying not to stray too far- there are like, verses and choruses at least. But if you tweak the verse, you can make it interesting every rotation, by slightly adding something as you go. It’s really nice to be in a group where everybody is contributing as much as they can.

Elijah: Definitely, yeah. I think there are a lot of like, compositional things that we try and incorporate to set us apart a little bit. And thinking about, like, influences from different brands of composition, y’know?

Logan: We’re all really big fans of the Romantic period of classical music.

Elijah: Like Chopin and stuff.

Logan: Which you might be able to hear.

Elijah: We’re just trying to be punk rock Phillip Glass. I don’t know.

Logan: That’s the next sticker, dude.

TTG: I wanted to ask you guys about your origins. You formed in late 2015.

Logan: Oh my god, it’s been that long?

Michael: That’s right. If I remember right, I met you [Elijah] at the end of 2014 on Craigslist and I was kinda new to Raleigh at the time, and I didn’t really know any musicians, and I put out this desperate Craigslist ad, like “Hi, I’m a drummer, I want to play with people, I just want to play drums.” Pretty much.

I went and joined another project for about six to seven months, I can’t totally remember. It didn’t really work out. But then I was like, Elijah…what were you doing again? Let’s start that up.

Elijah: We finalized arrangements.

Michael: And that’s what’s important about the first EP, actually. Most of that music was already written by you [Elijah]. It was already done. And you didn’t have the musicians to do it.

Logan: Except for “Suck It.”

Elijah: Yeah, “Suck It,” was really, like, Logan’s. And “China.” And I was also on Craigslist furiously looking for people. And a mutual friend from college…

Logan: …knew the guitarist from Vacant Company. And I knew him through Tommy as well, from Vacant Company. And he was like, yeah, my friend just moved to North Carolina and he’s looking for people to jam with. And we were like, alright we’ll go jam with him. It’s me, Tommy, the guitarist from Vacant Company, and Elijah. We did a really crazy-ass storage unit jam.

Elijah: It was in the middle of one of the big snows of late 2015.

Logan: It was cold as all- and we were in the storage unit playing crazy stuff and at the end of that, Elijah’s like, hey man, I’m making a new band. It’s gonna be- and then listed, I kid you not- like twelve genres in a row. That none of them made sense together. And I was like, that’s gonna be a hard no. Like, I’m not gonna be in your band, that’s like, funk-metal-prog-jazz-soul-indie-orchestra.

And three months later, we bumped into each other, same mutual friends, and…you either gave me a flash drive or you gave me your computer. And you were like, “Listen to the demos, please, I need a bassist.” Because they had been trying out bassists at this time. And I listened to the first minute and I was like, “Oh, shit.”

And of course, I was in totally trash indie and prog bands and so I showed up to the first rehearsal, and I hadn’t practiced at all. And they were like, “Oh, you definitely should’ve learned all the charts before we got here.” And I was like, oh man, these dudes are pro. I’m digging this!

Michael: Even before that…I didn’t know who you were at the time. You came up to me at Slim’s and you were like, “You and I are going to be in a band together.” And I was like, who are you? I had no idea who this cat was at the time. No idea.

Logan: He thought I was like some stalker. This weird mustachioed man is like, “Yeah, we’re gonna be in a band together.”

Michael: Is like, another alternative life colliding with my current one right now?

TTG: It’s closed now, but you refined your sound at The Kosher Hut. What about The Kosher Hut and that environment allowed you to distill who Zephyranthes was going to become?

Elijah: Naked painting during rehearsals.

Logan: That was wild, dude.

Elijah: That was one of the crucial things.

Logan: It was a great spot. I was living there, at the time. And, y’know, it made for an incredibly convenient rehearsal space, but the vibe in general was just creativity. It was me, with, like, five other people there, I think one of us was living in a blanket fort at the time, one of us was in the living room. It was a wild place.

We would rehearse and we hadn’t written anything. It was brand new, and we were just learning some of the tunes Elijah had come in with, which I believe was “Edelweiss,” the beginning part of “China King”, and “Nigredo.” So we were learning those songs, and Joe Wright lived there and painted my bass.

Elijah: Naked painting.

Michael: It was naked painting.

Logan: He would come in and he’d set up sheets and he’d strip down and he’d paint naked. Huge canvases, eight foot canvases while we were playing. And I felt empowered in a way, like, wow, we can inspire someone to create. We started to write and hone that. And we didn’t want to play there too often. I think we only ended up playing there twice.

Michael: Once. It was only once.

Elijah: So, The Kosher Hut, to put it in perspective, was a house and a ballet studio in the back. So the ballet studio, they would host house shows in. It was a two hundred cap room. It was a really big spot, and it sounded wonderful.

Logan: We started to get some good touring acts in there too, at the end of it. In the last years, before they bulldozed it. Now, it’s literally just a grassy knoll. Totally done. Which is kinda cool. It ended!

