The Mellow Side of Bill Bartholomew: An artist coming back home to himself

In early November, Rhode Islander Bill Bartholomew returned to Brooklyn, a place he called home for 10 years, to debut his solo record, “Beij,” and I was lucky enough to be there. It’s a special kind of thrill to see local musicians in other spaces, and self-identified artist of many trades, Bill (who told the crowd it was “terrifying” to re-enter New York as a musician) did not disappoint. Sitting at a tiny table at the back of “Pete’s Candy Store” – across from the heart-shaped sign reminding patrons that the donation of $5 was very much appreciated by the band, I witnessed Bill’s raw vulnerability and the support of old friends (many fellow musicians) come together in an intimate show.

If you’ve seen him play you know he likes to experiment with unexpected sounds; he sprinkles falsettos, guitar riffs, and musical dynamics into a set that could be rock, folk, metal, or a storytelling session. He did it all that night and instead of guitar-smashing-daredevil dance moves, Bill executed badass kicks, contorted over his acoustic guitar, and let the music go where it needed to – all while sitting in a chair (he shared that he had battled long COVID). By the end of his release show, I felt his joy and gratitude for being able to make and share music. I interviewed Bill Bartholomew right before this show and he explained how his two worlds (journalism and music) live side by side, and how creating on his own allowed him to “come back home” to himself.

Mayté (Motif): I’d like you to start by telling me all the things that you do so I don’t miss anything.

Bill Bartholomew: Oh wow… well, the way I’ve been describing myself now is singer, songwriter, media personality. Primarily, I’m a singer-songwriter for my project. I play drums in a number of bands in Rhode Island, and I was/am half of the band Silverteeth, but we’re on hiatus. And I am the host of the Bartholomew Town Podcast, producer and host at WPRO, and a contributor at Rhode Island PBS. That’s good enough.

M: How would you say journalism bleeds into your music or music into your journalism?

BB: For as long as I can remember I’ve always had two major interests in my life: music and current affairs/politics/news media, especially local media. I see them all under the umbrella of artist, especially in my specific role in media where I do reporting and straight-type journalism, but I’m more of a performer. When I do podcasting or radio, it’s all entertainment and [the] creation of content. It all bleeds seamlessly like that. Then there’s the more major side of it, which is the role of the artist serving as a mirror. Whether that’s through my music or podcasting, it’s all me experiencing the world, and then sharing my take on it. I feel like [music and journalism] are always going to be woven together for me. When I perform, now more than ever, there’s more storytelling during my sets. And when I create media content there’s a musicality to it; I use my hands a lot, even when I’m not on camera. I don’t see one as, “Oh, that’s my job, and this is my passion.” They both are things that I do. They all combine into how I would define my art.

M: I love what you said about interpreting what’s happening in the world – in both music and media.

BB: I think that’s the ultimate job. There are definitely people who have a more technical approach to music or media, and while I embrace as much technicality as I can, really, all that comes from is my own emotion or feelings on things. I’m always working on balancing what should be refined. And what’s better than being as raw as possible?

M: The name of your new album is “Beij” (“kiss” in Portuguese), right?

BB: Yeah, well pronounced.

M: Thank you! What was the vision for “Beij”?

BB: After spending 10 years focusing on music, I was looking for something to add to my portfolio and I naturally fell into podcasting, then talk radio, and then the journalism world surrounding COVID. I’m very thankful for that. I was still doing shows at my loft, playing out, drumming in bands, and recording demos, but my identity had really gone into the media side of things. Late last year I started to feel like I wanted to rebalance that. Having been in bands for a really long time, and also performing as a solo artist, I really wanted to follow my instinct to be by myself when I made music now… Through podcasting, I learned that I’m probably my happiest and more fluid- when I’m by myself. I have a team that I work with in radio, and there are major figures in my life- that I bounce ideas off of when I do podcasting, but I wanted to make a record and reestablish my musical identity by myself… where I was completely able to control my own destiny- anything I was able to accomplish or not accomplish, I could look back and say, hey, that was on me.

That meant recording, producing, playing all the instruments, and just being alone in my room with the door closed for several months. And then on the other side thinking: how do I want to perform this live? I decided it was going to be this indie, experimental, folk thing, with a little bit of northern country to it, all the music that I’ve always wanted to make.  And it was difficult because you get into those moments where you don’t know: Is this the right tempo? Is that the vocal take? So, I started to ask people that were close to me what they thought. It really came down to, for the first time really, me saying, “Let me see what happens when I work by myself.” That was really the impetus for this entire launch – no one is going to interfere with my vision. That may be the egomaniac talking, but I also think it’s the artistic process: the painter, the podcaster, the writer. That’s where I wanted to land more so than the camaraderie and the hangout that comes with being in a band; I prioritized the former over the latter in this case.

M: You created the landscape you needed to tell your truth with absolute freedom.

BB: I’ve been in established bands where there’s always been two songwriters, or in some cases, two front people. That’s a lot of time to spend splitting songwriting duties… and creating a vision that is emblematic of what you want to do is hard and beautiful when it works. But, I needed to go back home to myself, just writing songs and putting them out into the world.

M: You just said that and I got chills for you. That happens when I’m in conversation with people and they say amazing things.

BB: Oh wow, thank you.

M: You’re welcome! Many of the songs on your album feel like ballads, and your performance is typically more indie rock or metal, no?

BB: Some of the songs are really old songs… kicking around for 15 years, and others were written this year. I probably have 50 ripped legal pad papers of different lists of songs and somehow, I just landed on this batch. When I play live there is a tendency for this rock side to come out – and I’ll climb things! I love that aspect of the show, being as raucous as possible, climbing into the audience and laying down on the floor, or doing weird experimental stuff with my voice. But I think the true artist that I am, when I think back over the experiences that I’ve had, is that solo acoustic guy with no amplification in a cafe in Brooklyn, or a small venue somewhere – I think that’s the closest to who I really am and I wanted to tap into that.

M: When you were done with the album did you think- oh this was exactly what I wanted?

BB: You know, through podcasting I learned about creating and sharing content, [with] the idea being, “Let’s make it, learn from it and keep working.” A lot of people said, “Why even make an album? Just make a song.” But I felt like I needed to have a foundation. I deleted most of my old music off of Spotify… to establish a new foothold with the [listener]. Heaven-forbid, I’m unable to make music for some reason… and if someone stumbles upon my stuff, they’ll say, “Okay, I think I know where this guy was coming from.” It represents me. Then in May, right as I was finishing the record, my computer crashed and I ended up losing it temporarily. Luckily, I was able to recover most of it, but there was one song that I thought came out really good called “Lonely1,” which was completely lost. I was devastated… and my roommate, Randy Robbins, an incredible songwriter said, I think you can do that song even better, and I did. I’m really proud of the perseverance there… I was prepared to enter into a deep depression as a result of losing the record. I have really worked hard since the pandemic [at trying] to improve my mental health. And I think that if it was 2019 or early 2020, before I really started taking some steps, I probably would have had a complete meltdown or at least just given up on the project.

M: You took the setback as an opportunity. I wrote down a lyric from this song actually: “I’m an axe so complex.” Is that right?

BB: The lyric is “I’m an X”. A lot of people probably think that it’s an “ex” partner. But it’s the letter X and it has a couple of meanings. One is “I’m an X factor”, I guess. But really it comes down to how I see myself as somebody who has always been gender-neutral. I don’t identify as non-binary or anything, and I don’t advertise this, this is probably the first moment that I’ve ever stated this to a person in the public sphere. But I’m an X and I always have been. That’s why it hurts when people make fun of me for wearing pink overalls. I take it so deeply personally when people attack other people’s views. I don’t experience life through the eyes of a male. Now, I know that I am privileged to be a white male, don’t get me wrong, I totally see that… But the lyric is sort of a hint to people of where I stand in the world, I don’t really see myself locked into any gender. And I think that’s where our society is heading — toward gender fluidity and changing norms. One of the things I don’t like about bands anymore is moving heavy equipment. I’m pretty strong and I don’t love lugging stuff and some people make fun of me for that, [because the thought is], “You’re the guy, you should lift something up.”

M: It’s unfortunate that people make assumptions and create behavioral expectations of you, others, us… based on how we look and on the norms that are being upheld. We all have identities that we’re managing, that we might share or we might not. Thank you for talking about the complexity of identity, and for recognizing the privilege and safety that can come with presenting as male and white. Before we end, I wanted to ask one last thing about a specific song. I loved the lyric “Tell me your fire sign” because I’m a Leo, but I couldn’t figure out how to say the song title. Is it “Toucanet”?

BB: Yes! Like a little toucan, the bird. I wrote that song earlier this year when my partner was in Brazil. She goes pretty regularly but this time the trip kept getting extended, and then she got dengue fever, and it was just kind of a weird time. I wrote that song in one take. I bought a keyboard, set it up, and that song came out. I was like, “What? Wow, that’s new.” I’m not a pianist at all, but that song was pure soul and a pure expression of a February night… with lyrics like “When did my sky turn gray?”

Want to experience this indie record and learn more about Bill? Stream his music on Spotify or Bandcamp, visit bartholomewtown.com (and watch his podcast), follow him on Instagram at @billbartholomew for 2023 tour dates, and keep a lookout for him on WPRO and Rhode Island PBS.

Beyond Gravity: A gateway into ‘90s alternative rock

This RI-based rock band asks bold questions such as: When is it too early to celebrate Halloween? Is October 8 too early? (no). And, should a band sell socks as merch? That’s a resounding YES in my opinion! 

Beyond Gravity’s Eddy DeMelo (guitars) and Dustin Oerman (vocals and guitars) discuss managing being family men and musicians while blending ‘90s rock riffs with storytelling lyrics — all of which might make you reach for your flannel shirts.

Eddy DeMelo: Don’t say anything that will incriminate you, Dustin!

Mayte Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Oh, that’s already recorded, so…

ED: Oh no, what have I done?

Dustin Oerman: Haha!

MAO: To start, let me say I watched your “Between the Notes” show (a Motif Podcast) at the Parlour and learned a lot about your band! You mentioned your debut EP release, The Nature of your Game, the fact that y’all had been together (alongside bass player Walter Canavan, and drummer Rob White) about 2 years, and that you were hungry to get in front of crowds since Covid prevented that… so tell me what’s happened since April?

Photo by James Lastowski

ED: We’ve just been doing a lot of writing and rehearsing for the most part. Summers are always tough, because we all have kids and they want to go on vacations (this dad rock band has kids ranging in age from 3 years-old to college-age). So it was just a lot of writing and practicing when we were all in the same state.

DO: And we focused on our video for “Got Nowhere to Go”. We’re pretty excited how that came out, actually.

MAO: Say a little bit more about the video because I watched it, and I had questions! I’d love to hear what the storyline was in that video.

DO: Well, it’s about two friends — kind of hanging out in the beginning. Then one friend gets killed – he gets mugged. But really the song is about friends moving away and kind of losing track of each other — and we thought it would be really impactful if we threw a crazy twist in there, and tried to show the emotion within some of the lyrics. In the end he’s got nowhere to go, as he’s sitting on a rooftop by himself.

MAO: Since you’ve now been able to perform and share your EP, what kind of feedback have you gotten?

