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: Scott Jones of The Upward Dogs

I spoke with Scott Jones, drummer and founder of the improvisational musical collective The Upward Dogs, about his unique approach to combining musicians.

Drummer Scott Jones approaches his role as the founder of the Chapel Hill-based musician’s collective, The Upward Dogs, with the passion of a chef. For each gig, he’ll pull from a list of ingredients: a roster of accomplished musicians, many of whom have not previously met. A pinch of this guitarist, a dash of that horn player- and off the musicians will go, improvising and interpreting, seeing what flavors the performance will yield. Jones refers to each gig’s assembly of players as “soups”. And the jazzy, funky, hip-hoppin’ results of Jones’s musical cookery are delicious. Bon appétit!

I spoke to Jones about the origins of The Upward Dogs, the genesis of his approach to assembling musicians, and how audience participation informs the group’s performances.

The Upward Dogs is a continuation of an approach you practiced previously in New York and LA of assembling “soups” of musicians, who often have not previously met, for sessions and gigs. Describe the genesis of that approach. How did the idea occur to you in the first place?

The “soups” concept came to me from my day job in technology.  I had been talking to a product leader at a tech company in RDU and we got onto the philosophical point that all engineering teams are different — what works for one team with respect to rituals, management practices, and so on, will not necessarily map to other teams.  He described it very effectively by describing how each team is a “soup,” comprised of the unique ingredients of each team member, resulting in unique ways of working, levels of productivity, chemistry, and so on.  That really stuck to me.

When I kicked off the Upward Dogs in early 2015 I had held onto that “soup” concept.  The quick backstory is that I had relocated from Los Angeles in the fall of 2012, got pregnant the following spring (ok, my wife did, ha!) and had identical twins born two months early in November of 2013. I kind of disappeared into a twin wormhole for many months and started to really emerge in early 2015.  As I started to ramp back up to playing music regularly, I realized that my improvisational itch was palpable and I wanted to get back to artistically express all of the wild changes I had gone through the past two years. I also realized that in my short time in RDU to that point I had already built up a rolodex of great players with “big ears” (meaning they can listen well and make appropriate musical choices) that would be great improvisational collaborators.

I realized that the “soup” philosophy in this context would give me great flexibility- rather than committing to a fixed personnel list, I framed The Upward Dogs as a collective of musicians and artists, and I could pull from the collective to put together “soups” for sessions and gigs. I was excited and humbled to find there was a lot of interest to participate, and that allowed me to put together really great groups and create many really fun moments over the past four years. And just like with the software engineering analogy, each configuration of players- each soup- is totally different, and it’s always exciting to see how the ingredients will add up.

How did your experiences in New York and LA inform your current approach with The Upward Dogs? 

NYC is a global hub of jazz where you will always find the best players in the world- sometimes playing in tiny and or empty rooms on off nights and very late at night- pushing forward on the fundamental jazz philosophy of improvisation. In that particular context it tends to be about interpreting texts, so to speak, such that you play through the form as written but when you solo you are channeling the intention of the original material and yet adding your own commentary, emotions, colors and so on. 

Since this has been going on in NYC since the beginning of jazz early in the 20th century, it feels like that energy has been baked into the musical fabric of the city. During my time there I connected with, listened to, and otherwise vibed with players who took that improvisational energy and would take it to the next level, so to speak, by improvising compositionally. So rather than starting with a jazz standard or an original composition, the group would create on the fly and in the moment.  One of the most inspiring outfits doing this- featuring one of my favorite bass players and drummers, and led by amazing MC named iLLspokinn- was a weekly residency called Free Style Mondays at a club called Sin Sin.  hey would improvise fully developed hip hop songs, including beats (instrumentation often being guitar, bass, keys and drums), verses from amazing MCs, and hooks sung by amazing vocalists.

