Reptar Interview: “Rugrats Stole the Name From Us”

Once again, thanks to Randomville I had the opportunity to interview Athens-based Reptar.  Reptar is definitely my favorite of all the musicians who I’ve recently interviewed. I saw them earlier this year opening for Matt & Kim and I immediately bought their EP.  Definitely a band worth checking out. They’ll soon be hitting the road with Foster the People.

Here’a section of the interview:

Reptar is the name of a green dinosaur from Rugrats. What gave you the idea to call the band that?

Everybody is misinformed. Rugrats stole the name from us. Andrew (the drummer) has a tradition in his family that every male gets a tattoo three days after they’re born. Nickelodeon got it from a similar source. It’s been in the family for so long. I guess they just kind of dealt with it.

Read the rest over at Randomville.

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Leading Us Absurd Turns Two!

(Fall, 2009)

On Friday, Leading Us Absurd turned two years old. It’s hard to believe that it’s been this long. When I originally started this blog, my intentions were pretty modest. It was mainly just an outlet for my writing, which at the time I had been doing very little of. For the first few months, it wasn’t even strictly a music blog – though music was a subject I focused on a lot.

Since then, I’ve managed to get 53,000 views, hundreds of comments, and 134 subscribers. If you had asked me two years ago whether I thought this would happen, I probably would have laughed at the thought. For a long time, it seemed that no one was reading. Even as I gained more readers and hits, I feel that I didn’t really capture a voice until earlier this year.

My hope is that even if you disagree with some of my thoughts, that it’s coherent and my arguments are sound. I’ve always known a lot about music, but it’s been humbling to find out how much I don’t know and how much more I have to learn. There’s always new artists to check out, and ones who have been dead for decades I’ve only just learned about.

Whether you’ve been reading for awhile or a newer, I want to thank you for taking the time to let me indulge in my passion for music. I’ve truly appreciated all of the comments over the past years – it’s meant a lot to me and made me a stronger writer.

I also want to thank my friends at Randomville, Vulture Hound, and The Musebox for all the fantastic writing opportunities given to me. Special thanks to my girlfriend, Lindsey who has been a constant supporter of the blog (and me) even when no one else was reading. And of course to Kevin, Pete and Sean whose wide range of musical knowledge keeps me in check.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

(Fall, 2011)

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Ian Axel On Tour

(Note: I did not write this, Press Release Courtesy of the Musebox)

Emerging singer-songwriters Ian Axel, Allie Moss, and Bess Rogers have landed in your town, with a 20-city late summer tour that spans the East and West coasts.  All three have had a past year many would describe as out-of-this-world, with their songs being featured in television shows like CW’s One Tree Hill, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, and MTV’s I Used to Be Fat.

Ian Axel began his career when his typical 20-something job working at a Manhattan Apple Store suddenly became not-so-typical as his bosses caught wind of his musical talents.  They flew him around the country to perform at dozens of stores around the United States, and included his songs on the playlists of hundreds of their stores worldwide.  Ian officially “touched down” in 2011 when he released his debut full-length, This Is the New Year.  The title track received over 1 million YouTube views, he performed on the nationally syndicated Rachael Ray Show and on La Blogothéque’s world-renown Take Away Shows, and his songs were featured on TV shows such as “One Tree Hill,” and as the theme to the MTV documentary series I Used to Be Fat.

However, it’s Ian’s live show that shoots him to new frontiers.  He has an energy that recalls the intimacy, energy and excitement of performers like Regina Spektor, Elton John and Randy Newman.  NPR described him as “a voice that possesses the sweetness of youth, the stubbornness of a teenager and the swagger of a rock star.”  He is capable of captivating an audience as only the greatest performers do, an appeal that has not gone unnoticed, leading to opening gigs for Ingrid Michaelson, Evan Dando and, most recently, for Glee star Matthew Morrison’s at the 2500-capacity Beacon Theater on August 1st.
Brooklynite Bess Rogers has created national recognition through her work as lead guitarist and backing vocalist for Ingrid Michaelson, and is quickly becoming a star in her own right.  Her fan-funded album, Out Of The Ocean, will be released on September 20 with the first single, “Anchor,” released to radio and iTunes in August.  Bess has spent this summer as the singing voice of the nationally televised Mott’s For Tots advertising campaign with her song, “We Believe In You,” and has had other compositions featured on television shows such as Switched At Birth, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars.  In recent months Bess has shared the stage with Ari Hest, Lelia Broussard, Jay Brannan, Rachel Platten, Caleb Hawley and others.

