Photos and video of Sturgill Simpson performing at the Station Inn, shot May 8, 2014 in Nashville, TN (clip features “Some Days,” “Living the Dream,” “Poor Rambler,” and “Turtles All the Way Down”).
Related Feature → The Metamodern Gospel of Sturgill Simpson
“I’ve been back and forth between Cleveland and Nashville a lot in the past five years,” writes Christopher Wild, emailing en route to Nashville from L.A., returning from a trip to the Mojave Desert. “Both cities feel a bit like home,” he continues, “but also a bit less than a place that I feel like I can say I live.” Wild’s eponymous debut reflects this sort of renegade spirit as filtered through classic rock influences, with the resulting 11 tracks falling well in line with a sound that migrated to Nashville through the likes of Jack White and the Black Keys. But Christopher Wild is hardly a blues-rock replica — it’s an amplified statement, making good on the prodigious claims that the guitarist’s been leveled with ever since he was a teenager.
A lot of the songs that are on the record are ones that I’d written in high school and college days, adds Wild (born Christopher Volante), dating some of the tracks back around the time of one of his first musical achievements, through his band the Sharp Edges in 2009. That year, in front of a panel of judges led by then-Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jim Henke, the group won Live Nations Tri-C Rock-Off, a high school battle-of-the-bands style event held at Cleveland’s House of Blues. Chris Volante showed his virtuosity by ripping a slasher guitar and a melodic keyboard to complement his pure metal tenor, wrote Cleveland.com’s Chuck Yarborough of the performance. “At such a young age they had more talent than a lot of people in the industry,” reflects Wild, looking back on his time in the trio. “And they were really fun guys to play shows with.”
In 2012 he was hand-picked for Belmont’s annual Best of the Best showcase, yet despite these sort of recurring music industry affirmations, Wild approached his self-released debut as a very personal matter, recording all the instruments and vocals himself. Relying on analog all the way, he began tracking the album at his parents’ house in Cleveland last August, while he finished the vocals at RCA Studio B the following month in Nashville. At this stage fellow Cleveland-to-Nashville transplant, Tommy Wiggins, stepped in, simultaneously mixing and mastering the recording live to tape. “When Chris played me the first roughs for what would become this album,” Wiggins recently posted to Facebook, “I got the exact same feeling that I did when I was 19 and heard Led Zep’s first record for the first time. Electricity and hair standing up on my arms.”
If looking to pinpoint influences, Led Zeppelin is heavily in the mix among the set of yesteryear rock homages. You might also hear The Stripes in Wild’s Lennon epitaph “The Day,” Jeff Beck through the propulsive blues of “Strawberry Lips,” or Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, and Big Star elsewhere in the LP’s other nine cuts. But in “Home,” Wild’s record collection, personal style, and perceived place in this world all seem to collide. “I don’t know where I’m going,” wails the singer, “All I know is I don’t have a home.” Christopher Wild’s debut is ripe with familiarity, and it validates the acclaim he’s received since his youth, but more importantly the music’s helping him find his place in this world: It doesn’t really matter where Chris Volante lives because, as Christopher Wild suggests, through his music he will always have a home.
The roots of D’ark wind through Nashville, back to Portland, and all the way to Maui, where six years ago the band Copperfox was conceived between partners Lisa Garcia and Rory Mohon. Their 2011 debut, From The Den, ended up running four tracks deep, revolving around a sound that Garcia calls “moody alt-country.” While those first songs transition fairly seamlessly into their sophomore release, the change and growth between the records was immense: Garcia and Mohon uprooted themselves “from the wonderful city that is Portland in search of a bigger music town,” eventually landing in Nashville, and expanding their lineup to include Andrew Bottini and Stephanie Kincheloe. What emerged from this period was last year’s Roads Traveled EP.
Copperfox played their first Nashville gig at Twin Kegs last summer, leading to a meeting with producer Caleb Laven, who was impressed by the set. Reflecting on the encounter over email, Laven says “[the band] really stuck out to me as a sound that could have an impact not only around the Nashville scene, but on a much larger scale.” “He told us we sounded like a David Lynch film,” adds Mohon via email. “I knew we were going to be friends after that.”
The framework of the first two D’ark tracks were recorded on Mohon’s iPad before Garcia added vocals and the songs were sent along to Laven for mixing. “Fangs and Paws” is slowly propelled by Garcia’s smokey howls while “Fast as Lightning” fades guitar echoes over vintage-sounding electronics. Both tracks bear a predictably dark sound, each following a traditional structure that Mohon describes as a reaction to synth-wave music he was listening to. “The people writing this type of music weren’t pushing it far enough,” he says. “A song would typically consist of a beat that rarely changed and a fixed chord structure and it would drone on for five and a half minutes. I liked it but would get bored and wanted there to be choruses and a bridge, like pop music would have.”