This blew my mind and inspired me in my own direction.  I started off by leading a group called decoi, where the core of it was a self-taught upright bassist, phasing in and out a variety of players including keys, guitar and horns. I would book us for gigs and we would do recording sessions at the bassist’s home studio, and there would be absolutely nothing planned. We would simply set up and create, and see where the muse took us, and we’d often get quite “free” and experimental, sometimes more ambient than groovy. I led this group for about three years and landed on some great stages in front of great audiences while getting to learn and evolve myself as an artist. In LA I would host lots of improvisational sessions at my house with a variety of players. 

Occasionally I would take these groups out for gigs, but most often I was leading gigging groups that would play standard and original jazz/funk/fusion compositions but leave a lot of room for improvisation. 

Now with the Upward Dogs I have been using probably 75% full improvisation and 25% of the more LA approach of having tunes to interpret, and I decide on the approach depending on the opportunity and the players. 

What is the process behind selecting the musicians for each soup?

It’s pretty random, to be honest. I liken it to being improvisational as well, where the other “band member” in this case is the universe. I essentially just reach out to a variety of folks about a date and see who’s available and find out where I land.

Do you try for something different every time as you assemble soups of musicians? Creating new “flavors,” so to speak?

I will follow cues from the universe and generally “go with the flow.” If I just met an MC, for example, I will randomly think of them and then reach out to see if they want to participate. Same goes for horn players or really any other instrument. I just listen to the inner voice or otherwise wait for serendipities to tell me. Networking is often a driver of this.

You’ve described The Upward Dogs as being “groove-oriented,” and the collective generally plays jazz, funk, and hip hop. Why those genres, specifically?

Those three zones have been merging and melding for a decent amount of time now. Top of mind I would like of Robert Glasper as someone operating at the forefront of hip hop jazz, so to speak, where there are sophisticated compositions and harmonies, and the rhythms will often sound like produced beats but played by live instruments. There’s often also an influence of the ideas of the amazing producer J Dilla. All to say that the melding of jazz/funk/hip hop has been a personal focus area of mine because everything I’ve been hearing is so inspiring and it is very effective for personal development, especially as a drummer. The techniques and internal knowledge required to pull it off are amazing for education.

Additionally, when you combine these genres and add the notion of being “groove-oriented”, it tends to make for a great audience experience. The music might be heady, but at the same time it will make you want to shake your butt! It’s really just calling out the contrast from my past experiences in NYC where we had the latitude to get weird and- potentially- alienate an audience who might not have been expecting that.  Truth be told, I can’t and don’t enforce a jazz/funk/hip hop paradigm and instead keep open ears and an open heart to see where the muse takes us in the moment. 

How does audience connection shape an improvised/loose interpretation-heavy show?

This kind of requires level setting on what your personal belief system is, as that would inform whether what I’m about to say comes off as total B.S. To keep it high level and simple I might first point to quantum physics and the realization that surfaced earlier in the 20th century that the role of the observer- the consciousness, more particularly, and the associated expectations- actually informs the behavior of subatomic particles. We are all energy, including our consciousness, and when we are together in groups that energy blends together. 

When you are an artist and creating in the moment, you are tapping into and channeling the available energy of yourself and your group but also the audience, the location, and everything else around. Whether they realize it or not, they are actively participating and contributing simply by being present, but even moreso by listening and being actively engaged. The musicians will connect with and feed off of the energy, and that energy will manifest as ideas that the players will “hear” and essentially release through their instruments. 


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Q&A: Carrboro’s XOXOK on Recording Debut EP

Carrboro artist XOXOK talks his debut EP, Worthy, and his formative musical experiences.

What’s in a name? For atmospheric soul artist XOXOK, everything. The implied warmth of the kisses and hugs in his stage name, and the quip of the “ok” at the end embody the artist’s honeyed vocals and playful lyrics.

XOXOK- aka Carrboro musician Keenan Jenkins- has a crystalline singing voice he complements with wise storytelling that thrums with sincerity.