Allie Moss hails from New Jersey and, like Bess, also had her start in Ingrid Michaelson’s band, handling rhythm guitar & backing vocals. She will be supporting her new LP Late Bloomer on this tour, a 10-song album produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown). The album’s lead track “Corner” was a left-field hit in the UK last year, which racked up over a half-million views on YouTube after being featured on a British Telecom advertisement.  Other songs of hers have been featured on Brothers & Sisters and the CW’s Pretty Little Liars. Her new album also features the whimsical, bittersweet single, “Melancholy Astronautic Man” accompanied by a delightful stop-motion video comprised entirely of Legos.

Together these three emerging talents have joined forces to create an incredible tour.  Landing on the scene together, this is the perfect opportunity to catch them at intimate venues before this constellation of singer-songwriters shoot to superstardom.

IAN AXEL: http://www.ianaxel.com | http://youtube.com/ianaxelmusic
BESS ROGERS: http://www.bessrogers.com | http://www.youtube.com/BessRogers
ALLIE MOSS: http://alliemoss.com | http://youtube.com/alliemoss

 

TOUR DATES:

Mon – 1-Aug – New York City, NY – Beacon Theatre (Ian Axel solo w/ Matthew Morrison)
Weds – 24-Aug – Seattle, WA – Fremont Abbey Arts Center
Fri – 26-Aug – Modesto, CA – Copper Rhino
Sat – 27-Aug – San Francisco, CA – Hotel Utah
Mon – 29-Aug – Fresno, CA – Fulton 55
Tue – 30-Aug – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Cafe
Wed – 31-Aug – San Diego, CA – Lestats

Wed – 7-Sep – Marlboro, NY – The Falcon

Thu – 8-Sep – Easton, MD – Nightcat

Sat – 10-Sep – Vienna, VA – Jammin’ Java

Mon – 12-Sep – Nashville, TN – Third & Lindsley
Wed – 14-Sep – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
Thu – 15-Sep – Durham, NC – The Casbah
Sat – 17-Sep – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Upstairs
Wed – 21-Sep – Boston, MA – The Red Room @ Café 939 

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Why Does It Always Rain In Songs?

It’s been raining here for the past day or so and if the weather forecast is any indication, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Rain is such a powerful force of nature – it can be destructive, but it can also regenerate. Rain can symbolize depression, or in the sense of a spring rain, happiness and joy.

Bob Dylan has probably gotten the most use out of rain just in song titles alone – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “Buckets of Rain”, “Rainy Day Women #12 & “35” and “Rainy Day Afternoon” plus a live album named Hard Rain.

On “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” Dylan uses it as a metaphor for an impending destruction. Dylan has stated that the song isn’t about a nuclear fall-out, but rather  just a really hard rain. It’s hard to take that into account when he sees travesties such as “a new-born baby with wolves all around it” and a “young woman whose body was burning”.  Dylan’s visions are so chilling that’s impossible to envision the rain in the song as anything but destructive.

Besides song titles, Dylan uses rain throughout his lyrics. “Shelter From the Storm” off of Blood on the Tracks is much more personal and the storm is entirely metaphorical. Over a soft acoustic guitar, Dylan recounts travels he has under taken, and let in by an unnamed woman who offers him shelter.  Though the song seems sincere – she’s offering him shelter – I’ve always thought of the song as ironic. Everything seems perfectly fine until Dylan admits “there’s a wall between us and something has been lost”. Perhaps he got “his signals crossed” and misunderstood her motives. Each that each time Dylan repeats the chorus after that he seems increasingly bitter and betrayed. His tone on the words “give you” turns into “give ya” that cuts like a knife. At the end of the song the listener is left wondering where “the storm” actually is, and whether there is actually any shelter at all.

Similar to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fail” John Fogerty used rain to vent his frustrations on the Vietnam War and the Woodstock generation on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain”.  “Long as I remember, the rain been comin’ down,” Fogerty laments in the folk-rock classic. “Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ Confusion on the ground.” He sees that there is no end in sight and wonders, “who’ll stop the rain”?

Prince’s “Purple Rain” might very well be his masterpiece (both musically and lyrically). Throughout the song Prince tries to rectify relationships that have been torn apart – his girlfriend, his father, and his band members. “Purple Rain” represents a sort of redemption for Prince. It’s aching beautiful and heartfelt. While “Purple Rain” is certainly an anthem, it shouldn’t be interpreted as “Purple Reign” as a couple of Baltimore bars seemingly do after the Ravens win a game.

For Van Morrison, rain evokes peace and renewal on “Sweet Thing” off of Astral Weeks. The slow jazz inspired number even sounds like a spring rain. Throughout the song Morrison wanders through “gardens all wet with misty rain” with his love. On album filled with looking backwards, “Sweet Thing” is the only song that looks to the future, and the only one with a hint of happiness.

Rain is also a major theme of The Who’s 1973 double-album Quadrophenia. The main character Jimmy is a raging alcoholic and pill-popper, who constantly questions his identity (he even has multiple personalities). At the end of the album, Jimmy finally comes to terms with himself in the pouring rain. The song even opens with an extended collage of rain and thunderstorms.