ED: We’ve had a great response in the last couple shows we played. We have probably almost another full-length album’s worth of songs, either fully written or just about done. We’ve gotten to play those for some folks, and the response we’ve received has been good so far, which is pretty encouraging.

DO: We’re excited- we probably have about eight or nine songs that we could go to the studio right now and record… everybody seems to be releasing singles lately so we may want to do that.

ED: We have one single that didn’t make it in time to the EP, but it’s just about done. It’s just being mixed. Now, everything’s tracked- we had to re-track it and hoped to release it in April but it’s still not done.

MAO: Oh yes, the single you mentioned at the Parlour was “Paradise”, is that it?

ED: Yeah, you were paying attention!                                                 

MAO: Yes, haha, I was. There was something y’all said that I wanted to revisit. You’re all married and have children of varying ages. You mentioned that when you love something you stick with it — it being music.

ED: I don’t think that’s changed in any of us… when you’re a little bit older, and you’ve got kids and careers, you go through seasons where you have more time that you can dedicate to it and others where you wish you could, but you can’t. I don’t think it’s ever for a lack of passion or lack of wanting to do it. I think if anything, it’s just that sometimes there are other responsibilities that take precedence.

DO: It’s an interesting dynamic, having a family, being married, or being in a relationship, trying to be a homeowner, grow your career — and still have your passion for music on the side — trying to put 100% into it. I find that I go through stages where life can be overwhelming but then all of a sudden, I sit down and I play my guitar — write a new song and I’m like, ‘oh, man, I gotta get this to the band!’ And then the passion starts all over again. It’s funny, my father-in-law had this belief that people kind of lose their artistry or their drive as they get older, maybe the creativity in a way — but I haven’t found that… Responsibilities change but when I take the time to sit down and find my creativity, I feel like I still have a lot to say. I think we all try to live life to our fullest as dads with our families, and then still try to put as much as we can into our music.

As the conversation continued Eddy and Dustin highlighted that even when the bandmates are not in a room together, they create new songs, melodies and parts that are then shared among them via text.

ED: Rob (drums) doesn’t really sing or write music, but he’s great at just coming up with ideas and melodies. He’ll just sort of speak or hum it into his phone, and we’ll get a voice text and then I’ll grab a guitar and work on it. Even when we’re not really practicing, it’s something we’re always thinking about. I think it’s an outlet for us — to [write music]. We all have our family and work responsibilities and this is something that we do- really just for us. It’s great that people have been encouraging and supportive. But I’ll be honest, if everybody heard it and was like, “It’s terrible,” I’d think, “I’m still having fun, so I’m gonna keep playing it.”

MAO: The process of creating something is what drives all of you.

DO: Yeah, I was always a singer-songwriter, originally from Pennsylvania. I moved up here for a small sales job, but really to play at open mic nights because we didn’t really have them where I was from in PA. When I had an opportunity to move up to RI, I said, “Why not?” The music scene where I was from in Pennsylvania was very rural: Not many places to play. New England is famous for open mic nights so I would play by myself, but I always found it more enjoyable to write music with others… that aspect of being in a band and writing music together; something about that is just addicting.

ED: And, it helps when there are no real egos in the band either. Nobody’s afraid to throw in their two cents.

MAO: I’m sure. So, Dustin, I watched the video for “Got Nowhere to Go” and then saw the Parlour performance and noticed you playing acoustic guitar instead of electric — I loved it!

DO: Oh, awesome. I wrote that song with my acoustic originally, and then brought it to the band. And once again, expanded the idea and made a full-band version.

ED: Up until recently, Dustin didn’t even play electric guitar in the band. If there were two guitars, it was my electric and his acoustic and it’s only now that we have the dynamic of actually having two electrics in the band, which has been fun.

MAO: Is there anything else you want to share with people that maybe don’t know y’all or haven’t been able to go to one of your shows?

DO: I think the biggest thing about us is that we like to write music that people can latch on to and find some kind of meaning in and really enjoy listening to; we all grew up in the 90s and early 2000s and play music influenced by that, but with a little bit of a modern twist on it, I’d say.

MAO: Next Show?

DO & ED: PEM’s Halloween Rock Party at Fete Music Hall, Oct 8, 2022!

See? It’s never too early to celebrate Halloween with rock bands. The Beyond Gravity dudes and dads say so. If you’d like to follow them and see what’s next for them go to:beyondgravityband.com or follow @beyond_gravity_band and watch their newest music video: youtu.be/fYn6ANxVctA

Electric Paisan: An Italian-American’s Solo Debut

Providence-based and influenced, it takes minutes to see how Joe Tudino navigates self-discovery in order to assuage self-doubt, and how he draws inspiration and comfort from fellow PVD creatives. He has reclaimed part of his Italian identity and renamed himself the “Electric Paisan,” releasing his debut EP: Cigarettes and Dandelions.

Photo by James Lastowski

Mayte Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Let’s start with the name you perform under, could you say it for me and then tell me a little bit about it to start?

Joe Tudino: Absolutely — my performance name is Electric Paisan. I wanted to use a stage name for personal and showmanship reasons. I got the idea for Electric Paisan first and foremost because of [Nate Cozzolino]. Nate used to host MadCap Monday Open Mics at Dusk before COVID. He’s very Italian, and every time I would show-up he would be sitting in the same spot across the bar and yell a friendly Italian greeting to me. Just that energy from him was great because I’m also Italian. My grandparents passed on when I was younger but I still have somewhat of a connection to my [Italian roots], in how my mom cooks, a lot of stuff my dad does, he’s like an old Italian man. Hearing that from Nate, on a consistent basis, really kind of reaffirmed the Italian part of myself. And “Electric” sounded cool and I’ve always been really into electronics… I used to take apart my toys as a kid when they broke and try to figure out what was going on. I took that so far as to become an electrical engineer and the DIY aspect carried over to my music as well. I recorded all my own stuff, produced it myself and built guitar effects pedals that I used.

MAO: Very impressive. You were talking about doing everything yourself before- and how you recorded this debut EP in your bedroom. Could you tell me what that process was like?

JT: I’ve been slowly learning how to record and produce for years. I did a small project with one of my old friends from college when I was in [the band] Corinne Southern and the Constellations. I managed recording our debut EP in our drummer’s garage. So that kind of helped me build up the skill set and confidence to do my own songs, which, obviously, I want to get right because they have a lot of meaning to me. I was figuring out how to get it all done in my small room and how to get it to sound good. It was a lot of experimenting with microphones, putting things in different spots in the room, and putting up foam wedges. I also talked to people in Providence who were running studios and who recorded themselves- to figure out what worked for them.

MAO: Did you play all of the instruments I heard on this EP?

JT: Yeah, I played all of them, and 95% of them are real instruments recorded with a microphone. I know some musicians plug guitars in and use amp simulators or use software to put in drum samples. I don’t see anything wrong with that but it wasn’t my preference.

MAO: Listening to your music, one of my favorite songs was “Climate Don’t Change a Thing.” I wrote a note to myself that said, “love the drumming.” I really liked it because I was humming it while I was doing something else.

JT: Wow — that’s one of the biggest compliments I can get, honestly. Thank you!

MAO: You’re so welcome! Would you like to say anything about the title of your EP, “Cigarettes and Dandelions”?

JT: The title actually came last and it happened kind of by accident. My friend Holly — who has a new project, “Pinko Dykebomb” — came with me to do a photoshoot [promoting] a show where she was going to play for the first time under that name, and I [was going to play my debut] as Electric Paisan. She’s very bold and unafraid: one of Providence’s true punks. So I set up a photoshoot with James Lastowski and invited Holly along. When I got there she was in the park near the Crook Point Bascule Bridge. She was sitting, just strumming her guitar, and it was right at the beginning of spring, so these pink trees were just in full bloom, and the entire ground was just covered with pink petals. Before that I had been thinking about something with a flowery theme and a vise, or some kind of struggle, and Holly had a pack of cigarettes on her. After we were done with our photoshoot I asked her to leave a few for me, and then James stuck around a little longer, so we just got the photoshoot for the album and the singles that day. (And the title: Cigarettes and Dandelions).

MAO: Speaking of words and your inspiration I wrote down some of your lyrics, like “Hello, my name is Joe. I’m not quite who I am,” or “Somehow I get greeted with a smile and a hug.” How does the duality of your album title fit into the lyrics?

JT: Most, if not all, the songs on the EP deal with various aspects of mental health and definitely things that  a lot of people in their early to mid 20s may be dealing with…  the line in the song “Sadboi Blues,” “Somehow I get greeted with a smile and a hug,” is definitely a self-doubt thing. It’s feeling unworthy. But still, you show up to a place, and everyone’s happy to see you. And the “Hello, my name is Joe” song is called “Button Factory” (a reference to a Children’s song). It was the first song I wrote the lyrics to for this project. The second half of that line, “I’m not quite who I am” is connected to not feeling like yourself, especially after some sort of trauma that you’re recovering from… it’s about moments of feeling out of touch with pieces of yourself that you’re trying to get back to after pain; feeling different after the experience and having to kind of rebuild your identity.

MAO: That’s very powerful. Is there anything else you want to share? Something that you want your listeners to walk away with?

JT: That’s a tough one… I write [my music] because I have something I want to connect to within myself and also to share. Also, especially for musicians listening (or reading), I want to highlight the DIY aspect. I’ve had friends that put out good sounding and fun-to-listen-to work by just playing acoustic guitar on their phone. I want musicians to remember that the point of music is to feel something or to make somebody feel something, you don’t need to go to a recording studio to necessarily do that, you just gotta do your thing and get it out there to people.

Want to follow Electic Paisan and listen to his debut EP? Go to @electricpaisan, to Bandcamp at electricpaisan.bandcamp.com, access his music on all streaming platforms or go to his next show: Jake-cessorize! A Halloween Flannel Fest: Oct 21 at Dusk in PVD!

The Why Behind PVD World Music: An interview with founder Chance Kinyange Boas

If you live in PVD, you might have seen Chance Kinyange Boas around town. He’s typically filming performers being showcased at a PVD World Music event, either at Machines with Magnets, at the Columbus Theatre, at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, at the Farm Fresh Farmers Market or at Long Live Beerworks (he’s everywhere!). If you’ve seen him, you’ve noticed that the events he and his PVD-based non-profit team curate shine a light on traditional music and art- mainly from Africa- but really from all over the world. The mission of the PVD World Music Institute is “to promote, celebrate and enrich the musical traditions and arts of African refugees and immigrants in Rhode Island for present and future generations.” After talking to Chance, I would add that PVD World Music’s calling is to create space for people to tell their stories in order for traditions to be unearthed, preserved and connected. To quote Chance, keeping tradition alive is a way of “keeping you.”  

Mayté: Tell me why PVD World Music and why in PVD? 

Chance: I came here in 2008, as a refugee from Tanzania. I grew up in a refugee camp, and then we got our refugee asylum to a random place, Rhode Island. This has been my home base ever since. In 2018, my aunt sent me an Inānga instrument. It’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) intangible heritage instrument. I was trying to figure out how to play it, tune it and keep it going, and realized that actually, there isn’t a lot of knowledge left in the community about this traditional instrument that used to be the national instrument of Burundi, which is where I come from. So, I start doing research, figuring out who’s around and who still remember it. And that’s when I just dive into a rabbit hole of black intangible musical heritages. From that point on I was like wow, it’s not just the Burundi Inānga instrument, a lot of the UNESCO intangible heritages are indigenous instruments, cultures are [close to being] extinct… I realized through the search and the finding of this instrument, the music and through reaching out to other folks for insight gave me a connection, a healing process that I never received when I first moved here as refugee. 