Take “Worthy”, the single off of his upcoming EP of the same title.

“I don’t need you to love me, I just want to be worthy,” he croons. That lyrical vulnerability is precise in its heartbreak. Meanwhile, the polished production builds into lush vocal harmonies and shimmering guitar. It’s an ambitious and lovely entrée into Jenkins’s recording career.

Keep your eyes peeled for XOXOK’s debut EP, Worthy, out on May 4th, 2019. You can stream the title track here. XOXOK will celebrate the release of Worthy with a free show on May 11th at The Station in Carrboro.

I caught up with XOXOK on his formative musical experiences and what he’s most looking forward to playing live from his new EP.

What was your musical training like? Were you formally trained in guitar and vocal performance, or are you self-taught?

My musical training is…ongoing. I suppose my informal training began around the time I was a toddler, when I would belt Whitney Houston songs from the backseat of the car.

My formal training started when Margie Jesse taught me to play the clarinet in middle school. 

I started to play guitar when I was fifteen; by that time, YouTube and Ultimate-Guitar.com were the most cost-efficient teachers, so I learned from the internet and from my guitar-playing roommate, Brian Koepnick. It wasn’t formal training, but I’m not sure if it counts as self-taught!

I went on to receive a minor in music from UNC-Chapel Hill; that’s where I immersed myself into the world of music theory.

You pull from a wide variety of rock and soul influences; what you describe as a “far-flung but cohesive” palette of sound. When were you first exposed to rock and soul? Did you grow up with those genres, or did they influence you later in life?

Music has been part of my life for so long, it’s difficult to recall the first moment that I was first exposed to rock and soul, broadly. Growing up, both of my parents listened to the R&B and classic soul radio station (Foxy 104.3 FM), so I was exposed to that at all times. I didn’t enjoy it as a kid, but I’ve grown to really love and appreciate that music.

As for rock music, I had to find that on my own. I was an only child and a latchkey kid, so MTV was my babysitter in the early 2000s, which exposed me to rock, rap, and of course, rock/rap (my mom did NOT want to buy me the Linkin Park CD). I eventually found my way to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and hearing John Frusciante’s guitar is what made me want to start playing – I had to figure out how to make those exact sounds.

When is the first time you remember being moved by a piece of music? What was the song, and what do you remember about the experience?

Wow, this is a good question! Again, it’s hard to remember particular moments. My earliest memory of being obsessed with a song is “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson, which I knew from the Free Willy soundtrack. I listened to the cassette of the song and watched the VHS of that movie on repeat when I was a young child.

In your body of work, your guitar playing and your voice compliment and build upon one another to reach a wider emotional range. While your singing is generally mellifluous, your guitar playing can go sweet or rugged depending on the emotional scope of the song. Tell me about how you approach the relationship between your voice and your guitar.

I had to google “mellifluous” to make sure that wasn’t a sneak diss! Thanks for the compliments. I’m almost always trying to find a vocal melody or tone to fit with an existing guitar part, rather than the other way around. Up until four years ago, I rarely played with other musicians – it was usually just me and my guitar, playing and singing alone in my apartment. So I’ve had years to focus on the interplay between my guitar and my voice.

Something that I’m still learning is that I don’t have to make my voice sound like someone else’s – if I just sing like myself, it’ll eventually match some piece of music I’ve written.

I haven’t always been a good singer – I’ve really had to work on it. Even now, it’s the main thing I focus on when I’m performing live, because it doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. I’d be ashamed to let you listen to some of the demos I recorded back in college.

What did you learn from your first experience with recording your own material that you’ll bring into the studio next time?

I had a great experience recording this EP, and I learned so much! I’m already looking forward to going back to the studio. Next time, I think I’ll put a more strict timeline on the recording process – it’s fun to play with ideas for a year, but I’m interested in trying to make something beautiful in one month, for instance. That will take a lot of preparation on the front end – making sure that the songs are rehearsed, that the arrangements are settled, that the guitar tones are dialed in, and so on.