Elijah: We can reveal the location, now.

Logan: Yeah, 620 Price Street. It ended. It was like, the house is getting bulldozed guys, you’re out.

Michael: The mailbox is still there.

Logan: We had some really good times there.

Michael: I feel like I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Elijah: It was kind of like a combinator of bands. ‘Cause Vacant Company came up in there, y’know, we came up in there.

Logan: Yeah, Lonnie Walker practiced in there a little bit. When they reformed. Drag Sounds had a few practices in there. Every band practiced there. It was like eighteen, twenty local bands practiced there. And everybody scattered like roaches.

Elijah: And for a lot of scene mainstays, it was one of their first places that they played in Raleigh. Like Zack Mexico, from the Outer Banks where I grew up, that was one of their big breaks, was playing The Kosher Hut.

Logan: You got in front of over one hundred local people right away. Sure, we weren’t pulling in a ton of cash, it was donation-based. But that wasn’t the point. You got to play for people who enthusiastically enjoyed your stuff. I’m glad we got Blanko Basnet in there, Canine Heart Sounds got in there. It was good.

Elijah: The Bronzed Chorus, Night Idea, Arc Iris.

Logan: Yeah, we pulled Arc Iris somehow. But we locked down those invites hard. We never shared the address. You have to park in the right places, you turn your lights off, you come in, you keep it chill. We kept all the lights off on the outside of the house. We had police drive by, and they didn’t know what was going on.

Michael: It was systematic.

Logan: You couldn’t hear anything from the street.

Michael: You really couldn’t.

Logan: And so they’d just see a ton of cars, but there’s nobody out boozing it up on the lawn or the street. And they couldn’t hear anyone. So we kept it locked down, man.

Michael: I do remember the first time I went, it was like, look for the house that looks like McDonald’s. ‘Cause it was red and yellow.

Elijah: It was pretty unsightly. It’s definitely a contrast to some venues that you see nowadays which have social media presences in the Raleigh area.

Michael: They’re branding themselves now.

Elijah: Yeah. Which I think is cool, I mean, we love those venues. Oh, and I would have to say that Kosher Fest was, like, a seminal Raleigh show.

Logan: I don’t know how we threw that together, man. Mad credit to Jason Warnoff of Vacant Company for booking a lot of that. He booked probably sixty percent of those acts, Tommy Quinn booked another twenty, I probably booked another twenty percent. And we had two stages, simultaneous, for the whole day. Marc Russell- who finally has a brick and mortar store for his food truck, Longleaf Swine- had his food truck there. He sold out.

Elijah: He had an eighteen foot trailer.

Logan: Yeah, he brought an eighteen foot trailer there into the yard. And we had to park it the day before. He sold out of plates by like, 5:30.

Michael: I bought two plates.

Elijah: It was amazing. All the bands. So many bands!

Logan: Everybody played. That was crazy. The only person that didn’t get to play was Oak City Slums, because when somebody said that the police drove by, he split.

Elijah: Understandable.

Logan: Understandable. But everybody else played. It was great.

TTG: No question the Raleigh underground scene has changed a lot. Where do you hope it goes in the future?

Logan: It is tough for a house, even if you garner the attention and the crowds and the vibe, to have the right architecture. It sounds stupid, but you have to have a big enough space in your place to host the show. And if it’s an old home, split into these smaller rooms, back when they were building wood supports, like- you can’t have it.

And what I hope to see- and I think Nick Neptune is onto it- there’s areas where people bought up warehouses, expecting to sell it to the soccer stadium that’s not going to get built. And they are doing nothing with those spaces. So eventually, somebody with money who loves the scene enough is going to start doing it. ‘Cause it’s gotta be private property. But the prices are so expensive that somebody in our income bracket isn’t going to be able to buy a warehouse and just start throwing shows. It’s tough.

Michael: Also, I think, Raleigh, since I’ve been here- I think Raleigh is still developing its identity in a lot of ways, if you go to New York City, or Memphis, or Nashville, their identity coincides with the music scene. And I think Raleigh is still working on that. There’s really no centralized point of like, this is what Raleigh’s about. But I think it’s coming up. You know, the city’s still growing. Diversity is good. There’s so many different scenes. But there’s really no centralized Raleigh sound. And that’s fine. It takes a long time.

TTG: What’s your favorite conspiracy theory?

Michael: Oh man, I’m not starting this one off.

Logan: Are we talking like, government-based, music-based?

Elijah: Yeah, if we get into music-based, there’s some really good ones. Like, the whole Canyon Valley conspiracy? So y’know the Laurel Canyon conspiracy, where all the Laurel Canyon folk rockers- all of their parents are like, CIA and government intelligence.

Which, like, Jim Morrison’s dad, I think- I don’t know, Crosby, from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Zappa, guys like that- they’re all in this little zone. It’s like, an MKUltra Project, to get super musicians to influence American public opinion. It’s great. Read that one! That’s cool!