I came here and went straight to school, school, school, and after school, work, work, work- but it was never a process of [pausing], trying to see if you can get out all that traumatic experience off your chest, your brain and then move forward. Once I discovered the power of this traditional music, and really connecting to the roots, I realized there is a whole community of traditional artists here in RI, in the community where I live: let’s find them, seek them out, create a space- promote the music, celebrate the tradition and compensate artists. They can then take that knowledge, share it with the younger generation or the community in general. You can unearth the tradition, you conduct research, do film, music: allow the folks in the community to tell their own story, by creating a space that is very open, inclusive, and a welcoming environment. So that’s how PVD Word Music became what it is, it was mostly from being here for 14 years, receiving the tradition here.

M: How do you involve youth? 

C: I went to Bryant University… and I realized that learning English here at age 19- you have to immerse yourself in the culture. But there is a hidden agenda of immigrants or refugees or anybody else who comes here, it’s all assimilate, assimilate, assimilate. Then I thought- the younger kids, who are 17 now, from the refugee community, they don’t need to go through the assimilation process- the process is not true. There’s no one way of being American, you know? I feel like actually, what it means to be American is keeping your identity, keeping your heritage, keeping your roots, keeping you.

I want to tell the younger kids- “hey, here’s this space where we don’t really care about your hair, we don’t really care about how you identify yourself or not, we want you to come here, learn a skill and [support the production of events at PVD World Music].” We want to create jobs/internships for the youth in the refugee community so they can acquire professional skills (sound engineering, production, social media management). We want them to come and learn, allow them to experience music from their own culture and background- seeing somebody sing in Kilaguni, in Swahili- it’s a different form of cultural activism. It’s a platform that provide a healing mechanism for the new generation. But also, at the same time, create jobs and economic opportunity.  

M: How do you choose the performers that you showcase?

C: With the music selection we have a team, we have a program committee that meets to select artists. In the beginning, I was doing it myself, because it came as a passion for me when I realized that the music tradition for my culture was literally changing and wouldn’t be available for future generations… What that really means is that (in places like Tanzania, Burundi) traditional music and ritual ceremonies are not taking place anymore. Nobody is documenting these traditions before they disappear. You find yourself in a situation where the music tradition in this culture is so important, it’s the essence of who we are. It’s the equivalent of folk stories such as the Iliad by Homer; it’s supposed to be recited in a public square, it’s poetry, it’s literature, it also tells about the people and places, and this helps you form an identity. If you only have one copy and you set it on fire, then you’re burning a hole in those stories. That’s the challenge I am trying to solve- capturing these African traditions and creating a digital archive where the younger generation who might not be interested in it today, but 10 or 30 years later, they might find out more about themselves. They might say- “What is Burundi?” People think it’s a thing of the past but no, for us, this is the story of today.

M: It’s giving people access to their history.

C: Absolutely! All of this is to kind of remind people that we’re a community… the deeper you go in music the more you find that we all relate, you know. [Different folk music] is inspired by the same traditions and similar struggles. 

Want to learn more from the breath of knowledge embedded in the work of PVD World Music and/or donate? Go to:

Also, save September 14th through 18th on your calendar for the Third Annual African Film and Arts Festival! 

Tightly Clung to Bochek!: PVD’s Bochek gets ready to release second full-length album

With a mix of unusual beats, improvisational sounds and engaging lyrics such as, “I was beaming about you, I’ve been healing without you” and “devoted to makin’ mental health my first responsibility,” Bochek’s songs take listeners on a journey. They invite us to join them on their path towards vulnerability and revelry, all while inevitably making us dance! 

On August 5, the world will be introduced to their second full-length album, Tightly Clung to Love. Co-released by Dollhouse Lightning and SELF LUV, this record is, as described by the PVD-based band: “An emotional dive that will leave you feeling uplifted” (indeed!). Want to find out more about them and their bows? Read on, reveler, read on.  

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif) : How did Bochek come to be? Care to share the meaning of the name? 

Nevin Kosinski (Bochek): We got started in 2012, at the Tiverton Middle School talent show- with founding members Dante Krystman, Nevin Kosinski, John Bonoan and Zack Davey. We performed an amazing rendition of a Ben Folds Five song called “Underground.”  Dante coined the term “Bochek,” which stems from our live show attire at the time. In the 8th grade, we were known for wearing suits adorned with bow ties and often gave each other “bow checks.”

MAO: I love that! Definitely not what I was expecting. So, what does everyone play in this band? I know you all play 5000 instruments in your various projects, but for Bochek- what’s the line up?


Dante Krystman- Bass

Noah Mangelson- Drums

Nevin Kosinski- Vocals

John Bonoan- Guitar

Joe Rebelo (new addition)- Keys

MAO: To get to know you even more, what’s everyone’s favorite dance move and favorite color? 


Dante-put your legs together, lock your knees stiff, throw your arms above your head and let those puppies flail. Favorite color pink!

Noah- the two step! Favorite color black!

Nevin- the worm. Favorite color seafoam green.

John- a cool little one foot hop and leg bounce my former manager Kota taught me. No color preference. 

MAO: Speaking of dance moves and your music- tell me about the rhythmic choices- they seem very deliberate. How do you make them?

NK: The rhythmic choices we make mostly come from our improvisational jams, the jam sessions we have are how we write our songs most of the time. Rhythmically and melodically we inspire one another in real time during the songwriting process. A lot of the rhythmic decisions are made and dictated by Noah who draws a lot from Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, American Jazz and West African rhythms and musical traditions, among others. Our live show is heavily dependent on improvisation in many ways, changing up melodies, rhythms and song structures on the fly.

MAO: That improvisational feeling comes through so clearly in your new album. Upon first listen I wrote in my notes: reggae, cha-cha-cha, clapping beats, jazz and rock- ALL IN ONE ALBUM. What do you want people to experience through this new release?

Noah– Ultimately, I want people to feel the way that I feel when I find something that I really love or have some sort of strong connection to… of course, there are a lot of themes and ideas on this record that we were aware of when creating it, but I can’t say there’s something specific I want people to [experience] other than a feeling.

Nevin– I hope that it helps whoever listens to it, whether that’s in the form of confronting inner turmoil, self-love or just feeling a sense of comfort and warmth.

Dante– I really want people to feel like they can connect and relate to the words Nevin is singing about. By the end, I expect tears of self-reflection and dance moves to be busted out in glorious fashion!

John – I want people to [experience] a comforting warm feeling when listening to the album- not just about the music, but about themselves!

MAO: Anything else you’d like to share? 

NK: We are so proud of this album we’ve created. It was a long journey through the pandemic, but we’re almost here at the release. Huge thanks to Andrew Jackson for the artwork and photos on the album.

Bochek’s music video for their first single “Beamin” embodies the consistent message of Tightly Clung to Love; being vulnerable and sharing experiences allows for healing and joy, and when a band does it in songs that are vocally and rhythmically unexpected, it just feels so much better. Your ears and heart will never get bored when listening to their new album, I promise!  

Get their new music on Bandcamp: 

https://officialbochek.bandcamp.com/album/tightly-clung-to-loveFollow them on Instagram @officialbochek and dance to their new video: https://youtu.be/ZrmLpn9BVdU

Obituary: Honoring Mike Schiavone, “A legend.”

Michael J. Schiavone (1982-2022), fondly referred to as Mike or Mikey, passed away unexpectedly on February 28, 2022. The obituary written for his funeral services describes music as “his world,” a point reflected in his ever-present and positive impact on the music community in RI. The first band he belonged to was called Demon Spawn. Schiavone went on to become a member of many MA and CT bands, eventually co-founding Providence-based Slurp.  

Rory Quinn, his Slurp co-founder, described him as “the heart and soul of the Providence music scene, always out showing so much love to anyone willing to step on stage. He was the leader and captain of our band, an amazing songwriter and musician whose legacy will live on for a long time to come.” 

Empire Guitars manager Michael Samos worked with Schiavone for just shy of ten years. “I came to know him as an incredibly talented guitarist who deeply loved sharing his knowledge with others, a truly kind human being. It’s amazing how many lives he has touched and how many people will carry their memories of him into the future.” 

Nick Iddon, a drummer in several local bands, said of his friend, “He was one of the most talented players I’ve ever known, but an even better friend. I’ll spend the rest of my days missing and celebrating him! His smile was biggest when watching his friends’ shows and when we were playing funk together! Love you tons Mikey.” 

If you’d like to listen to Schiavone’s last recording, where he played the drums and created music magic, go to: https://blu3katrecords.wordpress.com

Donations for this song will go to the Mike Schiavone Foundation (to send starter guitars to school music departments), to The Parlour, and to Blu3Kat Records for the finalization of his unreleased tracks and albums. 

As the sign at The Parlour says, may he “Rest in Power.”

From Rhode Island to the World: PVD-based musician Avi Jacob goes on his first international tour

Photo courtesy of Avi Jacob

Avi Jacob, a self-taught, passionate and determined musician who calls PVD home, is releasing his newest album Naked in spring of 2022. Like his father and grandfather before him, Avi has chosen to pursue art that helps him explore his identity and yearnings, allows his deep emotions to come through and levels critiques of social structures that seek to overpower our humanness. His music is perfect for a snowstorm or a rainstorm, or anytime you want to ponder life’s ups and downs and feel comforted by beautiful sounds. His latest songs are ones that let you peek into our collective subconscious, reminding both the artist and the listener that we all experience joy, love and loss, and are therefore never alone.     

Mayté: I’d like to hear more about you and your musical journey before I get into album-specific questions.

Avi: Well, I grew up in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. My father was a professor at UMass and was a historian of the Holocaust. He wrote many books on the [subject] and was extremely passionate about writing. I started playing trombone at age 8 and got a solo in fourth grade. I got my own separate round of applause and that’s where it all began. Then I started the guitar when I was 12 because I saw a video of Jimi Hendrix playing. And it wasn’t so much the playing, although I thought that was cool, it was more that the women were like losing their minds! And I thought- I want girls to like me like that! And I’d like to play the guitar, that’s a cool instrument. But then I became the nerd who plays guitar all the time and never goes out. 

Mayté: Haha. Double-edged sword there.

A: Yeah! I remember very distinctly trying to play the guitar, trying to press my fingers. I didn’t do lessons, same with singing. And so, I just remember being very fascinated with it and being determined to play guitar and sing at the same time. I was really inspired by Kurt Cobain, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon… I was amazed by these people that can write songs, and sing and play guitar. And it was very difficult to do for me, and then even when I was able to do that, I was really determined to keep getting better. As I am now, I like to write and play songs that mean as much as possible in a way that best serves them. I work hard at my [music], much like my father with his writing. He was the example for me to be passionate about something and then go for it. Not just a job, but an actual passion. And my grandfather was a photographer for the Boston Globe, his whole life was photography, he loved it. And now my twelve-year-old son is extremely focused on cooking and Dungeons and Dragons. He’s full force into both those things, and makes amazing risotto. I think that is the most valuable thing you can pass on: to be passionate and do what you love. Instead of getting a job and then doing what you actually like on the weekends. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people have to do. 