Upon the release of the EP, what song are you most excited to play live? How will it translate from recording to the stage?

The title track, “Worthy”, is my favorite song on the record – I always feel like I’m floating when I play that song well. I don’t know what it is about “Mitt”, but it seems to be a fan favorite. Honestly, I’m more excited to play some newer songs, ones that I’ve written since finishing this EP!


All images courtesy of XOXOK. Photos by Wyatt Kane.

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NC New Releases 🎵

In February and early March of 2019, NC artists greeted the end of winter with a spate of phenomenal new tunes from many genres.

This edition of NC New Releases is brought to you by February and early March of 2019. NC artists greeted the end of winter with a spate of phenomenal new tunes from many genres.

North Carolina did not come to play this month; from math rock fresh off the DIY scene in Greensboro, to old-time music with modern sensibilities out of Durham, to innovative beats from Greenville.

Whoever you are, whatever tunes you like to groove to, NC has a new release for everyone. Let’s go.

Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves

Powerhouses Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves debut their musical partnership with a fresh take on an old favorite, “Eighth of January.”

Considered among the finest of a new generation of old-time and bluegrass musicians, banjoist de Groot and fiddler Hargreaves are in top form on this much-recorded, much-beloved classic.

While Hargreaves and de Groot pay homage to the song’s long recording history, their interpretation of “Eighth of January” has a modern verve. Crisp production and sparkling technique honor the storied Southern traditional without getting bogged down in sentimentality. This recording is a tantalizing taste of the album to come.

You can follow Allison de Groot on her website, Facebook, and Instagram, and Tatiana Hargreaves on her website, Instagram andFacebook. You can stream “Eighth of January” and preorder the album on Bandcamp here.

Mo. Three

In one minute and twenty-five seconds, Mo. Three makes beat magic. The Greenville artist’s most recent release, Short ‘n Fancy, is, well- just that.

The playful mix of genre and orchestration paired with distinctive beats make for eight witty, memorable tracks to bump. “Fancy a Dance, m’lady?” is a great display of Mo. Three’s musical humor, while ROSES is as smooth as grooves get.

You can follow Mo. Three on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and hear his appearance on episode four of Treee City’s Rainforest Café here. You can listen on Bandcamp here.

Terms x Conditions

On their thrashing first release, Excuse My Colours, products of the Greensboro DIY scene Terms x Conditions romp through jazz-infused math rock.

Everything beloved about math rock as a genre is present in Excuse My Colours. The classic atypical time signatures and technical precision are all brought to a fever pitch of scientific raucousness. Plus, every musician is excellent; though the wailing euphonium, saxophone, and trumpet are especially impressive.

Terms x Conditions are a commanding addition to the Greensboro DIY scene- and this release cements them as a band to watch.

You can follow Terms x Conditions on Facebook and Instagram, and stream the album on Bandcamp here.

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Premiere: Hear Wake Moody’s Debut Single, “Shivers”

Listen to Carrboro band Wake Moody’s debut single, “Shivers.” Lead singer Gabriel Reynolds shares how he brought the song’s seductive story to life.

With one sung note, Carrboro musician Gabriel Reynolds enters a new era as his band, Wake Moody, premieres their debut single, “Shivers.” That note- a sustained, Michael McDonald-esque exclamation- could be a cry of pleasure or a cry of despair.

In “Shivers,” Reynolds tells the story of a hookup with a friend who could’ve been much more, if the timing had been right.

That heartache could easily make for a maudlin track- but Wake Moody goes in the opposite direction. From beginning to end, “Shivers” feels like a visceral dive into indulgence.

Grooving to Heartbreak

“Shivers” is fun, seductive, with an appealing groove that propels the listener into temptation. The sleek production and dreamy synths all but banish the consequences of the encounter ‘til tomorrow. Reynolds really leans into his vocal performance: he slurs into that insistent rhythm, he husks, he hits a few really great belted notes. Musically, “Shivers” is all good vibes, great for dancing with a date.