No matter the impetus of the music, both agree that Garcia’s vocals lend the songs their identity. “Theres this sort of beautifully haunting thing about the melodies she writes that really gets to me at times,” says Laven. “I also have Lisa to thank,” adds Mohon. “It was her voice that brought these songs to the next level and made me determined to do something greater with this project than to just pass it around amongst my friends.”
“I’m troubled by the industry convention that would require me to summarize my creative process in a dozen ‘fully baked’ songs,” explains Lizzy Ross, speaking to the “guts” of her still-expanding Naked in My Living Room release. “As if an album were a thesis to defend or a product with a warranty to uphold.” At the time of this article’s publication, Living Room is five songs deep, each track a single-take performance, capturing a “creative growth spurt” as it continues to unfold. “Most of all, it disturbs me when the need to present a perfect finished product gets in the way of continued creative expression, growth, and risk-taking,” she continues. “When the wrinkles are spared, they’re often my favorite part of a song.”
Born in Annapolis, Maryland (“perhaps the place where music goes to die”), Ross later relocated to Chapel Hill to study at the University of North Carolina. There she joined the short-lived twangy indie rock band Lafcadio in 2008, before forming the Lizzy Ross Band the following year. In 2010 she released a solo acoustic album called Traces, before hitting full stride with the group’s debut, Read Me Out Loud, in 2011. That year (and in 2012) Ross was nominated for Best Rock Female at the Carolina Music Awards, winning the honor the first time through. “They’re wonderful and fantastic,” she said of her bandmates last September, on the eve of both the break-up of the group and her departure from the state. “[T]his is definitely a band of people who are good to the core.” This past November she moved to Nashville.
“I released my most recent album over two years ago [and] at this point,” says Ross, “I’m feeling Ive quite outgrown it.” With Living Room she hasn’t abandoned her band’s “country, blues, soul, and jazz-inflected Americana” sound, she’s just taken a filter off, letting the music of the moment flow from within and through her electric rig and RC-300 loop pedal. “I love the immediacy of a live performance,” she says. “I love the wholeness of a single take recording.”
They might only appear a series of rugged demos, but the weekly sessions do show the singer finding her footing, both in her new surroundings and once again as a solo artist. Whether compared to past solo recordings from a few months ago, or a few years ago, they exhibit an edge that seems to be getting sharper with time. There’s a comfort Ross seems to find in this evolution.
“Once a week, I come to terms with the disparity between how I sound and how I wish I sounded,” she says. “I find things to love about the way I play a song in that particular moment in time. I give a song my undivided attention and energy, we grow into each other, and I show the world our best collaboration of the moment.”
The accompanying notes for Tri Angles’ MUSIC CITY release are sparse, relating the music to “this traveller’s current headspace, an EP filled with twilight psychedelic jams.” But that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t meant to represent something more. Self-described as an intersection between drum and bass and trip hop, the three tracks serve as a platform for wordless storytelling, a form of creating that the producer says “plays into the way we understand our experiences subconsciously.”
Born just outside of L.A., David Angles’ parents moved to China when he was a year old. He spent his next 18 years traveling Asia. “Such a very different life,” he says. “Come 2008 or so,” he continues, “I end up at Belmont, of all places. I started writing a lot of electronic music, albeit terrible, and slowly worked my way to an understanding of how music works.”
He dropped out of school in 2010 and began embodying the “wandering artist” label he uses to describe Tri Angles. “I’ve been on that road ever since. I’ve been homeless so many times now. So many buses. I’ve spent time in so many cities traveling, meeting new people and expanding myself.” He continued to pursue music as he explored the country, “A cosmic tumbleweed, letting myself be pulled wherever I thought I needed to be, following a feeling.”
Seven years ago Angles adopted the SMILETRON moniker and quickly became absorbed in a niche community, incorporating 8-bit sounds into the creation of chiptune music. The ChipWIN Blog would call him “one of the most beloved and prolific artists in chipmusic,” but 20-plus releases into his journey, he found himself at a creative crossroads. Mainly I felt like SMILETRON was a finished story, he said in an interview last December. I wanted to start a new journey, but in a completely different direction while still retaining everything I had learned and accomplished on the last one.
This creative closure coincided with a return to a familiar setting. “I guess that was just about a year ago that I ended up back here,” Angles says of his return to Nashville. “I’ve been hiding out ever since, writing music and getting by.” After bookending SMILETRON with a performance at the chiptune-focused BRKFest, Angles further shifted his sound away from the genre with Tri Angles’ FARSIGHT release this past February. Octal Blog called it “a drum and bass epic.”
