Like What You’re Hearing?

Thank Clams Casino.

SF Weekly

music1-0908In 2011, Michael Volpe was a 23-year-old physical therapy student who lived in the historic township of Nutley, N.J., with his mom and her two dachshunds. In his spare time, Volpe produced beats under the name Clams Casino and used MySpace to pitch his glitchy, chillwave creations to other up-and-coming artists.

By the time graduation rolled around in May, he’d released his first mixtape, Instrumentals (which Pitchfork would later name the 17th top album of 2011), produced songs for the likes of Lil B, Soulja Boy, Mac Miller, Main Attrakionz, and Havoc of Mobb Deep, and had a record in the works with the then up-and-coming emcee, A$AP Rocky.

With one foot in two worlds, Volpe, who will be performing at Mezzanine on Thursday, Sept. 15, realized he had a decision to make post-graduation: He could either pursue music full-time or use his degree to get a job in physical therapy. With little hesitation, Volpe chose the former.

“I was just like, ‘I’m going to see how far I can take my music over the summer,’ ” he says. ” ‘And, if it works out and I can start making some money off of it, then I’ll just keep going with it.’ ” (Click here to read more)

Summer State of Mind

Austen Afridi of Viceroy can heat up a dancefloor with his tropical house tunes.

SF Weekly

music2-1It’s a good thing winter officially ended on Monday, because Austen Afridi, the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Summer,” has had a tough time coping.

“We had a very real winter,” says Afridi, who helms the San Francisco tropical house act Viceroy. “In fact, I got Seasonal Affective Disorder these last few months.”

Unluckily for him, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts more rain for the Bay Area and temperatures no higher than 60 degrees for the next two months. But now that summer is around the corner, Afridi is confident he can hang, even if the impending season turns out to be as cold and dreary as the last.

“You’re absolutely right, it’s not always sunny here,” Afridi says of San Francisco. “But I love it. I love it for a million reasons other than that.” (Click here to read more)

When The Going Gets Tough, Growl

Beach Goth 2016 was a fiasco and City Club sounds too polished, but The Growlers don’t give a shit.

SF Weekly

music1-1I’m lucky to get Brooks Nielsen of The Growlers on the phone when I call on a recent Thursday afternoon.

“I do the whole ‘I’m not talking to anybody anymore’ thing a lot,” the frontman says. “Even at this stage, I get people interviewing me who don’t know my music, who’ve never heard The Growlers.”

In fact, as recently as “like, two weeks ago,” Nielsen wasn’t taking calls from journalists. But I’ve caught him at a good time: The Growlers, all three of whom are from Dana Point in Orange County, are home for a week and have some time to spare. It’s a rare occurrence for the garage-rock band that has spent an average of seven months a year on the road since releasing its debut, Are You In or Out, in 2009.

“We didn’t know that we were touring more than anybody else,” Nielsen says of the band’s early years. “We didn’t know how much we were supposed to be touring.” (Click here to read more)

Clap Your Hands Say Who?

A lot has happened in the 12 years between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut and their fifth album.

SF Weekly

music1Depending on the artist, concocting a debut album can either be a blessing or a bane.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of pressure to contend with — be it self-imposed or from others — and making an album that is both flawless and attention-grabbing is no easy task.

On the other hand, a debut can be viewed as a blank canvas. As a newcomer, you have no expectations to meet and plenty of leeway to do and try whatever you like. For Alec Ounsworth, frontman of the indie rock group Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, it was the latter.

In 2005, when the Brooklyn band, then a quintet, was recording its self-titled debut, the sky was the limit because there was “nobody looking over our shoulders,” Ounsworth says. The group had ample creative freedom to be as weird and experimental as they wanted — so they were. In album opener “Clap Your Hands!” eerie carnival music comingles with distorted and harmonized vocals, and throughout the entire record, Ounsworth morphs his creaky, nasally voice into whinnies, wails, and yelps.

“We didn’t really have any expectations for the album,” he says. “It wasn’t any grand statement, but simply a first album.” (Click here to read more)

Beyond The Stage

The history of San Francisco’s most iconic music venues

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

2017-03-16From techno warehouses to indie-rock taverns, San Francisco has no shortage of music venues. We’re especially lucky to have a few that are over a century old, having weathered fires, multiple owners, and at least one earthquake.