M: I love the through-line between your family, yourself and your son. And the commitment that you all exude.

A: Yeah, it’s important. There are things that are inherited, like some families have inherited wealth. And, you know, I didn’t have that, we are Jewish and I didn’t have inherited wealth. I do have all the advantages of white privilege, being that I am essentially white- but it was more that I had the inherited passion thing. 

M: Yes, wealth of a different kind.

Avi: Definitely, also you know- people that are born wealthy are just like the worst. Right?

M: Oh yeah, I’ll definitely put that in the article. 

A: Please do! 

M: So, I’ve only ever seen you play solo. Is that typically what you do or have you played in bands before?

A: I’ve been playing a lot solo, it’s just easier. But I also play with my friend Ben Cosgrove on piano, he is on like all the tracks on the album. I actually just got the offer to play the Americana festivals, on June 10, 11 and 12. I’m playing in Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen and they asked me to bring backing musicians. Luckily, my friend James and his band the Felice Brothers are playing the same days as me, and my friend Libby (who plays fiddle), is in a band called Mipso; I’m gonna ask her to play with me, and Ben might come with me and play piano. If I could cover piano, accordion and fiddle that would be pretty cool. I mean, I hear so much. I think every musician does- if we could have a 10-piece band then we’d do it. I’ve always wanted to play with an orchestra. Also, it’s gonna be my first time going to Europe.  

M: Oh my, that is gonna be amazing for you!

A: Yeah, I’m in my 30s and I’ve never left the country. And I’m excited because I want my son to see other cultures too. 

M: Since you mentioned it already, you want to tell me about your album? You said it’s coming out in the spring?

A: Yes. I don’t have an exact date, sometime in March. I put out the second single February 25,  that’s called “Tears like a River Master.” The first single “New England Woman” came out in January. 

M: There’s a lot of storytelling in your songs. I’m curious about how that process is, given that lyrics seem to be a driving force for you.

A: Yeah, lyrics are everything. I don’t perform a song, or record it until I feel 100% confident about every word. It’s very important to me. Sometimes in the process of writing, it’s not totally done, right? So, then I’ll just kind of mumble, or I’ll say nonsense. A lot of times when I’m working on a song, the inspiration is a feeling or a thought: usually it’s a big feeling and a big emotion. If I’m really happy or really upset about something, or if I’ve watched a really powerful movie then I get an inspiration for a song. It just comes as an initial feeling. And then I work on it, pick up the guitar and I kind of just play around with chords until I find something that fits what I want to say, and find words that go with it. It’s a very natural process where I don’t think too hard about it. The words become much more honest than if I think or am [too] conscious about it. And what comes out is always very- what’s the word… when something is like a confessional kind of thing? 

M: Unfiltered? 

A: Yeah, it’s very unfiltered. It becomes a sort of a window into my subconscious. They become an explanation to myself of how I feel, and I don’t even understand the depth of things until it comes out. When I was doing “New England Woman” (first single of the album), I was thinking about capitalism, and how terrible it is that it takes us away from our families- to work a 40 hour a week, or even more- in this specifically American drive to make as much money as possible, while also not valuing labor. I’m very much on the side of the exploited because I grew up with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. I believe very strongly in unions, and I was an organizer when I got out of college. That’s not something that I would sit and write a song about consciously- but it comes across somehow. “New England Woman” is a song about how a relationship can be really beautiful, and you can really love somebody a lot- and then how terrible it is that we live in a society that doesn’t let us have time with those people. Like how women have no [to little] maternity leave. I mean, I can’t imagine that. That’s insane. And so, I was thinking about that, subconsciously, I wasn’t trying to write a song about how much I hate capitalism, but it happened.  

And then the first line, “Break my back, Bethlehem / Steal me away”- that was because Bethlehem Steel is a company that was the biggest steel company in the country (in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) started by several people including Carnegie. That line sets the whole tone of the song. [The job] takes you away from people you love, you can love them and not get time with them because your body gets broken down by this system. It takes you away from your family because you have nothing left, you’re spent physically, mentally and it cuts you down as a person. So that’s kind of what that was about, and also in an emo way, it’s about my romantic relationship. 

M: Your second single, “Tears like a River Master” sounds very autobiographical. The words that struck me had to do with someone admitting their faults.

A: I’m trying to become the best person I can and I hope my songs are coming across in a fair way. We’re all doing our best and there are these systemic things at play as well. I think as a male artist, you have to be super careful not to be sexist and blame women. You don’t want a guy to listen to a song and say, “Yeah I’m right and that girl is wrong!” Men are so fucked up from either not being able to express themselves, not being allowed to feel emotions, or they’re entitled because they’ve been given everything they want. When they’re in a relationship with someone they don’t even see them as people sometimes, and they don’t have the language to deal with [what arises]. They don’t have the ability to see themselves honestly. You know, the mediocre white man syndrome, where you’re not aware and you think you’re amazing, even though you’re not… like Kid Rock. 

M: For you the process of being your best self is about admitting your part in a situation, not necessarily only in romantic relationships. 

A: Yeah, as a father, son, sibling… that’s why the line “sure, it’s been easier to blame and to fight” is about recognizing that yes, that’s easier but that really what we need is to be decent to each other, to be treated kindly. The song is a plea for mutuality- like the Lauryn Hill song, “Ex-Factor.” I was obsessed with that song growing up, my favorite part was when she sings “reciprocity.” 

M: When I’ve seen you perform another word that comes up for me is “authenticity,” especially when I’ve seen you be honest about how you don’t have a lyric for something yet and you’re basically engaging in conversation with the audience while playing. 

A: Yeah, I’m very aware that the crowd is there- it’s very much a sharing of energy. I was just telling someone the other day, I used to spend all this time learning hip-hop dance, going to dance classes in my 20s. I felt so grateful when I played shows, that people were there to see and listen to me, and I felt like I owed them more than just singing and playing, I felt like I owed them a show. So I dance and hope that it then frees others to do it too. We don’t feel permission until someone else does it, I think. I feel a great appreciation for the crowd- for their time and energy, their eyes and ears. It’s such a valuable gift. And so, I feel like I owe them everything that I can give them. I need to give everything, sing it with all my heart… and be authentic. 

If lyrics and guitar are your loves, Avi’s album “Naked” is for you. Listen to his music on @avijacob.bandcamp.com, follow him on Instagram @hawkinthenest and ask him about his love of birds, his hip hop moves, and roller skating. Trust me, you’ll want to have a lengthy conversation.  

Muggs & Roz: The SELF LUV connection that set an “Eventual Party” in motion

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and felt so connected that they’re answering questions before you even ask them? Well, my interview with Roz Raskin (NOVA ONE), of the newly launched record label SELF LUV, and Muggs Fogarty, the first artist on said label- felt just like that- like a moment in time spent with old friends. These two Providence-based artists spoke to me in images, shared music-making secrets that made me long for car rides, tape players, and community; and explained how Muggs’ EP “Eventual Party” came into the ether. We also talked about vocal harmonies… be still my alto heart. 

Mayté: Tell me about you so that people that don’t know you get to… 

Muggs: Okay. Hey, strangers! I’m Muggs. I’m from Providence, Rhode Island. I’m a proud member resident of AS220, which is an incredible nonprofit art space in the city, and a member of Angels Collective, an arts collective space, where I practice bodywork, and [others] have arts offices and do tattoos… a queer space. I’m non-binary, they/theming it. I’m a poet. I have a long history in the poetry community,  that’s where I always begin any projects. Obviously, that [poetry] has flowed over into music has been wonderful. I’ve been in a couple of bands in town, but this most recent release is my first solo effort, with the incredible music and backup of my friend Shayboy, who’s a local producer. We actually went to high school together and we’re old friends. Yeah, that’s me;  busy bee up to no good.

Mayté: After I listened to “Eventual Party” I wrote down “poetic and ethereal.” Since it’s your first solo effort, tell me about the journey that it was to make this EP. What did it look like? 

Muggs: Yeah, it’s a very, very COVID-specific project. Shayboy was posting incredible beats and instrumentals and just sort of reached out like, “Hey, buddy, I would love to truly just play around and have something to do, just kill some time.” I have been performing solo for a little while now using a vocal loop pedal. And so that’s just like beatboxing, singing, everything’s vocal, and live in the moment. So, I really wanted to work with a producer and focus on singing, vocal layering, songwriting. And not just be tight and hyper-focused on this pedal, to be more expansive. And so I loved what Shayboy was doing, using MPCs, MIDI plugins, some bass, just really interesting, kind of fun video game-soundtrack sounding textures… it’s more elevated. I [thought], “Ooh, this is fun!” Like having a prompt [and taking] this instrumental, making a song with it. And we just started this nice, organic back and forth- totally online- and ended up just enjoying what came out of that process. So then taking it forward and working with a mixer, developing the sounds [even] more. There were also some cool moments to bring in spoken word, [and] a couple of songs have live looping with the pedal. It felt like an opportunity to bring in everything that I enjoy doing with a crew, a tight team, and [we] just made this really fun EP. I was listening to a lot of Robin, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and I was just getting in my pop bag. I really wanted a pop princess moment, the long wig (which you can see on the cover of this EP) and just getting into this fun energy that I don’t always rock in my daily life. 

It was a fun fantasy world to create, alone in my apartment- to escape a little bit from everything that was happening in 2020. [I’m] very grateful to Shayboy, and especially to our mixer, Zach Bloomstein.  [He] is just a doll who I had only met in person briefly one time. So it’s funny… we all had to acclimate to zooms and connecting over to Gmail. It was such an interesting process, it was definitely unique to the time, and we made the best of it. 

Mayté:  It’s kind of amazing how much you’re able to do without being in the space with people physically. The connection still remains, as does the creation that happens through it… I’m so glad that we’ve had the tools to do it.

Muggs: I know it, well said. So going back to it you know, doing the car test- which is when something’s being mixed and you’re trying to make sure it sounds good on every different type of speaker. I [was] driving around in my car and even though it’s not super emotional confessional narrative music, I felt really emotional just because it’s so of that time period. And all my stuff is sort of in there, like oh my god! 

Mayté: It’s very personal.

Muggs: It’s charged, yeah.

Mayté: I think you’re the first person that I’ve ever spoken to that’s talked about the car test. I’ve never heard that before!

Muggs: Maybe it’s not a thing. It feels like a thing to me. Roz?

Roz: It is. It’s a thing. Oh, it’s 1,000%, there’s always a car test baby, yes! 

Muggs: And I know, Roz you’re doing a proper release show for your album that came out over a year ago. I’m sorry if my timeline is off- it’s elastic, I don’t know what time is anymore. [It’s] nonlinear AF. So, I hope someday we’ll be able to do a proper show for this EP. But the car test was kind of my celebration, my moment to sit with those feelings and everything. Just rolling around the Prius, window opened, [thinking] well done kid, well done. It won’t just be that we’ll get to have a show someday, but also my little party. My eventual party.

Mayté: Mic drop right there. That was such perfection, what just happened.  

Muggs: TM. Oh my god. 

Mayté: Haha. So, are you then singing along with yourself? Or are you just listening?