Speaking with The Waveform Generators last year, Angles explained that one of the best ways he’s found to explore the nature of the universe is through “creating fantastic sounds.” In this sense, Tri Angles provides him an avenue to share his stories without having to draw any hard conclusions around what he’s experienced. The sounds merely represent a step into the unknown. And with MUSIC CITY theres a sense that — at least for now — Angles feels at home with himself, his music, and his urge to explore. “Over time I’ve developed a very surreal attachment to the city. For someone with no home, this is the closest thing I’ve got. I’ll undoubtedly wander away sometimes, but I always come back.”
“My last three tapes I put out were made for smoking […] filled with bong sounds and things. The tracks are all 10-15 minutes long and made to be extra blunted.” While looking out for herbal connoisseurs with his last few productions, JOTA ESE’s Super Dank III isn’t strictly for the smokers. “Despite the name,” he says, “the videos and samples don’t have that much to do with smoking.”
As JOTA explains, most of the project “was done very late at night after I get off work, so it reflects a late night vibe.” The resulting mix drifts in and out of frictionless samples and instrumentals, all of which serves as a relaxed soundtrack for the accompanying Super Dank III video (which repurposes arctic exploration footage documenting Jacques Cousteau and the crew of The Calypso).
“This is a more classic style tape,” JOTA continues, which isn’t to say that the music stands on its own, separate from the series’ first two mixes. “I had help from the same people who helped with the beats and videos for parts one and two.” “One of the big differences,” he says, “is that the new release was produced as a continuous recording before being broken down into the album’s 14 tracks.” “Super Dank III was one track but I cut it up,” says JOTA. “So some echoes and things carry over to the next track, which I really really like.”
Related Feature → Day Old Records: “Day Old Bred”
“I know this is somewhat cliché, but I still enjoy smoking to a lot of original dub reggae and original ska records. Those records have always had an impact on me musically.” KDSML’s five-track Nug Life EP is hardly a throwback to the days of King Tubby and Super Ape, but it does reflect the same stripped-down aesthetic of those early influences. “I tried not to over complicate, he continues, giving the sounds and the tracks more room to breathe.
Released via Future Everything, Nug Life bears little smokiness to its sound despite the EPs obvious theme: “Bong Hit” opens to an “energetic but still laid back feel” that characterizes the entire recording; “High Flier” is a washed out daydream of ethereal samples; “Now-A-Daze” is boosted by crisp pitched-down horn stomps; “The Reefer” warps woodwinds over a deep wobble; and “Gangsta” provides a bass-heavy close to the set.
KDSML promises more music later this year including “a couple of 100BPM joints,” but don’t expect him to trail off too far into the woods. “I am planning on putting out a lot more of my productions,” he says. “But all of the new material stays true to the general style I started developing on Nug Life.”
Much has been made of the unorthodox lyrical themes that run throughout Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. “It’s a very psychedelic country record about the human experience and love,” explained the singer to WFPK recently. While “love” hardly seems like absurd subject matter, we are talking about country music here, where women being “accepted” somehow counts as an application of progressive ideals. Then again, in the album’s lead single, “Turtles All the Way Down,” the pursuit of love does include the discovery of “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open” and “pull out all your pain,” so maybe there’s something to the unconventional label, after all.
Not unlike how the word “god” has been co-opted by religion though, using the word “love” as a placeholder for fleeting human emotion merely stands as a pornographic reduction of its limitless dynamic. Strip the word of its superficial associations and you’ll begin to understand what the music is about: that “love” is all there really is.
Utilizing psychedelics in the pursuit of understanding, “Turtles” follows the singer as he’s faced with Jesus, The Devil, and Buddha, who shows him “a glowing light within.” “There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this place,” he sings. Musically, the track is about as traditional country-sounding a song as you’ll ever hear, which makes it all the more enchanting when Simpson recalls seeing the spirit of the universe in the eyes of his best friend or questions why dimethyltryptamine is a Schedule I drug (despite literally being present in each and every one of us… and our lawns).
“Honestly,” continued Simpson to WFPK, “I just kinda woke up and felt like I couldn’t write any more songs about broken hearts and drinking […] People are going to make a lot more out of it than it is.” Despite the astronomical divide between honky tonk clichés and infinite recursion, this modest sincerity rings true through to the end of the song, where a heartwarming glaze of cosmic echo bleeds over a lyrical resolve to abandon fear in favor of love’s everlasting nature. “Don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, blood and wine, it’s turtles all the way down the line.”
Related Feature → The Metamodern Gospel of Sturgill Simpson