But if you’ve visited any of these spaces, a few questions have probably popped up (aside from “How much are the drinks?” and “When does the headliner come on?”). You might have wondered why The Fillmore gives away free apples or why there’s a window behind the stage at Bottom of the Hill. Perhaps you wanted to know why there’s a balcony above the stage at Great American Music Hall that never gets used. Or maybe you were curious about Social Hall, the music venue below the Regency Ballroom that looks like a mid-century school auditorium. (Click here to read more)

Racing Goosebumps

How DJ Jazzy Jeff and 20 others spent a week creating an album.

SF Weekly

music-jazzyjeffIf there’s one thing you should know about DJ Jazzy Jeff, it’s that even though he lives in the woods outside of Philadelphia, there’s almost always a few people at his house. In fact, it’s for this very reason that he was 30 minutes late to our phone interview.

“I’m sorry,” he tells me when I finally reach him. “I had some family members stop by.”

For someone who averages 160 shows a year and always seems to have his hands in a new project or two, you’d think the constant deluge of visitors to Jeff’s home would be distracting, not to mention unwanted. But he insists it’s not.

“There’s always someone here, but it’s not a bad thing,” the 52-year-old says. “I’m trying to create a creative safe haven for people.”

In fact, Jeff — who most people associate with Will Smith, a longtime friend with whom he formed the two-time Grammy Award-winning hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in the mid-’80s — thrives on collaboration and teamwork. It is for this reason that he has hosted biannual workshops and sessions — called the PLAYlist Retreat — for producers, DJs, and songwriters at his house for the last three years.

“It’s like a camp atmosphere,” Jeff says. “We get about 18 to 25 trailers and line them all up outside.” (Click here to read more)

Chronicles of The Juice Man

Popping our collars with Juicy J.

SF Weekly

music1If you’ve never been to a strip club but still know what “bandz” are, you have Juicy J — the rapper behind the 2012 Billboard charting single “Bandz a Make Her Dance” — to thank.

One of the co-founders of the legendary Memphis rap crew Three 6 Mafia — the same group that gave us the Academy Award-winning single “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” from the film Hustle and Flow — Juicy J has spent the last half-decade pursuing a solo career, collaborating with the likes of Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry on a multitude of projects, including his forthcoming studio album, Rubba Band Business.

And though his sound has definitely diverged from the gritty gangsta rap style he perfected while in Three 6 Mafia, the rubbery-voiced emcee, who now makes upbeat, bouncy party jams, is still every bit the crunkmeister.

From a treadmill in his Beverly Hills home gym, the 41-year-old regaled us with stories about reading books on music at the age of 13, his lifelong commitment to health and fitness, and what it’s like being an OG in the industry. (Click here to read more)

’99 ’til Infinity

The millennium is still alive and bumpin’ in San Francisco DJ and producer Miguel Migs’ soulful, deep house jams.

SF Weekly

music2-2House DJ and producer Miguel Migs has fond memories of San Francisco in the ’90s, especially of its thriving, underground dance music community.

“That was a magical time,” says the 44-year-old who will be playing at Audio on Saturday, Jan. 28. “There were these amazing warehouse parties that had the greatest music.”

In fact, it was the music scene that brought the then-underage Migs to S.F. in the first place. Though he lived in Santa Cruz at the time, Migs and his friends made a habit of driving up on weekend nights to attend the city’s numerous parties and raves.

“We would draw on hand stamps or have fake IDs,” he recalls. “You know, whatever it took to get in.”

Today, the dance music scene in San Francisco is totally different. Though Migs says there are still underground warehouse parties that occur on the weekends, they’re few and far between, and San Francisco is far from the electronic music mecca it once was. Nowadays, if you want to hear dance, house, or techno, you’re better off just going to a club. (Click here to read more)

Sango, The Game Changer

The Seattle producer and beatmaker wants to elevate his craft to superstar status.

SF Weekly

music1-3“It’s kind of popular now,” Seattle producer Sango tells me over the phone. He’s talking about beatmaking — loosely defined as the art of making hip-hop sans words — and it’s something the 25-year-old, who has produced songs for the likes of Tinashe, Casey Veggies, and Denzel Curry, has been pursuing since the age of 12.