Logan: Y’know, flat earth obviously, is a go-to. I mean, they had the convention in Raleigh, and the new documentary came out, I’m big into that, that’s a good one. Behind the Curve, you should check it out.

Beyond that, Alex Jones slowly unraveling. I don’t know if you’ve heard any of his recent exclamations that the upper elites of society are draining themselves of blood and taking a large amount of DNT to commune with the machine elves. That are telling them how to shape society to move in a progressive fashion.

Elijah: You also have the quote, recently, where he’s like, “Yeah, they’re wizards with palantirs, and they’re smoking marijuana, and looking into crystal palantirs with psychedelics…”

Logan: And it’s like, I hate him as a person, he’s a scumbag, terrible person-

Elijah: Trash.

Logan: But the fact that- draining themselves of blood, taking large amounts of DNT to commune with the machine elves- I was like- whoa. That is a- even just machine elves! What is it? It opens so many doors in terms of just, me being able to, like- whoa, what am I even imagining right now? Like…I’m communing with the machine elves.

Elijah: That’s a whole theory unto itself.

Logan: That is a whole theory unto itself. Like. What is that? Now obviously, flat earth is the go-to, but the machine elves…that tripped me recently. Last week’s favorite conspiracy theory.

Michael: My favorite was from an Uber driver I had last month. When I was coming back from Salt Lake City. He said that he was working on his latest book. And he was transposing it for YouTube. And it was all about how there was an intergalactic cooperation at the middle star of Orion’s belt where they’re protecting the galaxy. It involves NASA. He sounded so convinced, he was like, “Yeah, man, you’ve got to look it up. There’s an intergalactic meeting happening at Orion’s belt. The meeting is happening right now.” That was the longest Uber ride of my life.

Logan: That’s a good question. It probably, secretly, tells you a lot about somebody’s personality, their favorite conspiracy theory. I think that’s every conspiracy theorist’s worst fear, is that they will actually be proven right. They get to the two hundred foot ice wall, and they’re just like…it’s here!

Elijah: It’s here! I’m at the edge of Earth! It’s a flat disc!

Logan: Think about flat earth. What’s on the other side?

Elijah: Is it just endless space? It’s a Cartesian plane.

Logan: It just opens up so many doors. What’s on the other side of the ice wall? Is it another Earth with just a different…it’s all the same experimental conditions and we’re just a petri dish? And then it’s the same exact Earth with the same exact…

Michael: If you don’t stop him now…

Elijah: We’re going down a hole.

TTG: I wanted to ask about sonic distortion in your records, because you guys have really leaned into that kind of production since the beginning of your recording career. In terms of how it affects vocals, the lyrics are not necessarily intelligible-it’s more about emotion, it’s about the stretching of sound. Talk me through that.

Logan: So…it all began when I was a child. [Laughs.] No, for real though, this does start with that. So when I was fifteen, I heard a record by Sigor Ros- and he wrote everything in a fake language. It was just syllable singing. It was called Hopelandic. Totally unintelligible. It meant nothing. But it meant everything. Because you interpreted it how you needed to interpret it. It blew me away as a fifteen year old.

And so as we moved into the lyrical phase for this group in particular, it became more about the space we’re filling, and less about the lyrics.

What we started to do was experiment with pedals. So we started to do delay pedals, I started running my vocals through delay pedals, and then I started running my vocals through a chorus pedal, and in particular a really cheap, crappy chorus pedal.

Elijah: Yeah, it’s like a twenty dollar chorus pedal.

Logan: It’s like, at best, a twenty dollar chorus pedal. It really compresses and kind of treble-izes the vocals in a weird way. And so when we brought that same pedal in to Missy, in Fidelitorium, I said, well, I sing through this live, it’s a big part of our live sound, me singing through this chorus pedal. When we put it through and like, gained out, it had this really sparkly, kind of beautiful quality to it, in a weird way. And so we were like, we’ve got to keep that.

TTG: A lot of the guitar sounds coming out of pure math rock are very clean. And you guys definitely diverge from that. Elijah, tell me more about how that affects your guitar playing and how you incorporate technology into that.

Elijah: Totally! I came from this perspective of being this really huge gearhead for many years. And then got to this point where I didn’t really care about it so much, and just cared about what the end result was. So, you know, if you have to smack your guitar, you have to hit it against the ceiling, whatever. It’s all valid.

Logan: It’s not like math rock is easy listening, but the harmonic content of math rock seems to be relatively- it doesn’t change a lot. It’s very technical and angular, but a lot of times it’s like they’re sticking either with a very dissonant tone, or it’s easy listening, almost.

Elijah: Yeah, like you’re saying, it all pulls from very simple harmonic material or very complex material.

Logan: Too dissonant.

Elijah: So trying to work in some of that jazz influence. And really loving harmonies. That’s one of my big things. I just love chords and stuff.