Muggs: If anything, I’m attempting to do trickier harmonies that I probably left out of the mix because I wasn’t confident enough, so I’m like “damn, I should have busted a little harmony on this part and I didn’t.” 

Roz: You literally just read my mind, that is what you do. You know, that’s what you do. 

Muggs: I feel like a lot of singers especially would relate to that- sometimes you want to do kind of the impersonation of a song you’re listening to, but a lot of times we’re trying to harmonize- with varying success if you’re me. That’s also why we love the pedal, you just hit a button. Shout out to Roz for teaching me a lot about harmony.

Mayté: That just blew my choir singer’s mind. Yay harmony! So either you or Roz, tell me how this EP connected to the SELF LUV record label, how did that happen?

Roz: I’m a fan, you know. I’ve just been following Muggs’ work for a long time. And we’ve known each other for many years, do you remember how we met? It was at high school.

Muggs: Yes! In the Smith Hill area there used to be a [place] called Holden Street Gallery, and they used to have some open mic nights. We went to different high schools with some mutual friends, and Roz performed and I think I probably read some poems. And I remember you had this like, really wild updo. And were just playing acoustic guitar. Your lyrics were just so beautiful, and you were so charming and sweet. And then once I met you, I started seeing you everywhere! One of those things that happen in Providence as a small city. Someone will not be on your radar and then you meet them at a cafe, and then you see them in every store for the rest of your life… thankfully that happened with Rozi. I left the city for a bit to go to school. When I came back, I started playing music a lot and transitioned from being an audience member to sharing stages and spaces more with Roz and their bands. And it was wonderful, amazing. Roz always has come through to see poets too- and is very beloved by the Providence poetry slam community. 

R: Holden Street gallery! Good shit. Yeah, we’ve had a ton of mutual friends over the years, one of which is Lily Kendall, who I’m just gonna mention real quick because that’s somebody—an artist—we love. I’ve known Lily since I was like four or five. And, Muggs- you went to school with her, that’s how y’all met. Another thing too is that we do a little bit of singing together, we do backup for Ravi Shavi, doing some harmonizing. We’ve shared a lot of different spaces and then have just become friends over the years. It’s pretty magical, all the ways that I feel like I know you and hearing you talk about who you are and what you make, your creativity. I’m in awe of you all the time, of all the amazing things that you make and create, and [of] your presence in the community. I feel so much solidarity with Muggs. I share a similar view of a lot of things that I really value, that I feel [are] really important for the general music community- [values that are] looking out for folks, and I appreciate that just so much.

Muggs: Also, just like our non-binary, bro, brotherhood. 

Roz: Yes! Muggs is one of the first people I came out to. 

Muggs: Oh my God, and I gave you a binder at Dusk! Remember that?

Roz: Yes! I mean, there’s so many little things. I feel like watching your journey, as a person, just made so much space for me and for so many other people in the community to exist in a really real way. I value that so much…  (Roz has made Muggs and I tear up at this point). I know, I know, I’m sorry- but it’s true. Because Muggs has been very, out. 

Muggs: And about. 

Roz: Yes! Just in ways that I think maybe you don’t even know, that people really [need].  You allow so many of us to feel valid in a world that often makes us not feel that way. So that’s real. That’s real. That is.

Mayté: That was beautiful. And I can tell we’re all in this moment right now… taking it in. 

Roz: Yeah! Well, and so, in terms of the music part, I had been thinking about starting a [record] label for years. And actually, I was going to start [one] right when I took off with NOVA ONE because I was in contact with Community Records, my label. I said, “Hey, I want to start a label.” And they said “you should.” Then I sent them my EP and that started moving, so it was [put on hold]… Sometimes I’d just sit and think, who would I love to help bring their music out into the world? And Muggs has always been somebody who was at the top of that list. I feel like I mentioned that to you two years ago or something, in my kitchen. I said,  “hey, if you ever want to put something out, I know I’m gonna love it. No pressure, but I think it would be fun to work together in that way. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and if you felt like you wanted to participate in that with me, if we could just figure it out, learn together how to do it, that would be fun at some point.” And then we connected during COVID; Muggs told me that they’d finished up the EP, and then it just started going from there. 

Muggs: I remember that. Sitting on my cell phone and kind of sending you some of the mixes that were coming back, and just feeling really excited. Then that excitement being so amplified when you’re like, “Hey, maybe we should return to that little label idea, bud.” [I] just got really jazzed about it. The project itself just kind of started really organically. I didn’t really go into it envisioning a final product, rollout or any of that stuff. Navigating that has been kind of interesting because most things you kind of go into—I’m learning—with a certain vision. But when this element came into it (of being released on this new label), it did start to take on a different life and become a lot more exciting, a bigger project that involved more people. So now it’s like, ooh there’s a music video, and a cool remix, and a beautiful tape (!), an actual thing I can hold in my hands: which, especially over the last two years where everything’s virtual, has been incredibly meaningful. [To] have a real object I can hold and give to somebody and say, “look, we’ve made something.” It’s not just this ephemeral thing. It’s nice to have something concrete. And so, the ability to collaborate with a label and actually make stuff has just been so cool.

Mayté: It’s grounded differently when it’s something tangible. I was curious, why the choice of cassette tapes?

Muggs: I love tapes. I mean, there’s a financial element… records are really expensive to produce, it’s very expensive for an EP, which is five songs, or at least mine has five songs, it’s short. I wanted, like a small batch, a limited run of this really nice EP. It made sense to do something more cost-effective. It is a kind of project that is interested in Lo Fi sounds. I think the actual way tapes sound, benefits the aesthetic of the project.

Mayté: Roz do you want to say anything else about that choice? Is that something that you’re going to do with other artists?

Roz: I can definitely picture doing vinyl at some point in the future, but I’m not sure if y’all have followed [what’s happening]. It’s just a mess right now, the whole vinyl situation, because it is backed up, sometimes six months to a year… Vinyl has exploded so much in the last 10 years. The boomer generation was like wait, vinyl’s a thing? And everyone said “yeah, vinyl is a thing.” Now Ariana Grande is selling out of vinyl. It’s that tangible piece, retro, and I’m holding the Rock-and-Roll-type of vibe. The idea is that now it’s cool to do this, all these larger label artists [who] have way more resources have now taken over a lot of the production. So, it backs up. Everything during COVID is backed up, everything is more expensive, for artists. It was so nice to be able to order these tapes, and then they came in like four or five weeks. It’s just faster. The actual production of it is just a smaller thing. And so, I was thinking that cassettes would be great for a variety of reasons, one is that it is like a physical item that is so cute. I think tapes are just cute!

Mayté: The green tape is beautiful!

Roz: That was Muggs’ idea! I think that it’s also nice because each tape came with a download code. People can still download the music and obviously, it’s on streaming services. But yeah, it just makes financially more sense for a tiny label, like something that I’m doing to start off… It was so exciting to get them in the mail. And they were looking so beautiful and I’m just so psyched and proud of it. 

Mayté: Yes! I think it creates more accessibility, both in production options and in purchasing.

Roz: Something else about the tapes… it feels like in the same way that vinyl was cool, but now it’s new. I don’t even know what the word is, I don’t know, y’all are wordsmiths- what do we say? It’s like now [they’re] back but they were never gone.  I feel like Gen Z is really into… retro stuff, retro- meaning like the 90s. Tapes are cool for young folks, as is finding a tape player at a yard sale. Or buying an old car because that’s all young folks have access to with inflation right now. You get a car and it has a cassette player in it. 

Muggs: I think there is like a certain desire for a tactile experience, because so much of their experiences, even before COVID but especially after- have been really happening in digital space.

Roz: This is so real. Yes. I hadn’t even thought about that!

Muggs: I’ve had that happen a couple of times… so I played one show, it was my first indoor show. There were some like youngish folks there hanging out, and obviously so sweet, into the set, curious about the pedal. [At the end] I said, “Hey, I got some tapes if anyone wants to take a look at this other project.” And these two younger folks came up to me and they’re like, “Oh, my God, I’ve been buying tapes. I love [them]. I still haven’t gotten a tape player but I just love the way they look. I love the way they feel, even if I never listen to it. I just think they’re cool.” I [think] this is the way you would buy—I don’t know—a weird piece of ceramics or something that has no utility, but it’s visually beautiful to you. They respect it as an object, a novelty, [something] tactile. The beauty of it, the fact that it is green and it looks cool.

Mayté: Yeah, absolutely. It’s valuable- as Roz said earlier, like holding a piece of rock and roll. 

Roz: Yes! Also, coming back to the car test- Chaimes Parker (a Providence-based producer and musician) double checks his recordings through the car test! We have bonded over that a lot. There was this particular car (a Camry) that he had in high school that he listened to so much music on, and a big part of his new car buying process was trying to find similar speakers just to be listening to things in this way. That is the best way he’s ever heard music. I drove a Hyundai for a long time and it had a system that really spoke to me too. And that’s really how I feel connected to music. Driving around in that car and feeling independent, as a young person. It is a very real thing. And I think a lot of musicians do that.

Mayté: It makes so much sense! I’m in my childhood home right now and I have drawers full of tapes. My parents used to have tape briefcases filled to the max! I think there’s a nostalgia- for those of us that grew up with that, and back to what we said about younger people, perhaps they enjoy going back to something that to them probably feels better, more pure.

Muggs: At the end of the day more fair;  because it’s so fun to see yourself up on streaming, but the reality is that they (Spotify, all of them) are really taking advantage of a lot of artists on there. Big time. People are becoming more aware of that, and they want to support in a real way, through Bandcamp, through tapes. I had someone come up to me at that same show  [and] be like, “Oh, I saw that it was up on Bandcamp, but I kind of wanted to wait till I could buy it from you in person, give you cash.” I thought, alright! People are realizing that this system of music, money and fairness is really stratified and messed up right now.

Mayté: Absolutely. It must have been so meaningful for that person to actually have the conversation with you, especially right now. There’s something beautiful about the tape itself, despite the access to digital versions of music.  And the car test that I know about now, it’s also such a unique window into what musicians do, thank you for telling me about it! 

Muggs: Is it like magicians though? Haha. Are you not supposed to talk about it? Did I mess up? 

Roz: No, it’s special. It’s so meaningful. 

Muggs: It’s church.

Roz: Yeah, it does feel so incredibly intimate. It’s like sitting outside of a friend’s house or driving to a beach at night. You know what I mean? Muggs, perhaps you identify with this in some way. I’m just thinking about this now, it’s funny to be from such a small state where you can get to so many places so easily. And at the same time, feeling the need to drive to certain [spots] instead of walking because the city is just big enough… You have to make that 10/5 minute drive or whatever, and throw on your stereo and then you’re rocking out!

Mayté: Yes! So, I want to come back to EP now. You’re clearly a poet, Muggs. I loved how the songs seemed to flow into each other, you reference the “eventual party” in the first and second songs I believe. Tell me more about your lyric choices.