“Everyone’s a bedroom producer these days,” he continues. “All you have to do is release a track on SoundCloud, and even if it’s just beats, people will go crazy over it.”

It wasn’t always this way. Sure, there were beat pioneers — like Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Madlib, Gaslamp Killer, and Daedelus — who paved the way for future generations. And chances are they had a lot harder time convincing people to listen to their lyricless music than Sango did.

Still, in the beginning, he struggled to grow his audience until a series of fortuitous events in 2009, including a particular round of the video game Call of Duty, got him interested in Brazil and led him to discover baile funk (or “funk carioca” as it’s called in Brazil). (Click here to read more)

Straight Outta Chachiville

Compton rapper Problem reps all of California (and the L.A. Rams) in his music.

LA Weekly

img_1786“One of my friends called me one day and was like, ‘We’re gonna call you Chachi,’” Compton rapper Problem tells me. He’s talking about Chachi Arcola, Scott Baio’s character in Happy Days, the younger cousin and sidekick of Henry Winkler’s Fonzie. Toward the end of Happy Days’ 11-season run, Baio co-starred in the show’s spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi, then got his first chance to be sole lead on the ’80s sitcom Charles in Charge.

“So that’s kind of how my career went,” continues the 31-year-old, who’s using the nickname in the title of his next record, Chachiville. “First I was writing for people, then I started being a featured artist on stuff, and then I had my own thing.”

It’s Sunday morning and we’re in San Bruno, a sleepy suburb south of San Francisco, having breakfast next door to a taekwondo studio and a Weight Watchers. The goatee’d emcee, whose most famous track is the 2013 single “Like Whaaat,” has brought along his manager, Melissa Keklak, and nephew-turned-DJ Kyle aka DJ Kai, who, though only 15 years old, has already joined the rapper for one national tour.

Problem grew up in Compton in the ’90s and considers himself lucky, because his musical awakening came around the same time many of the West Coast’s second generation of rappers were coming up. He says he used to run into Nipsey Hussle while pasting promotional posters around South Central and recalls meeting Ty Dolla $ign back when he “looked like D’Angelo, sitting in his mama’s house, just playing the fucking piano and shit.” Problem credits Inglewood rapper Skeme for helping him get on the radio the first time, and says that Schoolboy Q was once his roommate for six months. (Click here to read more)

Beats Antique

The groudbreaking Bay Area trio is using music to connect global cultures.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

feature4-640x480“Welcome home,” says a girl with a back tattoo, snaking her arms in the air.

I’m standing in the pit of the Fox Theater in Oakland on a Saturday night in December, waiting for the electronic world-fusion band Beats Antique to take the stage. The venue, with a capacity of 2,800, is packed with people wearing yoga pants, utility belts, sombreros, and crystal necklaces. Whiffs of weed, patchouli, and peppermint are everywhere.

It’s the kind of crowd where random high-fives are doled out, and I overhear clips of conversations about Renaissance Faire-themed weddings, the best stretches to do in the morning, and whether or not “these are drugs or just pills.” In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was at a Burning Man party.

The guy to my right, a techie from S.F. who’s wearing a zip-up fleece jacket, tells me he rode BART in to see the band, which he’s never before seen live but has been listening to since 2012. Earlier, I met a throng of women clad in flared pants and adhesive gold tattoos who had flown in from Boston just for the show.

“They’re my favorite band of all time,” one of them tells me, before being interrupted by a friend who brags about liking Beats Antique “since high school.”

Eventually, the lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd as a woman with long, dark hair, smeared eyeliner, and a gold bra with tassels on the nipples takes the stage. She’s Zoe Jakes, Beats Antique’s principal dancer, and she’s carrying a glowing golden ball of twine, just as she does on the cover of their most recent album, Shadowbox. The ball of light casts shadows across Jakes’ face as she dances in the darkness, and the beginnings of an Indian raga, created by the other two members of Beats Antique — Tommy Cappel and David Satori — peal throughout the room.

Ten minutes in, and Jakes is still performing, her gestures and movements mirroring the song’s changing tempos. As strobes of red light beam down from the rafters, the bass picks up, careening into a full-fledged gallop, and Jakes starts spinning in circles, the ball extended horizontally in front of her.