Logan: But you get to fuzz out- he uses a really gated fuzz a lot of times. A very in-your-face, aggressive…and again, it’s the space you fill, as a trio, you have to fill space and be interesting. You don’t have the luxury of having a rhythm guitarist, so I have a thick pedal on my bass a lot of times.

Like, I either have an octave pedal, or I have a harmonizer on, like in some other form, or I’m picking really hard to get a thick tone, and then he’s got like- the sonic palette to fill as much of that treble area as he wants, right? Because my singing range is really high already, and it’s kind of thinned out and distorted. So it’s filling its space, but like he gets to like- and the distortion helps you be more in-your-face about it.

Elijah: Definitely. That style came from listening to Annie Clark and St. Vincent. And John Frusciante, Cedric and Omar. People like that. It’s almost more about the timbre impact of the part-writing rather than necessarily the number of notes you’re playing or how it’s going. So stepping back and viewing guitar in more of a soundscape-type area.

TTG: Before we wrap up here, is there anything you’d like to say to the kids at home? I don’t know what kids would be reading this blog.

Logan: Yeah, the kids at home. Um…think about what’s on the other side of the ice wall.

Elijah: On the flat earth. That’s important. Maybe we’re there. That’s where our next show is.

Michael: Live at the ice wall.

TTG: If you played at the ice wall, you’d have to do a live album.

Elijah: I mean, people have been trying to recreate Woodstock for years.

Michael: Next show is live at the ice wall.


All photos by Olivia Huntley. Photos courtesy of Zephyranthes.

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Q&A: Rapper and Producer Steezie on Effortless Artistry

The Raleigh artist sounds off on the genesis of his flow and how he operates in the studio.

Whether he’s buoying a crowd behind the mic, or orchestrating chest-rattling bass in the studio, rapper, producer, and engineer Steezie maintains his tranquility.

The name “Steezie” is an amalgamation of the words “style” and “ease;” words that the Raleigh-based artist has built his persona around.

For a look at that internal placidity in action, check out the music video for his 2017 single, “MI AMOR.” Steezie jumps, spins, and grooves around The Raleigh Rose Garden. His dancing could easily motivate a crowd and anchor a party, but his easygoing smile and economy of movement all feel utterly effortless.

Steezie rarely strays from an unblemished vocal delivery and low-pitched placement. His flow is the star; he’ll spit rapid-fire for several bars before stretching out syllables like taffy.

Steezie’s lyrics compliment the image of effortless mastery he’s cultivated. Generally featuring his skills as a lover and his ability to foresee snakes in the grass, he positions himself as a man in command, always a little slyer than his enemies.

Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Steezie’s move to the States coincided with his decision to make music. He spent the following ten years learning his craft, and cut his teeth performing in Raleigh.

When I met Steezie over Hangouts, I found that his particular brand of passionate equilibrium carried over from his public persona to his personal life. He’s happy to share, enthusiastic about his projects and the development of the Raleigh rap scene, but he sustains an unruffled air at all times.

I spoke with Steezie about the sounds coming out of the Raleigh rap scene, how he navigates his time in the studio, and how his roots have shaped his style.

What are your favorite places in Raleigh?

Oh, I love Kings Barcade. I definitely love…The Pour House is a nice spot. Except that they don’t accept people under twenty-one, which is a killer because people in that age range listen to our music a lot. I like The Ritz. That was definitely the best place I’ve performed at. The Wicked Witch is another spot that I’ve been to. That’s really good. Those are some of my favorite spots, definitely, in downtown Raleigh.

What are a few of your favorite shows you’ve performed in, and what made them your favorite?

I performed one time in Boone at a college event. It was a frat party and that was one of my favorites. The energy inside this frat house was really crazy. They rooted for us from the start to the end, and they were just on point the whole time. The energy didn’t stop from start to finish. It was not a big venue or anything crazy. When you’re in something that everyone is participating in, and involved, and everyone is cheering for you, it’s something special.

Is crowd energy what makes a show for you?

Generally, yes, crowd energy is definitely the biggest factor. I would also say this; the Ritz was a great place that I performed at, even though it was a different crowd from…basically from young to old. It wasn’t a targeted group of people. So it was hard to capture the crowd with that different sound. It was a weird experience, but it was great. It was the biggest stage I’ve performed at.

In addition to being a rapper and an artist, you’re also a producer and an engineer.

Yes, I do engineer for myself. When I started out as an artist, and I had friends that I saw were creating and making beats and engineering, I used to sit back and I felt left out, so I was like, “Yo, I’m going to see what that’s about.”

So I got into the studio and started making beats and producing, and while I was producing I got connected with different artists from around the city. And they were trying to hop on my beats, and sometimes I didn’t get to record them because I didn’t know anybody that recorded people. So I started learning how to engineer. It’s all connected together: producing, engineering, and artistry. It’s all connected together, it all helped out.

