The Pandemic Pivot

Rhode Island clubs and music lovers proved during the last year that the drive to create music and gather to listen is more powerful than any virus. As warmer weather drew people outside last summer, our music writer Jake Bissaro attended a few outdoor shows at Askew, Dusk, and Nick-a-Nee’s. He said, “Though it was only a handful, I thought each establishment handled COVID-19 protocols, including masking, social distancing and cleaning, very well. The venues also worked to ensure a fairly minimal (all things considered) impact on the quality of the performances.”

Chrissy Stewart of PVDLive jumped into outdoor music last summer as well when she put on an event at Temple to Music called Dear RI. She said of the event, “That venue has always been a dream of mine and with life being so heavy, it seemed like a perfect time. I partnered with my friend Aliya Johnson, who runs La.Boheme.Noir, and our intention of that show was for it to be a love note to Providence. It was an enlightening experience with so many great musicians and artists.”

Stewart since has partnered with ISCO in PVD to bring music to their outdoor space. “I couldn’t ask for a better environment to host music during the pandemic,” she said. “They do an incredible job creating a beautiful and safe environment.”

The music series just returned to ISCO and will take place every Wednesday while weather allows.




Keep on Movin: Ten Years of Magic: Pile celebrates with a livestreamed performance

Pile — Magic Isn’t Real

Pile, the celebrated indie rock band with Boston origins recently marked the pandemic-delayed 10th anniversary of their fantastic album Magic Isn’t Real, holding a livestream performance with their original lineup of Matt Becker, Matt Connery, Kris Kuss and frontman Rick Maguire. In the last decade, Pile has gained a legion of devoted fans and have become known as a “rock band’s rock band.” 

Born out of the basement show scene in Allston, the band’s heavy but deeply harmonic sound defies categorization. Magic’s songs are as biting and angular as The Jesus Lizard, but way more dynamic, and jittery like Gang of Four, but with way better hooks. 

“Number One Single” is a craggly jam with a stop-start feel and warp speed drumming. “Pets” is a catchy, sludge-pop number with downtuned warmth that makes it a modern classic. 

Not unlike fellow Bostonians The Pixies, their sound feels experimental and edgy, but I found myself hitting the repeat button and don’t quite know why. The “But I was honest” refrain in the song  “Octopus” is downright anthemic, and the soaring “Two Snakes” keeps you guessing the whole time. 

Just when these songs approach conventional pop structures, they careen off into new and interesting directions. “Don’t Touch Anything” is my favorite, and remains a fan favorite as well (if Spotify data is to be believed). 

I revisited the album with Mcguire by phone a few days before the livestream.

Jake Bissaro (Motif): Magic was the first Pile record with the full band lineup, right?

Rick Maguire: Yeah, it’s Matt Becker, Chris and I on the album. We went on our first tour in the fall of 2009, and a few months later Matt found out he was going to be a father, so we knew we had to get everything fully recorded and tracked by the following July.

JB: Did having a band affect the sound, as opposed to the earlier solo releases?

RM: I think so. With the full band, there was definitely a lot more room to experiment with dynamics, and it was good just generally having other people to bounce ideas off of.

JB: It seems like the album represented a bit of a breakthrough for you guys, at least in terms of a New England presence. What do you remember about the reception? 

RM: I do remember it being pretty well-received. Around that time, we were playing way more basements than clubs, so the album started to open up a new world to us — new people, new music and new venues I didn’t even realize existed. 

JB: It feels like now, there’s a sort of mythology built up around the Boston rock scene around that time. Do you have fond memories of it?

RM: Very much so. I think I have my own mythology about that time in some ways, but it was pretty exciting. I lived in a house with a bunch of people in bands, and within a two minute walk you could get to three different houses that had shows regularly. On some nights, there would be three or four happening, and you’d try to catch as much as you could. 

JB: Which tracks are most memorable to you?

RM: It’s strange; the ones that are more memorable now are the ones we haven’t played all that much because of this anniversary show. I’ve formed new memories around the ones we’ve continued to play over the past 10 years. But having to relearn a song like “Levee,” I have absolutely no idea what I was playing, and I had to think about what I might have done back then to help figure it out.

JB: What was the recording process like?

RM: Pretty smooth, from what I remember. It was recorded by Richard Marr at Galaxy Park Studios in Allston, now in Salem. I think we set aside just a week, and we recorded the album plus what ended up being the Big Web 7”. We basically did everything live, but with additional takes punched in.

