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Hot Artist: Bianca Merkley

New York singer-songwriter Bianca Merkley‘s sultry sweet voice is self- described as “tasty as a cupcake”. Bianca lays sandy vocals over simple arrangements with stirring melodies that come together to rival the likes of Jewel and Tori Amos. Starting at only eight years old, Bianca began performing anywhere she could, from company Christmas parties to the 2002 Olympics. At sixteen, when most teenagers would kill to be gifted with a car, Bianca choose a guitar and never looked back. Armed with the same guitar, Bianca’s refreshing sound and conviction move listeners to “forget their problems”, in turn inspiring Bianca’s debut album.

Promise, released in 2007, bakes in everything delicious”from pop to folk and even jazz. Top it off with a dash of Latin influence and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat indeed. You can download Bianca’s track “The Canvas” below, and be sure to check out her interview on MTVMusic.com.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Needle In The Haystack Oh My!

This week’s free download from Needle In The Haystack artist Oh My! is perfect for those who like to wear their pants on the tighter side. In fact, it’s easy to imagine the their track “21” floating in the background of a sweaty, dark basement filled with colorfully flannel-clad hipsters.  If you can’t say “I knew about them before everyone else,” don’t feel bad”this pop song can easily break the divide for pop lovers of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, though, you can watch the music video and download “21” below for free then say you did know about them before everyone else.

Needle In The Haystack: Oh My!

This week’s Needle In The Haystack is a mystery wrapped in good tunes. While Oh My! seems to have accounts on a respectable number of various sites, they choose to let the music do the talking, leaving little to be said by way of bios, etc. We do know that the five-piece hails from Sweden, which we had to correct ourselves in thinking was the land of the wooden shoes (that’s Holland, by the way). And that they are “defying the icy chill, delievering the rock, bop and swing.” Our favorite tid bit has to be them citing Christopher Walken’s hair as an inspiration. Isn’t it always, my friends.

Listen and learn more about these Swedish imports below, and stay tuned for more from Oh My! throughout the week.

For fans of: The Strokes, The Kooks, Arctic Monkeys

FREE DOWNLOAD: Needle In The Haystack French Cassettes

Sometimes when a band has a million members its easy to recognize. Arcade Fire, for instance, with its huge roster (we’re still not exactly sure whether its nine or ten) throws in sounds, instruments, vocals, hoots and hollers with such veracity into both songs and live performance that its virtually impossible not to recognize this is not your average sized group. While this week’s Needle In The Haystack artist, French Cassettes‘ musician count isn’t in double digits, six is still a lot of people to cram into a practice space” let alone a song-writing session. But the French-pop group makes it work, and somehow seamlessly conceptualizes songs like “Seahorse” with simple execution and clean transitions of what appears to be a lot of different views, like rolling vocals spliced with electrified guitars.

Check out the chaos that goes into a recording session with the French Cassettes below, and download the magic that comes out of it with “Seahorse”.

Needle In The Haystack: French Cassettes

This week’s Needle In The Haystack artist French Cassettes hails from Ripon, California. And while we’re not sure if that’s anywhere near Indio, we think the winds of Coachella may have been blowing through, as whiffs of festival favorites like The Black Keys and Local Natives can be picked up in both their melodies and vocal stylings. The French Cassettes take it a step further, invoking both their moniker and Parisian singer songwriter influences.

Learn more about the six piece below, and stay tuned for more from the French Cassettes all week long.

For fans of: Arcade Fire, Cold War Kids, The White Stripes

Artist Takeover: Needle In The Haystack Bella Ruse

There’s no handbook for being an independent musician nowadays. No checklist of items that once accomplished guarentee the gates of Madison Square Garden will open with a sold out crowd waiting for you. Hard work and creativity seem to be the name of the game lately, and  this week’s Needle In The Haystack artist Bella Ruse seems to have embraced the challenge.

“Hiya. We’re Bella Ruse. We’re a folk pop duo (I’m Kay, he’s Joseph) and we travel the country in our vegetable-oil-powered van. So far, we’ve been through 44 states on tour; still working on New Hampshire, Florida, North Dakota, Louisiana, Hawaii and Alaska.  We eat a lot of fast food along the way because the smell of the veggie oil makes me hungry for french fries. We should probably stop doing that.

Today I’m trying to write a song for the RPM Challenge, in which you record a ten-track album in the month of February. I’ve written one full song so far and about fifty-seven bits and pieces so I’d say I’m doing pretty good. Joseph is writing his ten songs about Pecos Bill for a musical he’s working on with a friend. I don’t think he has any songs done yet. I win.

The first song I wrote for RPM is called “Operation”. As in the game where you remove little plastic objects with tweezers from a board shaped like a man and try not to touch the sides or else the man will get shocked and his lightbulb nose will light up. If his nose lights up, you have to put that piece back and try again. I always hated that game, but it turns out it’s a pretty good metaphor for life and love and all that. How DO you remove a broken heart without getting shocked? My nose is always lighting up.”