And it’s created something special, not only for myself but for the upcoming scene here in North Carolina. I get to see so much talent come through and being able to get on a verse, or make the beat, or engineer the song is…I want to be involved in any type of way, you know? So that’s why I love it.

If you had to typify the sound coming out of the Raleigh rap scene right now, how would you describe it in a few words?

Well, right now it’s evolving because we have so many different sides and parts of Raleigh. I don’t even know if you can even give us a stamp on a sound, because we have an old school sound from Rapsody, she’s got that boom bap. So we’ve got that type of sound, we have artists that make trap music, we have R&B…we got so much to offer. Like I can’t even put it all in one box. So it’s really everywhere, that’s the interesting part. It’s just gonna take the right years to come and listen and find this area and hear what we have going on. It’s something special.

It’s terrific. What would you say are the greatest challenges facing the scene as it develops?

The greatest challenges right now…I just feel like people…I feel like people should connect more and not so much have an expectation towards situations that have other people involved. Like shows, or going into a studio, or collaborating with an artist. I think people’s first impressions towards artists are not really good. I think people should go out there and really get to understand the artist and get to creating. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musical artist, or photographer, or a video person. I think we should open up to each other a lot more, because we have so much to offer for each other.

Everybody wants to get that coastline, from Atlanta and New York and L.A. and stuff…but the people are here, within us, like the producers are here around us, the video people are here around us, so everybody should just reach out more. Go to events. Go to the studio. Go link up with a video person, talk to them, you know, be friends with them. Besides just music, just connect with them so things can move forward.

That makes sense to me. Let’s talk genre for a sec. You have a really interesting old school hip hop approach to genre, in that you pull from a wide palette of sounds. There’s a real R&B feel in “Sublime,” and you’ve got an alt-rock feel with “Evaporate.”

Yeah.

You also definitely use sounds that are associated with hip hop. What inspires you to use that old school approach and pull from a variety of genres?

I’m so eager to make different types of sounds, and show people what I’m capable of making. Because I don’t want to be boxed into one type of genre.

I want to break that boundary, because right now, what being an artist is about…people have a certain sound. Like when you hear a certain sound, you’re automatically associated with one artist. Oh, that’s- that’s him. My whole like thing is like, I want to do songs that people don’t realize it’s me. They’ll be, like, “Yo, who is this?” And then they’re like, “Oh, he doesn’t even make that type of stuff,” you know? I feel like being a producer too helps out a lot, because I have so much to pick from, sounds to pick from, that I can just go to. I have old school sounds, and I can’t take out that old school root for me. I love it. I feel like it will always stay alive.

Absolutely. One of the hallmarks of your flow that I wanted to draw attention to is how effortless it seems. Even if you’re doing something that’s technically difficult, it always feels natural, like you’re not breaking a sweat. You pair that with a really organic sampling style. How did that approach evolve?

That approach is just…it’s just me. It’s Steez! My whole name is “style and ease,” that’s how the root came together. That just who I am. And I’m very introverted. I’m quiet. You know, I have…most of the time I’m just quiet. And I take things with a lighter approach. So that’s how I approach my music. Like I don’t need to prove anything. I’m making the art from from my heart, not to prove the point that I’m the hottest out or anything like that.

That makes sense.

Yeah. But I definitely have songs where I am not quiet. Like, it’s that party vibe, I still have that party side in me a lot. So it’s going to come. Right now I’m in a slow type of music, my music is slow-tempoed, but I’m bringing that fast energy very soon, so I’m excited for that.

Because you have these aspects of you as a producer, as an engineer, and then you frequently generate your own beats to rap over, what in your mind makes for an iconic beat- a great beat to rap to?

Right now, what makes a great beat is something really raw and organic. Something that just flows within you. Like, if you were to sit there and make a beat for ten, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. I know that sounds like a rush, but if you’re just trusting your gut, you just trust your gut will place things where they are supposed to be. It’s about trusting yourself. The producer that trusts themselves, and believes they can make something in a small amount of time just by going with the flow and the energy in that time, are the greatest producers right now. Because it’s simple, it has to be open for the artist to throw different different types of cadences to it. So that’s what makes a great beat. Something open and vibey for the artist to get on and do that thing.

So it’s all about instinct.

Yes. This is really about instinct. You got to be raw at it. Because when you’re in the studio, the process is you have an artist behind you. And they don’t want to sit and wait for you to make a beat in like, a whole hour. By that time, most of the time artists are already like…the ideas have really flown out their head. So if you’re making it right on the spot, you’re done with it in ten minutes, and you know the artist gets on it and that way the energy is captured right there. Everybody’s just passing around this energy. It’s crazy. It’s magic.

It’s like catching lightning in a bottle.

Seriously. So that’s how you create something great right there.

Very cool. I wanted to touch on that you’re originally from Harare, Zimbabwe.

Yes.

And you moved here in 2008. What was that transition like?