JB: Lyrically, it seems like many of the subjects are cloaked in metaphor. Was this an intentional move?

RM: I was going through some personal stuff at the time and I didn’t want to be too overt. It just felt like a safer way to express myself, and maybe I thought it was a more powerful way to have different characters, or animals, tell the story.

JB: Do you now consider yourself a “Nashville Band” now that you’ve relocated? Does it even matter?

RM: I’m in Boston right now. I still very much like spending time here, and essentially split my time between the two places. But ultimately, wherever people want to say we’re from is totally fine. It’s semantics at this point. 

JB: Any final thoughts on the album?

RM: I have my own personal and complicated feelings about it, but at this point it just feels like a picture of that period of my life. 

Pile plans to write and record a new album later this year, slated for a 2022 release. 

Buy Magic Isn’t Real at Pile’s bandcamp page.




Creating Unity in Community: Roz Raskin on adapting to pandemic life

In Motif’s March and April editions I highlighted the virtual experiences of Rhode Island musicians Dylan Block-Harley and Chachi Carvalho. In this edition, the series concludes with the ever-evolving Providence-based songwriter Roz Raskin, also known as NOVA ONE.  

Roz values the creation and strengthening of community and works toward this effort as musician, show curator, community organizer and teacher. They also serve as board co-chair of RIOT RI, a “non-profit that uses music creation, critical thinking and collaborative relationships to foster collective empowerment and the development of healthy identities in girls, women, trans and gender-expansive youth and adults.” On April 24, Roz celebrated the one-year anniversary of their album Loveable, and they are currently recording a new set of songs for their fans and loves.  

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): I’m really interested in what you’ve done to adapt as an artist in pandemic life. 

Roz Raskin: Yeah, so the way that I musically move through my life is I obviously play shows, do touring, release records and things like that and the other half of my life is I teach. I’ve been teaching songwriting and piano for, I guess now, 11 or 12 years. I think for some [of my students’] parents, it’s nice to see a working musician doing their thing, making this work as a career — not just touring or just teaching. So my life has been both those things, [and] when the pandemic hit, I very quickly thought to myself, “I know people teach online.” 

So, I got myself a little webcam and I have a second camera set up so I can teach people piano and songwriting online. I’m actually busier than I’ve ever been because so many people have wanted to learn instruments with the time that they now have available. I think a weird silver lining, and this is not me putting a toxic positivity lens on things, is to see people picking up instruments. It’s cool to see people digging into their creativity once they’ve had the space from the capitalist cycle. You work your 9 to 5, you watch some tv and go to bed because you don’t have time really for anything else. With so many people being on unemployment, for example, having the option to explore other parts of themselves, I think that’s cool.

In describing the fatigue that can come from streaming live shows as a performer, Roz also shared how they’ve had to adjust their thinking when curating shows under the name “SELF LUV,” since given our pandemic reality, they can no longer book them in their apartment attic or basement. 

RR: I think a lot of people are screened out, [though there are] amazing ideas from local people [on what to try virtually]. [P]re-recorded stuff tends to work really well, because the thing about livestreaming is that as fun as it can be interacting with people, there can sometimes be a lot of space and awkwardness. It really depends on the performer. I think that a lot of people are missing like, the engaging live experience [and] sometimes seeing a really sick pre-recorded show feels great. You know, there is no right or wrong way to do any of it, right? 

So yeah, I’ve been thinking about how I wanna be performing [online]… and what it looks like to be booking shows on the internet right now. I did a few early on in quarantine that were really fun and then it just, you know, I go through bouts, like we all do, of mental health struggles, and when you’re singing to a camera all the time it’s just challenging sometimes. 

MA-O: When you’re in that space, what do you do to hype yourself up, to engage in that process?    

RR: What I really like to think about most is, especially if it’s a livestreaming session, is regardless of how I’m feeling, if people have shown up for this I wanna play my ass off like I would for any other performance, right? If people are here to support my music, I’m gonna pour 150% in no matter how I’m feeling. I think if you sign up to play something and people are there you gotta make it happen, you know what I’m saying? Otherwise, you should be considering what you have capacity for, which is sometimes hard to gauge right now. I always try to think about the people who support the project, or the booking company or really support anything. That’s the way I felt in live shows, too. You know, there are certain nights when you don’t feel completely on, and then you get out on stage and people are psyched and that’s the thing that a lot of musicians miss. We fuel ourselves from the energy a lot of the times from the people in the spaces, so to not have that you are sort of imagining [it]… 

MA-O: It’s the feedback loop that you don’t have … and it goes both ways, from performer to audience and back around.  