When the bass dies down, Jakes stops spinning and slips backstage while Satori addresses the audience.

“It’s good to be home,” the bespectacled musician says, picking up the violin. “We love you, Oakland.” (Click here to read more)

Three is the Magic Number

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s frontman Ruban Nielson couldn’t stop himself from writing about the love triangle he and his wife had with another woman, and now he’s dealing with the consequences.

SF Weekly

music2-2-1Ruban Nielson, frontman of the indie-rock quartet Unknown Mortal Orchestra, does not like Thanksgiving. In fact, he hates it so much he took his wife and two children to a remote log cabin in Oregon this year to escape the festivities.

“I wanted to get away from Portland so that nobody would ask me and my family to do Thanksgiving,” says Nielson, who joked on Twitter that he was “Thankful I don’t have to eat any of the shitty food your family made today.”

But it’s not likely Nielson has had to endure many atrocious Thanksgiving meals himself. Both he and his wife are from New Zealand, and they only moved to Portland about four years ago.

“We don’t have any personal connection with Thanksgiving,” he tells me in early December. “And even if we did, I have no interest in celebrating it at all. It seems like a farce.”

As I chat with the 36-year-old over the phone from his home in Portland, he sounds energetic and alert, which is not what I’d expected from the self-proclaimed lifelong insomniac. It turns out that because the cabin lacked a studio, Nielson had little to do to occupy his mind late at night and ended up managing to (finally) catch some shut-eye.

Though he still feels rested, now that he’s returned home, his sleeping patterns have started getting fucked up again, thanks to his habit of whittling away his evenings working on music in his basement studio. But he’s cool with this.

“I don’t really like sleeping,” he admits. “It sucks because you miss out on life.”

Coming from Nielson, who has been known to mine past experiences for his music, this makes sense. In fact, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third album, 2015’s Multi-Love, revolves entirely around real-life events, most notably Nielson and his wife’s past relationship with a younger woman. (Click here to read more)

‘Gangsta’ in an Evening Gown

Atlanta’s iconoclastic Young Thug doesn’t give a fuck about what you think of his flow — or his cross-dressing.

SF Weekly

feature-youngthugOn Sept. 14, 2015, Young Thug unveiled a new track titled “Best Friend” on YouTube. “That’s my best friend, that’s my best friend,” the lanky 25-year-old performer croons over the platinum-certified single’s trickly piano melody. Based on the title and hook alone, it’s clear Thug is rapping about friendship and loyalty, which is admittedly nothing new in hip-hop. Compton rapper YG took home a BET Hip-Hop award in 2014 for his buzzy, boom-bap hit “My Nigga,” and almost 20 years before that, Coolio made the concept of “rolling with [your] homies” so cool that even the Beverly Hills high schoolers in Clueless knew the lyrics.

But with “Best Friend,” and its accompanying video (which has been viewed more than 150 million times), it’s clear that Thug is trying to shake up the typical buddy-song paradigm. Instead of cameos of his real-life friends or group shots of his entourage, facsimiles of Thug proliferate throughout. We see him walking in on two of his doppelgangers, who are hooking up in a bedroom, and we watch as two versions of himself hang out and try on outfits in a bathroom. A suited-up carbon copy of the MC chauffeurs his white-pleather-outfitted counterpart, and at the end, an ashen Thug prepares to dine on a platter of his own head.

Like most things Thug, “Best Friend” is weird and artsy and confusing. But perhaps more than anything, with its message of being your own best friend, it’s also cocky as fuck. And you know what? That’s OK.

One of 11 children, Thug grew up in Section 8 housing in Atlanta, dropping out of high school and fathering the first of six children at the age of 17. One of his early managers, whom he met in the mid-aughts, recalls that at the time, the burgeoning rapper who now glitters with diamonds and models for Calvin Klein, had next to nothing. All he had was a few shirts, a pair of shoes, and rotted, discolored teeth that he’d cover with his hand when talking. (Click here to read more)

Chicago Indie-Rockers Whitney Are Finding That it Pays to be Sincere

SF Weekly

feature7-whitney-17e964880ea23737For the last six months, the seven members of the Chicago band Whitney have been homeless — sort of.