Fran Healy of Travis famously asked, “Why does it always rain on me?”. Unlike the other artists mentioned, the narrator doesn’t get it. With self-loathing lyrics like that, the rain and sadness will never stop.

 

 

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Is The Album Cover-Art a Dying Art Form?

 

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed the shrinking of album artwork. The piece argued that elaborate cover art seems to be out of fashion, and its in place artists are opting for simple designs that can be fully seen on computers and iPods. The close-up of Lady Gaga’s face for Born This Way, and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fly on a pill for I’m With You were cited as examples.

While cover-art certainly isn’t indicative of what the music is like, it does seem to be a lost art form. Has there been an album cover released in the past few years that has already become iconic? Pearl Jam’s cover for 2009’s Backspacer was pretty nifty with 9 different images from cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, but it didn’t seem to represent the music that was on the actual disc. The childhood portrait of Lil Wayne on the cover Tha Carter III is visually intriguing and tells an interesting story, but I always felt the typography seemed a bit off.  The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light seems too much like a throwback with its collage of portraits highlighted in different colors.

Perhaps the music industry and musicians themselves think that no one really cares, and they will only view it on their iPod (or perhaps not at all.) I’m not certain about anyone else, but I find it hard to listen to songs either on my computer (or iPod) if there is accompanying artwork to go with it. I recently started downloading the cover-art of albums whose covers I don’t have and then trying to import them into iTunes. It’s a long, laborious project and so far I’m only up to letter K.  I feel much better listening to The Beatles on my computer if I can actually see the cover for Revolver.

Still, graphic designers might set some of the blame on simpler cover-art. As a former student in Graphic Design, clean and simple design with lots of white space tend to gain more favor by professors and those in the actual field. While the cover of Sgt. Pepper is certainly iconic, I’m not entirely sure it would be looked on as the artistic achievement it is, if it were released now. I can also most hear somebody suggest that, “there is too much going on, your eye doesn’t know where to focus!”

As a kid, I was totally transfixed by the cover-art of certain albums. It could sometimes defined the way I listened to particular albums. I bought The Clash’s “London Calling” after reading how great it was in a British Magazine in high school. The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass and the Elvis Presley reference in the typography was one of the coolest things I ever seen. When it came time to listen to the disc I was slightly disappointed that the music didn’t match Simonon’s anger and frustration. What was this reggae shit? It’s supposed to be punk!  (For the record, London Calling is one of my favorite albums of all time).

If album cover-art keeps “shrinking” as the Times referred to it, a valuable part of music will be lost. It’s just another casualty of the presence of digital music and furthers confirms my theory that music is becoming more and more of something to listen to in the background rather than actively listening to it for its own merits.

 

 

 

 

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Spotify Indulges My Guilty Pleasures

Has anyone used Spotify yet?  I downloaded it last weekend (right before the Hurricane) and with the exception of Saturday afternoon, haven’t used it much. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps, due to the free version I’ve downloaded I decided to indulge in guilty pleasures instead of songs that I actually like.

The same thing happened when I discovered Napster in High School. It was a gate-way to terrible songs that I never in my life pay for. With Napster, I could convince myself that I was justified in downloading some of these songs because I never paid for them. In my mind, if I paid for it that meant I either legitimately liked the song.

For instance, my Spotify playlist contains “Disco Inferno”. By all rights, I should be ashamed to admit that I even like that song let alone decide to put it on a playlist. Yet, “Disco Inferno” remains partly due to its inclusion in “Ghostbusters”.  Ten there’s Lenny Kravitz’ “Fly Away”. For some reason this song always made me laugh, hence its inclusion. Kravitz wants a party-vibe (the bass is especially funky) on this track, but over-all he sounds a little too sincere. “Girl, I gotta get away!” He shouts as the song draws to its conclusion. Dude, if you really feel that feel maybe a party isn’t the place to be.

Another song I threw on the playlist was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”. I’ve mentioned this song before (back when no one was actually reading the blog) as permanently stuck in 1997. For me, this song will always exist in the back of my Chevy Cavalier driving on the highway at 16 to get sour cream (or was it cream cheese?) for my mother. The blasting rhythms and saxophones perfectly captured my new-found freedom that came with my driver’s license.

Maybe this weekend, I will actually use Spotify to download some more appropriate tracks. But for now, I’m perfectly fine with using it to listen to songs which I should have no right really liking.

 

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Hip-Hop Artist Notar On Collaborating With Adam Duritz, And Exploring Different Genres

New York based hip-hop musician Notar first gained attention from an unlikely source: The Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz.  Duritz became so impressed with Notar’s style and combination of hip-hop, rock, and metal that he eventually signed the rapper to his own Tyrannosaurus Records label.  His first 5 track EP was released in 2010, and this year sees the release of his first full length album, Devil’s Playground, which also features Duritz and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. This past summer, Notar joined The Counting Crows on their “Traveling Circus and Medicine Show Tour”.