-Kay Gillette

Bella Ruse

FREE DOWNLOAD: Needle In The Haystack Bella Ruse

Upon first listen, its easy to think that this week’s Needle In The Haystack artist Bella Ruse got confused when naming “Complicated Rhythm”, the song up for free download. With simple and to-the-point melodies matched with lots of open air and light breezy guitar strumming, the rhythms on the track seem anything but complicated. Upon further inspection however, the song opens up with sounds not often found in a traditional pop folk song. Trumpets, bells and even a typewriter could easily confuse a song, but Bella Ruse presents these quirky sounds with effortless ease that fold into a wonderful melody. The duo even manages to simplify a sticky romantic situation with the lyric “I’m your lover/you’re my friend/and we’re both wrapped up in a complicated rhythm“. Nothing complicated about it.

Check out Bella Ruse’s explanation of how this (and other songs) came to be, and download “Complicated Rhythm” for free below.

Needle In The Haystack: Bella Ruse

It was only a matter of time before Bella Ruse was scooped up as a Needle In The Haystack artist. Just this past year the folk pop duo has embarked on three national tours, recoded three EPs and released their first full length album. Their live show has impressed onlookers from Seattle to New York and garnered them world wide television and radio play”their song “Push On” even scored them an opening spot in the Lilith 2010 Festival through OurStage’s “Lilith Local Talent Search”. Their brand-spanking-new album Kuhzoo was funded purely through Kickstarter.com, and if all that’s not enough ambition  for you, the band is currently touring in a van powered by vegetable oil.

Check out the video below to learn even more about Bella Ruse, and tune in all week for free downloads, interviews and more.

R.I.Y.L. Beirut, Cat Power, Blind Pilot

Artist Takeover: Needle In The Haystack Sylvana Joyce And The Moment

Sylvana Joyce and The Moment came together in what seems like a stream of fate-filled circumstances”changing gears from acting to singing on a whim, posting for bandmates on the Internet and scoring a venue residency within weeks. But the life of an indie act is never picture perfect, and the steep climb to the top leaves every band looking for more…

“Our band started as a whim. Last year, I was taking any acting auditions I could find. I was unemployed, disheartened by the entertainment industry, and feeling inadequate. Suddenly, an Internet posting for a back-up singer audition caught my eye. “I could pull that off,” I thought. So I showed up. We were expected to sing songs that showcased our specific strengths and quirks. I sang and accompanied my own songs on a creaky, ancient upright piano to an audience of two. One of them broke the silence after the last of my three selected compositions.

‘It says here that those songs were all written by you, is this true?’

‘Yes,’ I responded, flustered. Oh, no. The moment of truth.

‘…I’m incredibly impressed.’

There are many reasons why that audition was both a failure and a success, but the thing no one could have predicted, was that I would walk out of that audition, straight home to my laptop, to post a Craigslist ad searching for band members.

I swear, that’s how easy it was. I sat down, and wrote to my future band, telling them how it was okay that they were holding out for their dreams, because I was, too. I posted my solo YouTube videos, me at the piano or guitar, and told them if they liked what they heard, to send me their resume. And that was it. With a click of a button, I had finally verbalized my very secret and real desire”to pursue a career as a musical performing artist.

One audition later, with me as the audience, three talented strangers became my bassist (Peter Bellomo) percussionist (Miles Lassi) and guitarist (Chris Smith). I asked my childhood friend and violinist, Sean-David Cunningham, to attend one of our early rehearsals. He brought his violin, and began to jam with us. The rest was history.

Our experience as a band thus far can best be described as incredibly lucky. Weeks after first getting together, we had already scored a month long residency at a wonderful live music venue in New Jersey. Within a month, we were bringing in a consistent number of guests to our gigs. By the time we hit the six month mark, we were finalists in competitions, booking major venues in NYC, and preparing to record our first two singles

But with all auspicious movement, there’s always an element of drama. We have our full share.

Our greatest struggle has been finding a drummer who will commit to this vision I have. Our percussionist, still a senior in college, has found it hard to keep up with our demanding schedule, and we’ve settled with temp drummers, all talented; none willing to make us first priority. This vision I have is big…it fills many stadiums. And it’s shared by each one of us. We don’t want a temp, we want someone willing to stick it out. Someone willing to grow with us, and contribute to the gross sum of our creations. Every time the band gets together, we leave with slap happy faces. There’s some element of romance and infatuation to being a band”we even suffer from withdrawal after concerts and rehearsals (luckily, there hasn’t been more than two weeks between either!). It just feels right. The kind of right that makes you giggly and excited and constantly in awe. And that’s the energy we want to share with our future drummer, and hopefully some day, with the entire world”that feeling that you’re a bird taking off a cliff, feeling the true exhilaration of flight…”

-Sylvana Joyce

Sylvana Joyce and The Moment

FREE DOWNLOAD: Needle In The Haystack Sylvana Joyce And The Moment

In our introduction to this week’s Needle In The Haystack we talked about how Sylvana Joyce and The Moment cite “various gypsy music” as influences. When listening to the free download “Me For You” from the act, we picture bare feet dancing on assorted rugs, so much so that we can’t tell if the subtle chimes in the background are actually part of the song or if we’re just imagining them in our music-induced drug stupor. With lyrics like “So here you are you’re waiting for some action I’d hit you up but I’ve got a bad reaction to small doses/ they always leave me hanging,” sounds like a bad trip that we don’t want to stop.

Watch Sylvana Joyce and The Moment cast their spell in the video below, and download “Me For You” for free.