Though they’ve been living out of suitcases and backpacks, they haven’t necessarily been sleeping on the streets. Instead, they’ve been touring — first across Europe, then through North America — staying in hotels, at fans’ houses, and, occasionally, in a 10-person tent, if they happen to be near a national park.

“We’ve pretty much given up our entire settled lives to go on the road and support this dream,” says guitarist Max Kakacek.

The only constant in their lives has been their van: a powder blue 15-passenger 1997 Dodge Ram with “Grace Baptist Church” emblazoned on its sides. The septet bought the clunker in February from a church in “the middle of Indiana” that they found through Craigslist. In the seven months they’ve had it, they’ve racked up more than 30,000 miles thanks to their relentless gigging. (Case in point: Their upcoming performance at Outside Lands on Friday will mark the band’s second visit to San Francisco in less than four months.)

Though its AC is busted, there are perks to driving a former church van, Kakacek says. Thinking they’re a religious group, hotels will sometimes give them discounts, and occasionally, when the car is parked, people will drop donations through the open windows.

“It’s really weird,” Kakacek says. “I feel like [society] commiserates more with religious people.” (Click here to read more)

Big Grams Gets the Formula Right

SF Weekly

feature6-biggrams-8002cefe93f2c43cBig Grams might not sound familiar, but surely the names of the individual artists who make up the eclectic hip-hop trio do. Consisting of rapper Big Boi (André 3000’s other half in OutKast) and Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel of the electronic rock duo Phantogram, Big Grams — does the name make sense now? — combines Carter’s spacey, inventive productions with Barthel’s crystalline vocals and Big Boi’s laidback Southern drawl.

You could say the band is an experiment in opposites, a merging of disparate genres and musical styles into one coherent sound, but that’s only part of its appeal. Collaborative acts made up of artists from other bands are, in fact, de rigueur at the moment. There’s the duo Banks and Steelz, consisting of rapper RZA from Wu-Tang Clan and Interpol leadman Paul Banks; El Vy, the side project of singer Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena; and Broken Bells, the indie rock duo made up of The Shins vocalist James Mercer and Gnarles Barkley producer Danger Mouse.

But what differentiates Big Grams from these other acts is its ethos. The point of the band is not to make money or churn out albums, but rather to have fun.

“We have good times, man,” Big Boi tells SF Weekly. “This was organically created. We were just kind of hanging out as strangers from two different places, but when we got in the same room together, we just couldn’t stop laughing and cracking jokes and all kinds of shit. We had a natural chemistry.”

The harmony between each member’s zodiac sign also plays a role, or so says Big Boi. “Sarah and Josh are Aquariuses and Geminis, just like me and André 3000 were. So you end up having two Aquariuses and a Gemini in a room together, and there’s a lot of positive results.” (Click here to read more)

Music in Flux

Since 2007, Brooklyn Trio Yeasayer Has Crafted Diverse Albums That Range From One Extreme to Another

SF Weekly

music2-bcb699e3c706a9eeWhat do you do when your parents leave town? You throw a party — duh. That’s what Tom Cruise did in Risky Businessand what Kid ‘n Play did in House Party. When the parents of one of the members of the indie-pop trio Yeasayer left town in 2006, the band took over their Baltimore house, too.

But they didn’t throw a party.

Instead, they turned the living room into a makeshift recording studio. Using a Blue microphone borrowed from a friend, they “spent a week down there just experimenting and probably thinking we were a lot more professional and knowledgeable about recording than we were,” says bassist Ira Wolf Tuton.

Because the living room opened onto the kitchen, the “studio” was far from sound-proofed. The musicians had to repeatedly unplug the refrigerator because the mic they were using — “It was way too much for us to understand,” Tuton says — was so powerful it picked up the machine’s humming.

By the end of the week, the burgeoning group — who still worked side jobs while trying to make it in Brooklyn — had recorded four songs, including the drum-heavy polyrhythmic psychedelic-folk ballad “Sunrise,” which would eventually become the lead single on their 2007 debut album, All Hour Cymbals.