Muggs: The majority of lyrics [for the EP] come out of two poems. They are actually pretty connected, which was such a fun project. When I would do songwriting with Lookers, or Ravi Shavi, it was usually this process of bringing in my notebooks of poetry writing, more narrative things, and kind of working with that and chipping that down into poppy song structures. They would always kind of come out pretty interesting because you’re starting that writing from a different place and intention, putting it through a process and getting a song out of that, I learned a lot. Shout out to Rafay Rashid, who’s a wonderful songwriter [who] worked with me to develop this… It kind of worked on [“Eventual Party”] in a similar way. In April 2020, right at the beginning of COVID, I did a writing workshop online, to just stay connected to folks. Artistic practice, mine specifically, is so hindered by not having in-person access to community; not being able to go to the poetry slams, or get up with bands and do songwriting. It’s just tough, it remains [so], this project was tough in that way. It felt really isolating at times, [and] it was how I was connecting creatively with people. In [writing] by myself, I was a lot more focused on vocal layers, specifically, and on how to work singing, lyrics, songwriting, without following a really strict pop song structure. There’s even moments of spoken word [in the EP]. In the second track called “Summer”, you just really get a huge chunk of that original poem that spawned a lot of the lyrics. It’s almost like an order; in “Eventual Party,” the first song is kind of the first chunk of that poem. And then “11th Hour” comes after that, which was sort of a tangential part of the writing. I didn’t make [the songs in] the order that they appear. “11th Hour” is from an older poem, and the rest were kind of from this writing class that I took.

Mayté: Got it. There’s something that I wrote down that I loved in one of your songs. You say it in “Summer,” “the calendar is a raw mirror.”

Muggs: Yeah. It’s kind of a tongue twister. Raw mirror. That was just sort of speaking to the feeling of time just falling apart, and your hands becoming really elastic, really nonlinear. I have the hustle mindset often: that we can attribute to capitalism. And so, having that very intense forced pause, where you have to sit around and you end up thinking about your life- maybe in wonderful ways, maybe in more intense ways. And kind of watching month after month after month, fly away and all you have is yourself. So it just felt like oh, I’m staring into time and it’s kind of staring back at me like, what are you doing? What have you done? So that kind of intense thing, what does it say when that sort of process is happening? It’s summer now, I guess. Is that a time period? Is that a feeling? Is that where I am in my life? My age. Am I in summer? 

Mayté: What a great way of thinking about that. Am I in summer? You as a human being. So, you mentioned “11th Hour,” those lyrics struck me too.  

Muggs: It’s a banger. That’s my favorite song. Ah, when we kind of wrapped up I pushed away from my desk and went, “oh… this is hot!” I thought Shayboy was just so nasty on that. After having a lighter, poppier thing- to kind of go into this deeper bassier thing, and there’s coins clinking and I [messed] around with autotune, and sounded like a cold little robot. It just got so fun. We were getting really creative on that one. The way it sits right in the middle of the album and takes you a little more deeply into a kind of feeling before coming back up. It’s just sort of a nice deep anchor. And it was home for some intense feelings I was having after a friend of mine passed away. I was feeling like I had let him down. It’s kind of a nice way to not be overly revealing in our narrative in the lyrics, but still have this kind of darker sonic space.

Mayté: I like what you said about it not being overly revealing. It’s just enough.

Muggs: Yeah, Like, it makes you feel vibey. There’s something kind of off about it. But it’s still kind of a good jam. It was very cathartic to make… When I listen back to it, I don’t always think of my pain or my grief. I can actually just enjoy it as a song too because it’s hot stuff. I like that it plays a lot of roles.

Mayté: Definitely. It serves two purposes for you. And I’m sure more for other people, as they listen to it.

Muggs: Exactly. And that is the song we got to have a video made by my really brilliant friend and artist Jamie Rhode. We had some incredible conversations about vibes, aesthetics, some of my emotions and feelings, and what she ended up creating looked how it felt. It’s animation and… I just love it. The last cut scene is a cartoony human heart that has sad eyes, just sitting in a bathtub, and it has arteries and veins like a real human heart. That’s literally what’s in my chest. So that was amazing. And also, another awesome friend/collaborator, Caloric, did a  remix of the song, which took it to a whole different, cool level: made it super dancy and bassy. And kind of chopped my voice around almost like [creating] some new lyrics. It’s been a really fun song to have all these friends and other folks hopping on with creative projects.

Mayté: Different iterations of the song, fulfilling different purposes for people. 

Muggs: Totally, it’s had a bunch of lives now. I also do a version of it on my looper, which is entirely different. It just kind of keeps showing up and keeps living, which is really nice. [My friend’s passing] has been a big part of the process. If time is so funky and nonlinear, let’s talk about grief then- that shit changes every day. It’s good to have something that sort of reflects the dynamics of going through that kind of thing. 

Mayté: Yes, grief does change… so before I let y’all go, where do we find you, your music? 

Roz: Everything that is connected to Muggs on SELFLUV Records is on Bandcamp, and anywhere you listen to your streaming stuff, it’s up there for you. 

Muggs: Thank you for listening so deeply and thoughtfully. It feels really good to be heard and to be asked questions and to know that the things I wanted to land with folks are kind of landing. Sometimes when you release something the world’s a little quiet or there’s a lot of celebration, and then it’s quiet. It’s like well, what did you hear? What did you actually think about it? Sometimes there’s a lack of engagement. And I’m really moved by how you’ve interviewed me today. Thank you so much. 

Find Muggs Fogarty at: 

Bandcamp: https://muggsfogarty.bandcamp.com/album/eventual-party

Youtube Video of 11th Hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=598Y8–Lcx0

Instagram: @muggsfogarty

Find Roz Ranking and their new Record Label SELF LUV at: 

Instagram: @selfluvrecords 

From Pennies to Video Games: New England’s newest rapper, MIRAYA

This summer, Miraya Shah, aka @mirayavibes, a 10 year-old rapper, had her stage debut alongside Chachi Carvalho. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 7, she had been writing stories and songs for a while, and when it came time to choose what she wanted to do after treatment ended, she chose a creative endeavor.

On her website, she writes, “I had written some songs in the past but I hadn’t really taken them anywhere. Make-A-Wish hooked us up with a famous hip-hop artist, Chachi Carvalho and his buddy, Edgar Cruz (Vertygo), who is a world class musician. They are both super nice and super talented artists. They helped me bring my song to life.”

Thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Pawtucket’s own Beatbox Studio (@beatboxstudio401) and Providence-based HAUS studio, her dream of recording a song and making a music video came true, and became a way to celebrate being in remission. She and her father chatted with me on a regular ol’ Monday after school…

Mayté: How did the song “Video Games” come about?

Miraya Shah: I play video games, like Roblox and V-bucks,  and I was just singing in the shower…

Sidd Shah: We found out later that she had actually written other songs too.

M: Oh that’s great, and what were those songs about?

MS: Um, there’s this one other song I wrote called “Pennies”. And it’s basically about me building up money. From a penny.

M: Are they all rap songs? Is that your style of choice?

MS: Because my video game song turned out to be rap… It [kind of] just happened. I figured I’d make all my other ones rap instead of just going all over the place.

M: Do you have a favorite rap artist?

MS: Um, the Kid LAROI. I don’t know if he’s a rapper though. He might be something like hip hop.

M: In doing some research on Instagram I noticed that you went to see Maroon Five at Fenway?

MS: Yeah, yesterday.

SS: It was her first show. And you saw Blackbear [too]… That was kind of hip hop. It was the first concert for her, so it was nice.

M: It was your first concert ever!? What did you think?

MS: Mhm, it was… It was a lot of fun!

M: Was it more or less than what you were expecting?

MS: More!

M: What was more about it?

MS: How loud the music was…

M: Yeah, it is very loud, haha. So, in your website it says your family is from New Jersey?

SS: We were based in New Jersey when she was diagnosed. Me and my wife were working in New York. We lived in Jersey for 11 years. Prior to that, I was in Massachusetts. I moved from Mass to New York for work, and then we moved back three, four years [ago]. Me and my wife were born in India… and Miraya was born in New York, like her little brother.

M: How old were you when you were diagnosed with leukemia?

MS: Seven or six, well seven.

M: Being in the hospital was difficult because you couldn’t see your little brother, is that right?

MS: Yeah.

SS: I think when she was seven, he was almost five, a little less than five. It’s the time when the kids are at an age where they are kind of bonding really. She was quite sad that she couldn’t [see] him because, you know, her immunity was low.

M: So you couldn’t see each other.

S: They couldn’t see each other because of her immunity… He was going to school… [and] we don’t know what he’s bringing from school.

M: Of course, that’s so hard and at such a young age. So, in watching your music video, I assume that’s your little brother in the video with you?  

MS:. Yeah. Ayaan.

M: How did you decide what was going to be in the video? How did that happen?

MS: Um, so, the people who recorded the video, they basically just told me the plan and the idea along with that. They had the idea, and I added a little bit (i.e., her own dance moves).

SS: Yeah, that’s the way it worked out. Make-a-Wish got us in touch with Chachi first. We had some video calls with him. And we started the discussion. Miraya gave her song idea, what she had thought of and the tune she had. We had Chachi hear it. And then he was kind of coaching her in terms of where to put the hook or where to change the verses and what to do. And then Make-a-Wish connected us with Providence-based company, HAUS. They had never done music videos, but they’ve done a lot of photography and stuff… So myself and my wife, we were brainstorming with them in terms of what to do in the video and [how to]… match with the wording she had. But we couldn’t say some of the [names of the video games]. We wanted to stay away from any copyrighted stuff, right? So we couldn’t say either Roblox or we couldn’t use Fortnight, which were actually part of what she had in her song.

M: Oh I see, the names of the videos themselves.

SS Yeah, the video games. Roblox was actually at that point going through its IPO (initial public offering). We didn’t want to get into any issues, because there’s so many players. You have the foundation, HAUS and [Beatbox]. So we were thinking what to do, and we were like, we’ll just play with what Miraya wants to do. Just let her have fun. We’ll just take a few plots. We took one in their studio, one at the house, and one of the persons from Make-a- Wish (a volunteer) apparently had a videogame parlor in his basement. He [had] this collection of old video game machines, you know… They recorded the song there and it came out well, so we kind of combined one part that you see–where she’s sitting on the couch in our place, you know, and one in the studio with the lights, and then the other one was in the basement for the video games.

M: And so were the names of the actual video games changed in the song?

SS: Those are the words of the lyrics, so in fact, the song name she had earlier was Roblox and V-bucks (in-game currency).  Basically, the song is about- [the] Roblox and Fortnight video game[s], and they have the money that they use in those games. Robux is the money used in Roblox and V-bucks is the money used in fortnight, you know, the virtual currency.

M: Ohhhhhh, ok! (I suddenly understood it all, I’m clearly not a gamer ).

SS: The song is about the money and video games. She has money to play these games. So she had [the currency] as the name [before] but then we changed to the name “Video Games” because we didn’t want… those copyright issues.

M: Miraya, I watched the video of your first performance with Chachi (available in her Instagram profile) and then I watched the music video, and I noticed there’s a part in the song where it slows down a little bit. I think you say something like, “I don’t want you to think that I’m just getting this easy… I’m getting this because of my hard work” or something like that. Where did that lyric come from? How did you write this stuff?

MS: It also just [happened] overtime. I just wrote it because of things I saw. The song didn’t just happen in one go, it took a lot of time to write. So I guess that was just part of the song that just came to my head and thoughts.

M: Watching you perform with Chachi, I didn’t realize that was your first ever stage performance. I heard from people that were at the event that you were great! So how was it? How was it being on stage?