But don’t be engulfed entirely by the fun- regret looms large over the lyrics.

Singing as one half of this one-night stand, Reynolds is beguiled by his failed love interest, impassioned; he’s also all too aware of the pain that lies ahead.

“Now we’re writhing at the bottom of the ocean/and when you say my name it isn’t in devotion,” croons Reynolds. The wordplay is satisfying- but it packs a poignant punch.

“Shivers” makes for a memorable calling card for Wake Moody. It also provides an exciting taste of the debut EP of the same title, due out in March.

Check out the premiere of Wake Moody’s debut single, “Shivers.”


“Shivers” is about the excitement and heartbreak of a one-night stand with an unrequited love. How did you approach making the story come to life, lyrically and sonically?

Sometimes I have to trick myself into expressing emotions. My guide in writing this song was a vivid mental picture of these two characters with a specific, messy history, and my role was just to observe them: let their story unfold and document their sexy mistakes.

It was easy to talk about these people from a distance. Then when I finished, that mental image came into greater focus and I realized – surprise – it was me.

I’d been projecting a real-life event I’d never worked through emotionally, and that fake distance I created finally allowed me to process the heartbreak, regret and disappointment from that time in my life. It was like a vivid dream, where you don’t realize the symbolism ‘til you wake up. I needed it.

I also wanted it to feel like part of a larger story, so the song starts with the word “and” then ends before you learn the consequences – to be continued. Then the next song on the EP continues the story, so that mystery lasts all of five seconds. But it’s cool to me. I like art that zooms in on a bigger picture.

As for the music, I’ve been an all-caps SAD BOY on stage before and didn’t like spreading that vibe, so the sound here is much sweeter than the story.

I definitely take notes from Frank Ocean, who knows how to make the surface feel at peace while there’s a darker story right underneath. He can write a song about a depressed rich kid throwing himself off a rooftop, and people play beer pong to it. Amazing.

If you had to characterize your writing process in three words, what would they be?

Feeling beats thinking.

All photos and album cover photo by Jillian Clark Photography. Album cover design by Ruben Rodriguez.

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NC New Releases 🎵

Banish the January blues with red-hot tunes from Alex Aff, BREV., and Pinky Verde.

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.

You can check out Frequencies on Spotify and iTunes, and follow Alex Aff on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

BREV., Revive

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.

You can get an earful of Revive on Spotify, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp, and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you want to learn more about the man behind the synth-pop, you can check out TTG’s Q&A with BREV. here.

Pinky Verde, Infinitesimal

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.

You can listen on Spotify, Bandcamp and SoundCloud, and follow Pinky Verde on Facebook and Instagram.

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Q&A: Kattalax on Collaborating Remotely, Evolving Triangle Music Scene

Electronic duo Kattalax sound off on their unique creative process and what makes the Triangle music scene special.

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.

Kattlax in rehearsal.

You’ve been musical collaborators since the early 90s. How did you two meet?

WLIt was so long ago I can’t remember! I knew his brother Danny first. I probably met Paul through Danny.

PGWayne 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?

WLI 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.

PGWayne 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?

WLI 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.

PGKattalax 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.

Kattalax’s eponymous debut album takes electronica in inspired directions.

In your time as a musician in the Triangle, how have you seen the music scene evolve?

WLI 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.

PGThe 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?

WLIt 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.

PGThe 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?

WLWorking 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.

PGThere 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?

WLMost definitely.

PGIt’s working great now so I’m sure we will. We keep adding new instruments all the time as technology continues to evolve.

“Immigration” is Kattalax’s latest single.

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?

WLI 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?

PGWhen 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?

WLUnfortunately, 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.

PGI 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.

All images courtesy of Kattalax.

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