I first heard “Sunrise” in a trailer for a college-produced short film a friend appeared in. I wasn’t intrigued by the movie, but my ears perked up when I heard the song. I became a Yeasayer fan soon after that, devouring the band’s whimsical, ethnocentric debut with its myriad percussion instruments — cymbals, synthesizer, tribal drumming, hand clapping — falsetto cadences, and multi-part harmonies. (Click here to read more)

Stuck On You

Electronic-R&B Duo Lion Babe Will Forever Be Tied to its Breakout Single

SF Weekly

music2-f7cb8a056a60d902The song opens with a trickling keyboard melody, coated with a thick layer of analog fuzz that makes the tune sound old, and as if it were cascading through your speakers from a faraway place. Ten seconds in, a clapping effect emerges on the sonic landscape, followed by a bassline that pulsates like a heartbeat. In the distance, a deep, smoky voice coos the opening line, only to be echoed by a second voice — this one younger, sharper — a few seconds later. A pattern emerges as the voices trade lines, repeating one another four times until the entire chorus — “Treat me like / Fire/ Into the pain” / — has been sung.

So starts “Treat Me Like Fire,” the electronic-R&B duo Lion Babe’s first official release, which, to date, has been listened to almost 6 million times on Spotify. Lyrically simple, it’s an instrumentally dense song that somehow manages to be chill and dance-inducing at the same time. But don’t let that fool you. “Treat Me Like Fire” was less professional and premeditated than you’d think.

“If you asked either of us if we thought of having a bridge or a pre-chorus or whatever, we didn’t,” says Lion Babe’s singer Jillian Hervey, whose mother is actress Vanessa Williams. “We didn’t even know what those things were really.”

After six months of toiling on the track, the pair, which includes producer Lucas Goodman, uploaded “Treat Me Like Fire” in November 2012 to the internet, adding a music video to YouTube a month later. Hervey says they “didn’t have a plan or anything,” but they didn’t need one. It took a few weeks for the internet to catch on, and once World Star Hip-Hop reposted the music video in January, the song took off.

Emails with offers to manage the band flooded in, and blogs around the world penned posts about the song. Rapper Childish Gambino reached out to Hervey and Goodman, inviting them to open for him during his set at South By Southwest, and by the summer of 2013, they’d signed a deal with Polydor Records.

“It was crazy,” Hervey says. “We didn’t expect there to be so big of a reaction.” (Click here to read more)

Flume: From Hard Rock Cafe Waiter to International Sensation

Five years ago, Flume was a waiter at Hard Rock Cafe. Now, he’s an international sensation.

SF Weekly

music1-1-1Flume may be one month shy of turning 25, but he already “feels old.”

“Do I think I’ve matured?” the electronic musician asks from St. Louis, one of the many stops on his current seven-month-long worldwide tour. “One-hundred percent. This life and this job and this position that I’m put in, it forces you to grow up quick. I definitely got dropped in the deep end.”

But fame will do that to you, especially when your road to success has been as immediate and meteoric as Flume’s.

The self-described “guy who likes computers and loves music” first learned how to produce music at the age of 13 thanks to a box of Nutri-Grain cereal that contained a CD with “a crappy version of GarageBand.” Around the age of 20, the Sydney, Australia native began uploading his songs to SoundCloud while juggling a variety of random day jobs, such as waiting tables at Hard Rock Cafe, working the register at a magazine stand, and cleaning offices using a wearable, Ghostbusters-esque “backpack vacuum.”

His luck changed in 2011, when he submitted the tracks “Sleepless,” “Over You,” and “Paper Thin” to a competition thrown by the Australian record company Future Classic. They chose Flume as the winner, signed him to their label, and released his first EP soon thereafter.

Now, five years later, Flume, who, according to Spotify, is the 44th most listened-to artist “in the world,” has two full-length albums under his belt, is headlining slots at various international music festivals, and has a seven-digit yearly income, according to The New York Times. He’s topped Australia’s iTunes charts more than once, taken home nine awards, and produced a handful of records that have been certified gold, platinum, and double-platinum. One song, “Never Be Like You,” released in January, has even achieved quadruple-platinum status.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” Flume says of his success. “I didn’t expect it to quite pan out like this.” (Click here to read more)

With Is the Is Are, DIIV Frontman Zachary Cole Smith Finally Sees The Light at the End of the Tunnel

SF Weekly

feature2-diiv-d011868f8ff7e8a7Ever since Zachary Cole Smith catapulted onto the music scene in 2011 with his five-piece, guitar-driven rock band DIIV, he’s been in the public eye. But not for his music.