MS: It was fun, but it was also kind of… I was also kind of nervous.

M: Yeah, what were you nervous about?

MS: Like what other people think of the performance, all the eyes watching… cause there’s a bunch just looking at you and nothing else.

M: Exactly! That’s the thing about being a performer, you’re the person in the center of the stage, literally. How was it to have Chachi do it with you, though?

MS: Yeah, it was helpful.

M: And what happened once you finished the song? How did the people react?

MS: They all just cheered at once.

M: Do you remember how that felt?

MS: Yeah, it felt really good.

M: And do you wanna do it again?

MS: Yeah.

M: Yeah, it’s fun when you get to do it more and more. What’s the next thing that you’d like to do in terms of music?

MS: Um, I want to keep writing songs. And I want to keep publishing.

M: Very cool. And are you gonna write new songs or are you going to use any of the old songs that you have already?

MS: I’m going to write new ones.

SS: [And] the old one, her second song “Pennies”, which she also sung partially on that (performance) day, we’re gonna publish that one. It’s recorded, again, with Beatbox Studio with Chachi and Edgar Cruz (Vertygo)… It’s ready so it’s just about [taking the time] to publish it. We’re going to try to see if we need to make the video for it or not, or just publish it as a song. I want to at least get the song out so you can get it.

M: And so, dad- you manage her Instagram account and website?

SS: Yeah I’m doing that. Depending on how she does and how far she takes this, we’ll see if we can actually have it professionally managed. Right now, we’ll see how it goes. I mean she’ll keep studying and all, but if she keeps writing and she does more, and she makes some good stuff, then maybe it’s worth getting her the help. I believe it’s a lot about promotion. Promoting a song is the hardest part. And for a young singer, it’s harder.

M: Yeah, I can tell you that seasoned performers will say that the easy part is recording. The hard part is once you’ve recorded everything… Then what do you do?

SS: I did what I could—publish it in different places and stuff. But, there’s only so much you can do, as individuals. I mean, I don’t have any connections to the music industry. So that’s one thing… we’ll discover.

M: Miraya, so in school are you taking any kind of music lessons?

MS: Um, no. I’m just doing band, it’s going to start soon. I’m gonna do the trombone.

M: That’s so cool! Why the trombone?

MS: Because when they were showing how it worked, um, one of the people who knew how to play it knew how to do this racecar kind of sound. So I want to learn that.

SS: What about your guitar?

MS: Yeah. And I play the guitar. I [learned] when I was nine.

SS: Yeah, during the pandemic she was like, I want to start learning the guitar. So we started giving her a coach. I think the coach is in Texas, and she gets the virtual training. She’s so far doing well. She understands the music. And she’s gonna continue. That’s one thing which she’s happy about. Because of this I think her brother’s also starting to like music, so he also plays the piano. So [I’ve said] you know, get inspired by Billie Eilish and her brother.

M: Yeah, totally. So Mariah, what is it about music that you love?

MS: I like that there’s a bunch of different varieties. And there’s so many things that could be about. It could be like a sad song or a fun song. There, there’s so many different types of music to go with words.

M: Yeah, to go with words and how you feel.

MS: Yeah, mhm.

M: Last question, the first stage performance happened at what event?

SS: Chachi had an hour-long workshop where he was trying to just educate kids… everyone about music. And he was emphasizing this, these words that he used. And what it is about being an MC, and how you could have etiquette, musicianship, you know, contact, energy. Those words. He broke it up and he was explaining the kids… Then after that workshop he had, he was basically performing. So, Miraya had the opportunity to kind of perform during the initial part when there was workshop and also… after.

M: How was it for you watching her perform?

SS: Amazing. I mean… we were a little nervous, like how is she going to do? You know? And it was more, how would she think about it? Not how others would think about it. But I think she did very well. The comments I got from others [were] that she did good.  At this age, doing it and performing and having people look at you that way. I’d have stage fear. I have stage fear for my work presentations… And I think it’s great- because at this early age, if she’s getting this exposure, whether she goes into music or she goes somewhere else, it’s going to help. That’s what we’re happy about- an opportunity. If she gets more opportunities like this that’d be wonderful. It [would] help her grow…  

If you’d like to follow Miraya as she navigates music and performance, go to @mirayavibes on Instagram and check out her website at www.mirayavibes.com  Wanna book her for a show? Fill out the contact page on her website!

The Roaring ’20s: Time traveling with Birt & Harley

Photo credit: Alexandra Ionescu

Picture yourself walking into a place and being transported to 1920s Paris as you hear two acoustic guitars playing, sweet harmonies traveling through your consciousness, and laughter echoing softly. That is the essence of the new jazz duo, Birt & Harley. This twosome, made up of John Birt (of the French 75 Dixieland Band and Craic was Mighty) and Dylan Block-Harley (of MisSter Dylan and the Horse-Eyed Men), is on a mission to play for anyone, anywhere, bringing timeless music with them and maybe even a puppet or two. I recently chatted with them about how the universe and beloved Providence bar Nick-a-Nees conspired to bring them together, how jazz and folk music have merged, and how grateful they are for songs that just keep on giving.

Mayte Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Don’t you have two songs about this bar, Dylan?

Dylan Block-Harley: Yeah, at least one song…

John Birt:  One was written at the bar.

DB-H: Yeah! John was here actually when “Shit-faced in Space” happened.

MA-O: Really???

JB: It was myself and Ryan Clark. We were hanging out, and we started riffing about getting shit-faced in space…

DB-H: And I was like, give me a napkin!

MA-O: Ha! I was going to ask you how you met, tell me more. 

DB-H: We we’re making out at a party one time and I was like, “What’s your name?” 

JB: We were both playing in bands around Providence, and [I] was looking for someone to open [our] set. I was in an Irish band called Craic was Mighty. And we wanted someone else to play with us. We were playing [Nick-a-Nees] pretty often, and we were the only … hip Irish band in Providence. Don’t quote me on that. 

DB-H: You can quote ME on that. They were the only… 

MA-O: I just wanna pause at “hip Irish band”, haha.

JB: I know right?

DB-H: Busted!

JB: So, we were having some fun and playing Irish music and Dylan was playing in a group with his brother (Noah Block-Harley of the Horse-Eyed Men), they were playing in Tik Tok Laboratories. 

DB-H: That’s right.

JB: Tik Tok days… it was beautiful. The first time that I saw him playing he was playing drums, he had a washboard… and all kinds of percussion. And there were puppets involved!

DB-H: Puppets on my shoulders. 

JB: We played all over the place together (Nick-a-Nee’s, the Penalty Box), which was a lot of fun. We played the best St. Patrick’s Day ever at the MET! Tik Tok Laboratories and the Seven Star General played. It was wild… It was one of the last shows that the Craic was Mighty did all together because then everybody was kind of moving off. Half the band became farmers, and the other half of the band are still musicians. 

DB-H: Haha. As is the way with most hip Irish bands. 

JB: I wish I was making this up, but that’s exactly what happened.

MA-O: I wonder if becoming farmers is something in ya’ll’s future at some point.

JB: It might be, maybe we’re just delayed in [starting]. 

DB-H: Fuck no! Quote me on that, fuck no. 

JB: [So], Dylan was doing a lot of his solo music.  And [it] just blew me away. I loved it… His first solo album, I needed it in my life when it came out. And then after that we were always in touch with each other,  jamming on tunes every time I was [back] in town.

DB-H: John’s been gone for a while. [He’s] super local — born and raised in Pawtucket. But has been gone for the past eight years. So, when he came back, it was like, he’s not from here, sort of. He’s been gone so long that I became the de facto booking agent, which is crazy, because I’m shit at booking.  

JB: I did grad school in Connecticut, stayed [there] for a while and then meandered down to Virginia. I was in Richmond for about two years. 

DB-H: He would come back. We’d hang out. We’d drink some beers, make some food. [He’d bring] his Nintendo Switch over. I felt like I was at my friend’s house, but I was at my house and my friend brought Zelda. And I’d be like, John, come back, move home.

MA-O: I saw you with the 75 Dixieland Band once, and then I blinked and you got married, were on the road and got a dog. 

JB: I had a wild year. I was in Richmond as all the pandemic stuff happened. My partner and I decided, let’s convert a van and travel across the country. We did that and then we were on the road for seven months, got a dog in Utah. 

DB-H: #vanlife 

JB: And then once the vaccinations were out, we [decided] let’s go home because now we can actually see our family and friends. And we’re kind of settling here. We’re in the process of becoming actual Rhode Islanders.

DB-H: That’s Rhode Island. Just when you think you’re out, it pulls you back in.  

MA-O: Yes!

JB: The second I got back into town, the first person I called was Dylan. I was like, “Do you want to hear some jazz tunes I’ve been playing?”

MA-O: Wait, so is that how this new duo came to be? That phone call? 

BOTH: Basically, yeah. 

DB-H: We’ve played music together on and off over the years. And then John said, “Let’s do this Gypsy jazz stuff I’ve been playing a lot.” And I love Django Reinhardt. And drums are my heart. So John taught me how to play drums on a guitar, which meant learning a bunch of chords I didn’t know. John’s an incredible teacher. The joke at first (which is really true), is that all proceeds go directly to my music lessons. 

JB: I gave him the crash course on how to play rhythm guitar. And we’ve been having so much fun with it. A lot of Dylan’s music transfers over to jazz so easily. You know, it’s either hardcore folk idioms, which you can still do in a jazzy way, or his tunes are just like, hey- if you add this note to it, it’s jazz!

MA-O: Oh wait, wait. For the people that don’t know, like myself, what do you add to something that makes it jazz? 

DB-H: Oh watch out! Here we fucking go! 

JB: Alright, sit down. 

MA-O: Just cause I’m curious! 

JB: So, the first thing that I was showing him was basically [that] anytime you see a G major chord, where you would normally play you’re adding the six and the nine. If you’re playing a G chord, you’re playing the sixth degree above it, which is the note E. And you’re also adding the nine to it, which is the note A. So, it ends up being really nice on the guitar, because you’ve got six strings, besides playing just the G chord: G, B, and D, you can add an A and an E. And those are unoffensive notes. Those are notes that will spice up your harmony, and make you sound like you know what you’re doing. And also, you can do lots of other things over that. Notice there’s no sevens in that chord. If you add a seventh to it, it doesn’t matter. It could be a minor seventh, it could be a major seventh. I gave him a lot of tricks that [are] failsafe. You really can’t go wrong.

DB-H: The only word that I really absorbed from that was the word “spice.”

JB: Ha. It’s all just different colors that you put on chords. So basically, I made rules. Whenever you play this, you always add that. And he got really good at that. And it’s been a deep dive for me, because the past year, I got obsessed with Django Reinhardt stuff, and I’ve always been obsessed with Louis Armstrong — old school jazz tunes, just the standards, the tunes that you can keep playing every other way and they’re so good.

DB-H: I think that’s one thing. We’ve been doing these weekly gigs for [a] couple months … at least three months. I don’t know, time is weird. But the more we play them, the deeper [we] get into them. And I just had an immense gratitude today, like wow, thank you to the people who wrote these songs that have been around forever. These songs are amazing. And they’re still relevant.

JB: All of them still speak to you. 