It was really different. Because it wasn’t like I was not aware of the culture here. I knew the culture here. Like, you know, I was watching music videos. I was listening to Lil Wayne, I was listening to a lot of artists from here. And I knew a lot- I thought I knew a lot, but when I got here it was way different. I got to know what’s going on. It took me some time to get to understand how people are. You know, everybody’s different. So it took me some time to kind of adjust to the people here. And I got used to it, and I just grew into it. So it was great. It was awesome.

How do you integrate American influences with Zimbabwean influences? You’ve mentioned in the past that it affects your cadence. Tell me more about that.

“In Atlanta, their accent and flow and cadence is there and like- it’s just straightforward. Like for me, I had my accent. I can kind of blend in, so people could understand me. You know what I’m sayin’? I feel like that was one thing that I had to spend some time working. I had to find a certain place where I can fit my voice. And that soft cadence, it’s something that I had started out with and it was great. But I know I have so much more inside. So it’s been really great finding that.”


Photo courtesy of Steezie.

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Q&A: Playwright Natalie Sherwood on the Premiere of A Good Little Rain

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Q&A: Playwright Natalie Sherwood on The Premiere of A Good Little Rain

Natalie Sherwood on how their North Carolina roots shaped the writing of A Good Little Rain, a new play premiering at the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre at NC State.

In a production still of A Good Little Rain, a new play premiering at NC State this week, the cast of student actors peer through set pieces that represent mirrors. In these mirrors, the characters pose and posture, examine and evaluate their reflections.

The image distills the critical conflict within A Good Little Rain: how does self-image develop as a young person comes of age? And how will that self-image mutate through mental illness and grief?

These questions shape the play, which premieres at The Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre at NC State. Playwright and recent graduate Natalie Sherwood is one of the winners of The 2018 NC State Creative Arts Award, which honors exceptional original work in music, dance, and theatre by NC State students. Sherwood mined previous acting experience to translate their vision of a young person’s interior life to the stage.

Through the story of Michelle, Sherwood explores how identity emerges through grappling with depression, anxiety, and the loss of a parent. The nonlinear memory play dips into Michelle’s past and present, in dialogue punctuated by poetic interludes. The resulting character study is an unflinching portrayal of a young woman’s coming of age.

Sherwood’s commitment to realistic storytelling and emotional honesty stems from passion born of experience. The playwright drew inspiration from their own life in the writing of A Good Little Rain. The title of the play honors Sherwood’s mother, who wanted to write a book of the same name before her passing.

I caught up with Natalie Sherwood on realistically portraying mental illness, Southern narratives in theatre, and the writing of A Good Little Rain.

Tickets and more information on A Good Little Rain at go.ncsu.edu/goodlittlerain. A Good Little Rain runs from March 20th – March 24th, 2019.

In the description of A Good Little Rain, you explain: “Much of traditional theatre founds itself upon escapism and romanticism. I wanted to escape the escapism and deromanticize life’s hardships…”

Why was a realistic approach so important for the telling of this story?

At its core A Good Little Rain is an exploration of mental illness.  This story confronts very intimate challenges people face, internal struggles that are growing more universal but remain unspoken.  Unfortunately, in lucrative narratives these sorts of struggles with death, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and sexuality are often romanticized plot points.  They’re accessories and character quirks instead of dynamic sources of conflict.  I chose not to make light of these issues or make them seem uncommon.

There are parts of the play that exist in an unrealistic setting–a void within mirrors–but these sections are distinctly separated from reality only to portray a distorted self-image of the character, to encapsulate the vast emptiness that depressed people may feel.  The reality is that anxiety affects 18% of our adult population in the U.S.  More than 300 million people of all ages are affected by depression globally. Mental illness deserves our attention. It deserves to be seen as valid and treatable.  People deserve to know they’re not alone in their efforts to manage their mental health.  Hope is real.  

Who are your favorite playwrights? Who would you consider most influential in the writing of A Good Little Rain?

I am certain I have much to absorb when it comes to the expanse of playwrights in existence, but I do have an appreciation for Tom Stoppard and Theresa Rebeck.  They are meticulously clever in their word play and unyielding in their truths.  Christopher Durang is also a breath of fresh air when it comes to comedy.  

A Good Little Rain is inspired thoroughly by Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive.  I read the play in my Introduction to Theatre class at NC State a few years ago and worked with the text to direct a small vignette from the piece.  I found the story structure compelling—it alternates between the past and present, between observing scenes objectively and hearing personal accounts from the protagonist. 

You get to see her powerful, articulate voice juxtaposed with her lack of self-agency as her history unfolds.  It details a pedophilic relationship between a young woman and her uncle.  There is no pretense, no rose colored lens, no pandering; it is raw, ugly, vulnerable, and honest.  It is almost funny to say it out loud, but I was galvanized by a playwright so daring as to tell the truth.  

