Happy Songs About Unhappy Things

Hot on the heels of her single “Thunderstorm” comes phase one of Nikki Lynette’s ambitious new project, Happy Songs About Unhappy Things. The three-part release will be a multi-media exploration of the artist’s own struggle with identity and depression. Part one, released this week, is called Manic Pixie Dream Girl, after the familiar archetype defined first by film critic Nathan Rabin, who described a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life…” More broadly, she’s a character allowed no agency or nuance and, in fiction, represents a troublingly idealized male vision of femininity in the real world. Lynette talked to us about this trope, her own journey as an artist and woman, and of course her amazing music.

OurStage: This is part one of a three-part project, so it is understandably a bit shorter than a standard album release. Will you consider the entire three parts, together, a full-length album? Or will it be something else entirely? I know you’ve said this will ultimately include visual art and film, so what will parts two and three consist of?

Nikki Lynette: The reason I broke down Happy Songs About Unhappy Things into three separate musical releases is that I want to tell the story of my mental health breakdown and recovery in a way that lets me walk the listener through it. Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the “Before.” The next one, Chronicles of a “Craxy B!+¢#, is the “During,” the actual process of being driven crazy. That will be a bit longer of a project because there is a lot to that story. The last one, The Suicide Bridge, is the “After,” the point when depression has taken hold and you are walking that line between wanting to get better and wanting to die. I plan to roll out visual art with all of them because, again, it helps to tell the story. And the film will come after all three have been released. The project is extremely layered, but at this point in my music career I’m kinda known for being complicated (laughs).

OS: How did you conceive this project? I can’t think of an artist who has released a project in this way. Just in terms of format, does it have any forebears?

NL: I chose to release it this way when I realized that I have music that I recorded during all these different phases in my life. On Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the song “Outshine the Sun” is the most recent. Even though the song is an uplifting tune, you can hear my pain in it. In “The Plot Twist,” you hear my pain. Doing it this way gives context to my depression, and if people can empathize with me then they can empathize with their own friends and loved ones who battle mental health issues. On the next release, Chronicles, there are songs on it that I produced when I was living in the hospital with my mom while she was dying, songs I wrote in response to being diagnosed with PTSD, songs I did at the studio after I broke down crying during the session then wrote a song in 15 minutes and recorded it. I don’t think I have seen a project released this way before; there are a lot of moving pieces involved because right now I am literally producing and recording two albums at once. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Interview: The House Of Jed’s Jarrod Gollihare

A few years ago, OurStage ran a competition in partnership with the microchip giant Intel, searching for talent in various genres. One of the overall finalists was a song called “Coming Off Pretty” by what appeared to be a band called The House of Jed. On further inspection, it became clear that The House of Jed was actually the solo project of Jarrod Gollihare, who is a member of Admiral Twin, a band that had made a big impact on the site a couple of years prior. Although the folks at Intel ultimately selected another artist as their overall winner, we here at OS HQ were taken with “Coming Off Pretty,” a catchy burst of vaguely electro pop. We followed as Gollihare turned out several more excellent organic/electronic hybrid jams, including a couple of impressive videos. Out of curiosity and fandom, we approached him with some questions about his career and creative process, and he graciously took the time to answer. We found it interesting enough to make into the following interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.


OS: I’m curious about your process. The music sounds really pro, but I imagine The House of Jed as a one-man operation from start to finish – is that accurate? Does anyone else perform, engineer, mix, or otherwise aid in the work?

JG: It is indeed a one-man operation. With the exception of a few backup vocals on “Everybody Lies” (courtesy of my wife Jaime) all the House of Jed sounds are made, engineered and mixed by me…in my one-room studio [at home]. For better or worse. I’ve got no formal production training. Everything I’ve learned, I picked up by peering over the shoulders of producers and engineers who actually know what they’re doing. Or by watching Internet videos. Or by trial and error. So, in other words, I’m pretty sure I do a lot of production stuff completely wrong, and I probably take way longer to accomplish recording and mixing tasks that could actually be done much more efficiently and effectively by a real professional. But I have fun.

OS: Do you program your drums? How do you get those sounds, which seem like a mix of real and programmed?

JG: Most of my recorded drums are played on my kit. Drums are actually my primary instrument. When it comes to recording a song, I’ll often put down a programmed drum loop over which I’ll record a scratch guitar and vocals…giving me a “roadmap” of sorts to use for recording my kit. And that programmed loop sometimes makes it into the final mix in little sections of the song, or layered with my real drums for effect. I don’t use anything too involved to make my loops, though. In fact, I either use this old freeware program called HammerHead (a super simple rhythm station that emulates a few sounds from Roland 606, 808 and 909 drum machines), or I use pre-made rhythms from an inexpensive (very unprofessional) Casio keyboard I’ve had for years. In fact, some of the keyboard bass I occasionally use comes from the “organ” setting on the same Casio. Another thing I do occasionally is cannibalize old drum recordings from my other band, Admiral Twin. I have a wealth of material I can re-purpose by slowing the isolated tracks down or speeding them up, and then chopping them into entirely new rhythms. The drums on “I Won’t Survive You” and “Last Entry” are re-purposed Admiral Twin drums.