“It just kind of got glossed over,” the 31-year-old says. “There was this weird thirst for info.”

And for good reason. Though DIIV’s 2012 debut album Oshin made it on a number of year-end lists, the media was more interested in Smith’s girlfriend at the time, Sky Ferreira, and in his sordid, drug-riddled past.

As a teenager, Smith was expelled from multiple high schools, ultimately attending six institutions in five years. And after his freshman year at Hampton College in Massachusetts, he was expelled again. He spent his 20s living in New York, serving as guitarist for a number of bands — Beach Fossils, Soft Black, and Darwin Deez — all the while battling a heroin addiction. After forming DIIV in 2011, he began dating Ferreira, but it was in 2013 that shit really hit the fan.

First, Smith canceled the band’s European tour, then he sacked his manager. The band then traveled to San Francisco to hash out material for their second album with help from Chet “JR” White, the former bassist for Girls. But that was a failure, too.

“We ended up going into the TL and scoring drugs and then just going to the studio and falling asleep on the couch,” Smith says. “It was not good. Being there was horrible for my psyche, and I really did not do well.” (Click here to read more)

Have Faith in Eryn Allen Kane

The 26-year-old vocalist has come far in three years.

SF Weekly

music1-2“It sounds cliche,” singer-songwriter Eryn Allen Kane warns me over the phone while driving to a recording session in L.A. She’s explaining how she learned to sing, and credits the church on the east side of Detroit that she attended as a kid, as well as its choir, for introducing her to the art form and helping her hone her vocal chops.

I’m not surprised.

Listen to any song from either of Kane’s two EPs, Aviary: Act I and Aviary: Act II, and the gospel influences of her childhood are front and center. Harmonies, a cappella arrangements, syncopated rhythms, and veiled Bible references: They’re all there. And even though the 26-year-old’s lyrics are staunchly secular, her tracks have a sermon-like quality and spew life lessons and advice, like not letting social media hurt your confidence and the importance of staying positive.

“I try to stick to the roots of my singing,” says Kane, who is known not only for her hearty, versatile voice, but for her mammoth mound of curly brown hair. “I’m not going to make a song like Lady Gaga using 808s and Auto-Tune.”

Of all her songs, the gospel streak is strongest in the 2015 single, “Have Mercy,” a gentle acoustic track punctuated by finger snaps and choral arrangements from female vocalists. She penned and produced the ditty over the course of an afternoon in August 2014 after watching news segments on the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the murder of a little boy who had been beaten to death by his mother. (Click here to read more)

Another One Bites the Dust … Sorta

The Bay Area loses HBK rapper Iamsu! to Atlanta, but he promises he’ll be back.

SF Weekly

music1-1In the last few years, a hot topic of conversation has been the mass exodus of musicians leaving the Bay Area for other locales, thanks to increased living costs, a shrinking artist’s community, and the infiltration of tech. SF Weekly covered the epidemic in a 2014 cover story, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall discussed their decision to leave San Francisco for Los Angeles with Pitchfork, and, earlier this year, SPIN published a tome about the creative greats who have left our region.

And now another Bay Area artist has decided to move on: the nouveau-hyphy rapper and HBK Gang founder, Iamsu!

When I reach the 6-foot 4-inch emcee (born Sudan Williams) by phone on a Wednesday afternoon, he tells me that he’s in the process of moving into his newly purchased, six-bedroom, five-bathroom, three-story house in Atlanta.

“I just got checked for termites, I got all my locks changed, and I set up my cable and my internet today,” he tells me. “I also talked to 2 Chainz, and he’s going to help me build a studio in my house.”

Only a few days prior, the multi-talented 27-year-old — who, in addition to rapping, also sings and produces — signed the papers for the house, which he purchased from his grandmother’s best friend after she decided to move when her husband died.

“Me and my mom talked about it,” he tells me, “and we thought it was a good idea.” (Click here to read more)