A Good Little Rain is a memory play based on your own experiences growing up in the South- and of course the South has a rich tradition of memory plays. How does A Good Little Rain pull from regional experience and Southern narratives? Where does it diverge?

Though it is a memory play, the content is contemporary in nature.  There are vignettes, however, that thrust the main character, Michelle, into her childhood often spent tailing after her grandfather doing odd projects.  Tender moments of nurturing and conflicting lessons of integrity influence her future mentality.  

I, too, spent time over my summers as a girl learning from my grandpa how to measure and saw wood, hammer nails, stain furniture, and add tiles to roofs.  Some of my favorite memories involve fishing at his backyard pond and mowing his acres of land on his green John Deere mower.  My grandpa taught me toughness, resourcefulness, compassion, and how to pull pranks.  Those same lessons he instilled in my mother, who originally wanted to author a book of the name A Good Little Rain.  She worked in tobacco fields and picked cotton for handfuls of change growing up.  Call it “southern grit” or what-have-you, but my mother had it.  The mother in the play is inspired by her.  

She and my grandpa also loved God fiercely.  They, and I, grew up Christian, as many Southerners do.  Throughout the play, Michelle loses her religion as she witnesses the death of her mother, who trusted God so deeply.  She struggles terribly with her failed attempts at prayer and by worshiping the wrong people.  The play doesn’t embody the entirety of the Southern experience, nor does it attempt to, but rather gives respectful and nostalgic nods to its rich influence on Michelle as a young woman.  

You’re an actor in addition to being a playwright. Did you find yourself looking at A Good Little Rain through an actor’s lens as you were writing it? How did being an actor inform your writing process?

Oh, absolutely.  I do not think I would be as successful in creating a fully fleshed out piece of theatre without my knowledge of the limitations of a stage.  There were moments I instinctively envisioned cinematically, with close frames and seamless cuts, and my actor brain had to work to translate it to the openness of a stage where almost nothing can be completely hidden from view. 

The most challenging aspect, I found, was keeping an eye out for the stage directions that implied acting choices.  I truly want the text to be interpreted by the actor, informed by their own life experience and psychology.  It was difficult to distinguish between an acting choice I made and a direction that singularly supported a character arc.        

The phrase “a good little rain” comes from your mother, who wanted to write a book herself with that title.

You describe the phrase as a saying from local farmers your mother encountered growing up in North Carolina: “She recalled hearing local farmers say they needed ““a good little rain,”” a shower that was just enough for their crops to survive the growing season.”

Needing just a little sustenance from an outside source to get by is a powerful idea. How does that concept come into play in A Good Little Rain?

It is interesting you say sustenance, when often people see a cloudy sky and rainy forecast as inconvenient and dreary.  Personally, I hold a soft spot for rain and petrichor.  Raindrops on a window and rumbling skies inspire pensivity and nostalgia in me.  Yet, for some ironic reason, as I related to Michelle’s character, I tended to view her mental illness and darkness as water. 

In one poetic interlude, she describes the heaviness she feels as though she is drowning, being swallowed by her sorrows and unwilling to swim.  By the end of the play, Michelle realizes that water is not all bad and that sometimes we need life’s obstacles to teach us how to grow. 

I think “a good little rain” is the stuff in life that we impulsively brush off as inopportune.  Somehow, years later, with compounded experience and introspection, we come to find that the rain we did not want was the rain we really needed.


Headshot courtesy of Natalie Sherwood.

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Q&A: Raleigh Scratchboard Artist Dorian Monsalve

A Q&A with Raleigh-based artist Dorian Monsalve, who brings fantastical visions to life in his surrealist scratchboard art.

Looking at Dorian Monsalve’s surrealist scratchboard art is like peering through an incredibly detailed kaleidoscope. Every glance reveals a new perspective. There are a multitude of vividly colored dimensions, each etched with unconventional shapes, textures, and ghoulish faces.

Scratchboard art- scratching away layers of ink on a clayboard to create images- captivated Monsalve since he first encountered the medium in high school.

Trained in Colombia and New Jersey, the now Raleigh-based Monsalve has exhibited in the Triangle since 2015. With solo and group exhibitions including CAMRaleigh, The ArtsCenter, Trophy Tap & Table, City Gallery, and merit awards from Litmus Gallery & Studios and the Maria V. Howard Arts Center, Monsalve’s work brings fantastical visions to the Triangle arts scene.

Monsalve walked me through his artistic process, the reception to his work in the Triangle, and how his art connects him with the universe.

When did you first encounter scratchboard art, and what were your initial impressions of the medium?

The first encounter with scratchboard was in high school in my senior year. I thought scratchboard was so fun to create images just by using a sharp tool and etching away the india ink through either lines or crosshatching. The best was the high contrast on the drawings and how detailed I could be with this medium.

Totem for a Broken Soul, Dorian Monsalve

Walk us through your artistic process. How do you go about selecting the colors you’ll use in a piece? Are the images you create planned in advance, or do they emerge organically as you create?