OS: Do you use other virtual instruments, from apps or other software? Is that an Omnichord on “O Caligula?”

JG: I use virtually no virtual instruments. The bass on “Last Entry” is a virtual Moog that I programmed into a 12/4 pattern over which I played drums in 4/4 time to create a slightly off kilter pulse. That’s really about it, though. I tend to use real instruments. And yes, that’s an Omnichord you hear on “O Caligula.” It’s one of my prized eBay purchases. In my studio, I also have a small collection of guitars; a ukulele, a Danelectro bass; a MicroKorg synth; several cheap, consumer-level Casio keyboards from the 1980s (eBay baby!); a xylophone; a small Ludwig breakbeat drum kit, and quite a lot of percussion bits and bobs.


OS: I haven’t seen any tour dates – do you perform live with House of Jed? Any long-term goals beyond what you’re already doing?

JG: The House of Jed is a studio project for now. But I’d sure like to get these songs on stage at some point. I do play drums and sing with other acts though. One of those is Admiral Twin.

My goal for any song I write and record is (first and foremost) to make people feel something. Art of any kind is the closest thing to actual magic I can think of. And that’s a big deal to me. However – I’d sure like to earn some money with what I create, as well. It’s what I do best, after all. My big personal career goal is just to be able to get up everyday and work on art for a living…to pay the bills with my songs or writings or paintings (or a combination thereof). I’m grateful for my dayjob (my wife and I both work for a social media management company) but being a full-time artist is the real goal. I got a brief taste of the full-time musician lifestyle with Admiral Twin back when we were signed to a subsidiary of Universal Records. We got to put out one national release, and then – a few months after our CD hit the shelves – the label we were on (Mojo) folded, like so many other labels did at that time. We’ve been indie ever since. It was a good ride while it lasted.

OS: Do people call you Jed?

JG: Some of my friends call me Jed. Picked up that nickname in 6th grade…somehow it stuck. So feel free!

On Twitter:

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Air Traffic Controller Release New Album, ‘Echo Papa’

It’s here. The newest long playing record by Boston’s own Air Traffic Controller is Echo Papa, and it’s now available for your listening pleasure. After years of evolving the band’s lineup, singer and songwriter Dave Munro has put together a killer band, including co-singer/songwriter Casey Sullivan, and they’ve spent the last couple of years touring, writing, recording, and generally reaching new creative and commercial heights. We can only expect that trend to continue with Echo Papa, an album that takes a more organic, somewhat rootsy approach to its songs, while never straying far from the pop ethos upon which Air Traffic Controller was built. Listen to the first single, “After Party,” below.

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Luke James Shaffer’s “Cliff Dive”

Luke James Shaffer, who has been near or at the top of our “Best of the Best” charts in Pop for weeks and weeks and weeks, has dropped a new single called “Cliff Dive.” It’s an authentic rootsy anthem disguised as a Top 40 hit, with a floor-stomping hook and killer harmonies. The song was recently featured on the Travel Channel’s Expeditions Unknown, a perfect pairing for the song’s breezy, adventurous lyrics and musical momentum. Listen below, and check it on Spotify here.


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The House Of Jed: “You’ll Wait A Long Time For Me”

The House of Jed is some super-quirky, sonically rich, lyrically weird, totally unique, perfectly concise pop music that is still completely accessible and overflowing with hooks. I guess it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, in a Top 40 radio kind of way, but it’s right up our alley here, and so we’re going to keep talking about it. The new single is “You’ll Wait A Long Time For Me,” and it bears all the classic House of Jed hallmarks − crisp and clear, uncluttered production, tight and driving beat, and vaguely spooky (the extended bridge after the last chorus seriously reminds me of the ending of “Thriller”). Listen…


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Video Of The Month: “I Get A Kick Out Of Being Kicked Around By You” By Royal Chant

As comfortingly familiar as certain strains of retro-tinged garage rock can be, it often has a downside of being perfectly predictable. Not too bad a downside, of course, if you’re just trying to recapture the raw excitement of vintage rock. But it’s so much more thrilling to hear the classic tape echo tones and amped-up fuzz-jangle taking unexpected musical turns. That’s what Australia’s Royal Chant has brought us with their new track, “I Get A Kick Out Of Being Kicked Around By You.” It’s a great title, to begin with, and the Merseybeat groove of the track is a baseline for inventive melodies and chord changes that never do quite what you expect them to to. Royal Chant has cleverly paired the song with some cut together ’70s-era home movies to complete the vintage vibe. Watch below.

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