DB-H: They’re still relevant. Whether it’s the music or the music and the words. So yeah, the power of…

JB: … a really good song just keeps going, you know? 

MA-O: Yeah! And now y’all have started playing at Nick-a-Nees and also at the Royal Bobcat.

JB: We kind of looked at Nick-a-Nees as the place to try things out. This is homefield. You come here and you walk in and all the bartenders wink at you and say, “Hey!” I feel like here’s where we try out the most random stuff. We’re just like, we haven’t tried this before-

BOTH: Does this work?

DB-H: [And] I think… our goal is to be able to play anywhere for anyone. So, we’re happy being flies on the wall, or part of the wallpaper; and we’re happy being the center of attention, you know? We’ve played a number of different situations, we played a wedding recently. Would love to do more of those, [we’re] open to birthday parties, backyard barbecues…

JB: We’ve played at some rock venues. We are hilarious. 

DB-H: And you can quote John on that! 

JB: That was too much fun. When we show up and it’s a bunch of guys wearing really tight pants, doing their thing, we show up and we’re like, this is Louis Armstrong. 

DB-H: There’s something nice about just being unabashedly like, Imma croon a song for you right now. 

JB: It’s basically the same thing that they’re doing. We’re just doing it from different angles.

MA-O: Yeah, that’s true. You’re all basically playing music to engage an audience, but the style is very different.

DB-H: Yeah, totally. I would say, at Nick-a-Nees we’ll banter in-between [songs] and kind of bullshit with the audience. And the Bobcat is much more, we’re playing music as part of the evening that’s happening.

JB: Yeah, we’re kind of setting the scene. The Bobcat [is] a place [where] they’ve thought really carefully about the type of things they want on the menu, the ambience, the lighting, the type of furniture they have in there. They’re kind of recreating a time, and we’re playing music from that time. You really can walk through the door, close your eyes for a second and be like, oh it’s 1920.

DB-H: Like Jetsons 1920.

JB: Yeah, kind of.

MA-O: When I first heard y’all play I thought, this is totally something that I would hear walking on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans.

JB: Yeah, and we’re in the busking business, too. If you want to set us up outside of your shop, [we’ll do it].

MA-O: That’s good information for people!

JB: We make a scene wherever we’re allowed to make a scene. 

DB-H: We challenge you to invite us to play somewhere that we won’t play. We’ll play anywhere. That’s what I meant to say: WE WILL PLAY ANYWHERE. 

After a bit of back and forth between Dylan and I, where we attempted to teach John some Spanish slang, I asked them how their new band’s name, Birt & Harley happened.  

DB-H: Noah suggested the name. We were just trying to figure out names and… 

JB: We had a lot of fun trying to come up with names. One of them came up recently. I was camping in Maine, and [there’s] a place where you [can] dig for clams and I was like, oh we were almost the Clam Diggers! Which is a good name, but not for what we’re doing.

DB-H: It’s a fun name when you’re thinking about names.

MA-O: It’s a fun exercise. 

JB: The Johnny Cakes.

DB-H: The Potholes.. yeah, I can see you don’t like any of these names, Mayté. 

JB: We were looking for something that was reminiscent of the time period that we’re playing music from. And a lot of those bands [were] usually “so and so and some other stuff”, and we have strong names, so it’s not a bad thing to put them out there.

DB-H: Birt & Harley also feels applicable across multiple settings for sure.

MA-O: I think that when you say your name, it feels, I don’t know, like a legit band.

DB-H: Haha. It gives us room for puppetry too. Scrooge and Marley, Birt and Harley. 

MA-O: That’s great!

J&D: Just wait for our Christmas show.

DB-H: Everyone is invited…

MA-O: Good to know! What else do you want to share about your band?

JB: It’s acoustic music. It really is just two guitars and two guys singing. You can do it unplugged, depending on the venue that we’re in. So, it really is kind of an unabashed, this is what we sound like.

DB-H: I would also say that, I think I speak for both of us, I feel very much in it for the long haul with this, and what we’re doing right now is phase one of whatever is going to happen. Come hang out while we figure out what the fuck we’re doing. It’s gonna be fun.

JB: You’re gonna hear songs that maybe you [recognize, and] you’re gonna hear some old school songs that you’ve never heard before. I guarantee it.

DB-H: And also, come request songs because John is a whiz at making charts for songs. So, if there’s [something] you wanna hear, request it and we’ll figure it out. 

JB: We also both enjoy the challenge of playing different styles of music. Recently, we were playing at a gig and they [said], “Oh, we really would like some Latin jazz. We want some bossa nova kind of stuff.” And we [said]- we can make that happen. So, we learned a whole set and now it’s part of our [repertoire]. We can’t put that bolero away. We love that bolero.

DB-H: Also, John and I have the same funny bone. Basically you’re looking at two Ned Flanders, who grew up on Mystery Men.

JB: We constantly quote the same movie. And I’m like, what does that say about us?

MA-O: Besides the fact that y’all have found each other? I think that’s great.

JB: I mean, that explains a lot of things. 

DB-H: God led us to each other, Mayté. 

MA-O: Yes, haha. The universe put you together, I believe that for sure.  

DB-H: It was written. 

JB: Besides talking about music, we constantly talk about-in-between songs. What are we gonna [say]? How are we gonna either get the audience on our side, or at least mildly entertain them? We’re always thinking about those things because that’s part of the show. 

MA-O: It sounds like it’s sort of off the cuff, but it’s not.

DB-H: Yeah, phase one. 

JB: But honestly, it’s somewhat planned improv, but it never goes the way we thought it was gonna go. 

DB-H: I think phase two is gonna be puppets. 

MA-O: I can’t wait to see that. So, I know you’re playing jazz music, but what would you say about traditional music?

DB-H: I’d say a  number of the songs we play are “Trad Jazz.” 

MA-O: Okay, but what’s that?

JB: We play jazz standards. Songs that if you walked into a club and mentioned [them] to anybody, they would know the songs.

DB-H: “On The Sunny Side of the Street”, “Ain’t Misbehavin”- songs that are in the American jazz standard repertoire. There’s a couple books- like the Real Book. Right? 

JB: Right. Which were collections of the popular tunes that you needed to know, in order to just… play out. We play a lot of those songs. We don’t necessarily play the book version of it. If I’m learning a song, I usually just go straight to the recording and basically imitate exactly what they did and then [discern] what fits our voice better? How do we want to intro this? 

MA-O: Right, maybe change a key or something? 

JB: Yeah, yeah.

DB-H: John is very highly studied in music. I fluked into music because my dad is a musician. And I have a good ear,  I grew up around it. I studied drums for a while, but I didn’t take a deep dive into it. And John has taken the deepest dive of anybody in my personal circle. So, when I say he can transcribe anything, I mean he can. John also arranged a horn section on a song that I wrote, and we recorded that down in Charlottesville. He was basically in the room conducting. That’s a hard skill. I mean, for me that’s a superpower. John’s a superhero in my life. 

MA-O: I know you play the guitar, bass, all the 5,000 instruments that you and your brother play. But in terms of performance, I see you as a drummer. I like that you said John taught you how to translate drumming into a guitar. 

JB: That’s what’s really cool about the style of music that we play. In Gypsy jazz and early jazz in general, there’s no drums. And the reason for that is that they couldn’t actually record drums. When you were in a recording studio, there was a needle going on the wax, and if you hit a drum the needle would go flying off. So, when you listen to early Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five, there’s no drums involved, it’s all horns. You had one instrument plucking away at the rhythm, and that was either a banjo or a guitar. What I ended up playing when I moved down to Virginia was music without a drummer. A lot of the venues we were playing didn’t want drums.

MA-O: That makes you in some ways a little bit more versatile, you can play in more places.

JB: When we play in a place [the music] doesn’t absorb everything around it, you know? When a rock band plays it’s loud, engulfing and some drummers only have one volume. I like [the] style of music that fits whatever room it’s in. I think we both get that from our experience in folk music. This is acoustic, it fits in this particular space, and when you need to make it louder, you just put a microphone on it. 

MA-O: You mentioned Gypsy jazz. What’s the difference between Gypsy jazz and other kinds of jazz?

DB-H: Well, I’ll start off by saying [that] “gypsy” is a hot term for some people, [understandably]. So, when we say Gypsy jazz, some people say, can we find a more neutral way to describe what you’re doing? 

MA-O: Oh, interesting.

DB-H: Another way to say it is “Jazz Menouche.”

Gypsy jazz is often referred to as “jazz manouche” (the French name), and “hot jazz” is another common descriptor. 

DB-H: Per my understanding, [it’s] a form of jazz that made its way from America, [and] was filtered through nomadic people, through Paris.

JB: Jazz happens throughout the world, and while it’s happening in the U.S., the Delta Blues are happening, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington [are performing]. People are absorbing it in other parts of the world through recorded music. So once recorded music starts going overseas, what happens in Paris is that nomadic people who have folk traditions mostly through dance music start hearing this new style of music … hearing things that are similar to their own stuff but in a different language. It’s a jazz language that uses [what] they’re doing, but differently. So, when you’re talking about- if you’re calling it Gypsy jazz, or jazz manouche, it’s basically folk music meeting jazz. So the stuff that Django really absorbed [was] the “musette” style while he was in France, he was playing in dance bands. He was a kid, and he was a banjo virtuoso too. 

Django Reinhardt was of Roma descent, often described as a “Romani” guitarist. He was born in Liberchies, Belgium. At the age of 8 he and his mother’s Manouche community settled near the Choisy gate of “Old Paris,” and as an adult he became known for creating the first ever Gypsy jazz band, the Quintette du Hot Club de France (alongside violinist Stéphane Grappelli). 

JB: [Django] was proud of [the Romani] tradition. Whenever he made enough money, he just went back on the road. He wasn’t trying to get out of the nomadic lifestyle. 

DB-H: There is definitely a negative connotation with the word “gypsy” [though]. It’s used by some people as a slur. But, when we say Gypsy jazz, I would like people to find a hint of pride in that. It’s proud music and it’s vital. I mean, it’s still here. You play it and people immediately react to it. So when we play, it’s a flag [acknowledging the music’s history]. It’s a proud tradition that we are grateful to be able to borrow from and … play.  

JB: We’re playing real Gypsy jazz. I found the oldest recordings of some of the songs and transcribed them … They’re songs you cannot hear anywhere else. No one is jamming on Gypsy jazz waltzes. I can’t get enough of it. It’s really fun music. Some of it sounds very classical in style. Some of it [is] folk music, but with different rules. 

DB-H: There’s a real transportive quality. For me playing it, I can be feeling one way, and then as soon as I start playing it, I immediately feel the way that the music makes me feel. I bow to that feeling. And I think it does that to a space too. Which is really special thing to get to do and be a part of.  

MA-O: Absolutely. Well, and I would imagine, given everything that’s happened in the last year and a half, to be able to come together and create those kinds of experiences for people, that’s very meaningful.

JB: We’re playing a type of music that really just existed in social settings. It’s music that’s meant to be played in places with people. After a year of not being able to do that, it was really beautiful to just get together with someone and be like, this is music for people. 

Find @birtandharley on Instagram, and go see their shows on Wednesdays at the Royal Bobcat (7pm to 9:30pm) and on Saturdays at Nick-a-Nees (4pm to 7pm).