The white clayboard can be pre-inked with any colored ink you wish rather than the black india scratchboard that already comes pre-inked with black india. In order to apply the color you will have to etch the image, then paint, or just keep it black and white. Most of the time I’m using white clayboard. I select the ink colors, layer them and apply them randomly with different materials such as plastic, metal pieces, or any elements that create different textures.

Once the ink is dry, I start revealing the imagery and scape by rubbing a steel wool all around the piece. Then I visualize and explore, always finding faces or fantasy beings.  To bring the image forward or faded away I use a fiberglass brush, then for a more intricate detail I use x-acto blades, speedball tips of different sizes and tools that I invent. All imagery that emerges is from deep inside my being and from what I call the source, always inspired by instrumental music, nature, and the micro/macro cosmos.

Psychedelic Beast, Dorian Monsalve

You’ve been exhibiting in the Triangle since 2015. How would you describe the reception to your work in North Carolina?

My artwork has been appreciated and admired among artists and all public in general. My scratchboard art has been described as mysterious, macabre, dark and transforming (enlightening). The public has interacted with my work by looking through magnifying glasses that I provide to explore all the small details. The closer you get the more images are revealed.

Emergence of the Beast, Dorian Monsalve

You’ve often described experimental scratchboard art as a way of connecting with your inner self and the infinite. Your work tends toward the surrealistic, even the psychedelic. Do you find that surrealism is the most honest expression of your subconscious world?

I believe abstract, surrealism, psychedelic or even visionary art are just a word to label certain type of artworks. The soul is our/my most honest expression of ones/my subconscious world. It all comes from the source, God or however you wish to call it. “We are the instruments receiving divine energy from the source to materialize all beauty”.

Vortex III, Dorian Monsalve

You’ve been experimenting with scratchboard art for twelve years. What are you most looking forward to seeing in your personal artistic explorations of the medium, and in the wider world of scratchboard art?

What I am looking forward in seeing in my personal artistic journey with this medium is to accept, learn and experience all my soul and being by expressing sacred images, and bringing awareness that we are all one with the universe. The same way all the parts, organs, cells, even the microscopic atoms in our bodies are part of one single being. I am a reflection of the universe, so is my artwork.

Shaman Connection, Dorian Monsalve

All images courtesy of the artist.

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Dog Tested, Owner Approved: Fig and Oakwood Dog Park

Treat yourself and your dog to a walk on Brookside Drive in Raleigh, where Oakwood Dog Park and Fig offer fun for discerning dogs and owners.

I’m always looking for fun outings with my best friend, Summer. Here’s the complication: Summer is a dog.

Summer is ninety pounds of yellow fluff and personality, and I’m always looking for “dates” to take her on around town that will make her tail wag. If I get to taste-test something in the process, then it’s a win for everyone.

One of my favorite dog dates is to take Summer to Brookside Drive in Raleigh, where a great coffee shop and the best dog park in town are within walking distance of one another.

Fig

With tightly curated coffee, tea, and cocktail menus, Fig makes my favorite, a great Americano, and boasts beautiful decor. Dogs aren’t allowed inside, so save the gorgeous interior for your human pals.

However, there is a great option for when you have your dog in tow. There’s a convenient window at the front of the shop where you and your pooch can order, and then you can find a seat at the front or back patios.

Oakwood Dog Park

Now, Summer lives in a one-dog household, but she loves to socialize with other dogs, and sometimes, a few good butt sniffs on her daily walk just doesn’t do the trick.

A dog park is the answer, and for my money and Summer’s, the best dog park in town is a short walk away from Fig, just down Brookside Drive.

Just a little ways into Oakwood Park, there are two well-sized, fenced-in sections of a great dog park. The section on the left is for small dogs, and the section on the right is for big dogs. Summer, of course, goes to the right.

There are loads of trees to sniff, big buckets of water and a hose, clusters of plastic chairs and picnic tables, bags for dog business tied to the fence, and lots of friendly dogs and relaxed owners. Summer always has a great time.

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9 Alternative Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day 2019

Alternative ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2019 in the Triangle.

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!

Space is limited, so nab your ticket here.

Local Band Local Beer: Heartbreakin’ Ball

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.

Check it out here.

Carolina Skies: Valentine Edition

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.

More info and tickets here.

Okapi at The Cave

Asheville duo Okapi will light up The Cave with the upright bass and cello. With Ciera Mackensie opening, this is a night not to be missed.

Check out the Facebook event here.

SAD Valentine’s Party at Boxcar

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.

Learn more here.

Crazy Doberman at Nightlight

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.

More info here.

Dream Date 90s Dance Party at Ruby Deluxe

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.

Check it out here.

PHK is for Covers at The Pinhook

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.

Read up on the event here.

For More Inspiration

For more date ideas that won’t break the bank, check out The Triangle Guide’s Cheap Date series: Durham and Raleigh editions.

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