Devil’s Playground finds Notar meshing metal, hip-hop, and even has one song driven by an orchestra. For more information on Devil’s Playground check out Notar’s web-site.

Your demo was passed onto the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz – someone normally associated with hip-hop. What was your reaction to his enthusiasm?

Well I would associate Adam with great music and that’s what I want to continue to make to the best of my ability. I truly don’t believe in genres anymore. I really don’t. As far as my reaction to Adam’s enthusiasm I was nervous at first but prepared and ready to do damage with him. He is a genius and not only that but over time has become one of the best friends I have ever had. I’m his little brother in real life and in the music world. I’m blessed to have a guy like that in my corner truly.

You also recently toured with Counting Crows. Did you feel that you had to win the crowd over? Or were they digging it from the start?

I felt I had to go out there and give it one hundred percent. Which I did every single show. I thought that if I did that the rest would take care of itself. I believe it did. I learned a lot on that tour and I hope I taught something to people as well. All in all it was the best time of my life other than being away from a very special someone in my life.

“Devil’s Playground” is pretty eclectic for a hip-hop record. There’s raw rap, the metal assault of “Matador”, and the synth-pop of “Reach”. Do you find it hard to juggle all these different sounds and ideas?

Funny you said juggle because at times on tour I felt like the clown in the circus. Again though seriously I don’t believe in genres great music is great music. I want to do it all. I want to explore and grow. I’m currently in the studio doing some electronica type stuff with an amazing production team Volt’s United. I am blending heavy rock, electronica, hip hop, dance, whatever…. I want it all.

You’ve mentioned Chuck D as one of your major influences and have gone on record as stating that as hip-hop grew bigger it lost some of its honesty and rawness. Do you think that you feel that in your music?

I don’t totally think it’s lost its rawness and honesty because you still have so many talented artists out there. I would just like more people to be able to hear them. I have so many influences and people I admire but all I can do is be honest and do me.

“Alcoholic” seems to be one of the most brutally honest songs about the complex issues surrounding alcoholism. Was that based on a real experience? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drink everyday. It’s my fuel in a way. I’m like the drunken master or at least that’s what my boys tell me. It’s definitely based off real life and during the recording of that song I think Mgeezy and myself drank about 24 beers between us. Hence “when I’m up in the place 24 up to my face guess I’m like a detective who is working hard on a case”. It’s just the way I live my life.

Hip-hop albums seem to be loaded with guest-rappers. “Devil’s Playground” has guest-spots from Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and Adam Duritz. Were those collaborations your idea or theirs?  

Well, I only have one guest “rapper” on my album. That being Young Cash my twin brother who I can’t wait to be released in from jail in about 45 days! As far as the other collaboration, those were the collaborations that made the most sense.  Chris was the best person to fit on “Reach” (his range, and heart felt delivery works perfectly) and Adam on “Stranger” well, lets just say it works. Adam was my idea and Adam’s and Chris was Adam’s idea.

“Seasons Change” reminds me of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” (in the sense that it’s mostly driven by a string section).  What’s the story behind the track?

The fact even one of my songs on my debut album reminds you of something the Beatles have done is certainly humbling to say the least. The subject matter is me explaining the trials and tribulations that come with any relationship. It was me trying to hold on to a relationship for all the wrong reasons at the time. I was in love with a thought and not the person any more.  I explain this through the seasons changing. The lyrics if you listen closely are some of the most powerful on the record.  On the musical side I have about 3 different versions of this song but we (Ken Lewis & Myself) decided to go with this one because of its ability to really paint a picture of what the lyrics are describing. Its a song I hold very close to me and I think the strings mixed with the lyrics set the vibe to do exactly what we wanted them to. I credit Ken Lewis a lot for really guiding me with this song. I played him a version I had recorded (demo) and he fell in love with the song. His eyes lit up and I knew right then I had to do this song with him. He to this day is the only one in my camp that understands it. He did an amazing job.

“Devil’s Playground” is a reference to your life in New York and how you’ve overcome certain temptations and kept on creating. Tell me a little a bit about your experiences and how it inspired your writing.  

I’ve been through a lot over the past couple years. A whole lot. From fake friends, hate, drugs, death etc. It’s been a very bumpy ride to say the least but life is what inspires me. I am not the first one to say that pain and heartache make for great songs but some of my best material has come from me being in the pits of this world and particularly my own life. I have carried such baggage in my life and still do to this day. This album allowed me to let some of it out and express how I have truly been feeling. In the last two years alone I have lost 3 friends to suicide. We are fighting like 5 wars, people are broke, hungry, and confused. I want to be a voice through all of that. I don’t want to give up. I want to stay driven even if I am locked up in the Devil’s Playground.


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