R: Right. I’ve talked to a lot of folks, and it definitely feels like it’s hard to put yourself in the right headspace for it, which I get.

And some of this just feels like, reaching out to people. I go to a lot of shows and a funny thing about musicians and perhaps show-goers too, is that we’re so used to running into people. A lot of socializing was just, “Oh, I’m going to that show.” You can look online to see who’s gonna go, or you can text your buddies, or you know the band that’s playing and you go to the show, right? So I feel like NOW, for musicians who are already often so self-loathing and maybe don’t do much socializing outside of show spaces, it’s a lot more difficult to feel like you’re in community. I feel like there was a time when I hated small talk and now, I LOVE the stuff. I love running into people at shows and saying, “How’s your band doing? Are ya’ll writing? How’s your family? Oh you had a baby last year? What does your musical life look like right now?” Or just like, “Hey! Did you see that show?”

As musicians, a challenge is to put the effort into reaching out and maintaining community. I think we all took for granted that it was so easy to see people. You could just show up to a bar and grab yourself a drink of whatever kind, and chat with somebody. Or, something I used to love about shows is  depending on the night, cause I’m sort of an introvert/extrovert, if I was going to the Columbus for example, sometimes I just like to go sneak into the nose bleeds, quiet, my hood up, just watching the band, love that. And then people sometimes spot me and I’m like, “Shhh, I just kinda wanna be chilling back here.”  

MA-O: That piece of our lived experience has been taken away, and now we’ve had to re-create that experience virtually. And with performances, whether something is pre-recorded or livestreamed, I think that what adds the potential of connection with other viewers is a chat box or something where people can interact with each other. To be honest, it’s a little weird and yet engagement CAN happen, it’s just different. 

R: Well said. I love the chat box. I’m huge on the chats. I have a blast and it’s nice to be interacting with people in digital space in that way. I think no matter what I do for the SELF LUV shows, it’s going to be something that has the option to do that. For NOVA ONE, we did a set on Facebook at the start of the pandemic and people were chatting, and it was fun to see who was attending. 

M: Thinking of virtual shows, I know you did Culture Shock… 

R: Oh my God yes, that was so sick! That was a great example of a pre-recorded show all edited, but you could chat. Chachi hosted it and then they edited everything down to all the performances. There was one song per performer because there was so much high production value in what was going on and it would’ve been [a lot with more songs]. I liked the way that it worked because you could get some really beautiful footage and a diversity of sound from different performers and people could still be watching, commenting on what was happening, and some of the performers [were] in the chat. When it’s pre-recorded you can join and see what everyone is saying, like, “Oh Roz, what’s this song about?” 

I filmed that in person with them, [they] had a great sanitized space. Everyone doing masks — on the nose — gotta love that. When they’re falling I’m like, “Yo, I’m not trying to see that schnoz, if I see ya nose, I’m out.”    

When reflecting on Dylan (who they’ve known since childhood) and Chachi (who they’ve worked alongside), Roz said: 

I just really appreciate people that have been here doing it for a while because it’s a special connection to the city and the community of people who have the history…

MA-O: There’s dedication to the music community here, the activism you’re in, being a teacher, board member of RIOT, creating community through music. 

R:R I feel like for me there’s no other way to be. In the same way that I make music because I have no choice, it really is running through my body and my brain at all times that I need to be making and creating. I wish I could pause it sometimes; it’s just always kind of going. I feel the same way about community. There is no choice but to try to provide as a good of an education through my music [lessons] as I can, or do the same with  programing with RIOT or keeping in touch with people. Texting friends in the music community, like, “Hey! I haven’t seen you since I saw you in that show in March.” I’ve been texting people this week and been like, “We’re coming up on the year, remember me? Remember you?  We’re here! I hope you’re doing okay.” I’m trying to be more active with reaching out to people. 

MA-O: What do you think you’ve learned from performing in virtual space and might be taking to future live events? 

RR: I love that question, I think something that has been highlighted quite a bit is the inequity of so much that’s going on in artist spaces, like who has access to what. Performers with a lot of capital and resources and tools can put on these insane-o beautiful pre-recorded performances or live. And then performers that were just getting by playing shows, it’s just harder. The money is just not there for the production value that people are expecting these days. I think recognizing that is really important for us to be taking into the future. That all parts of our communities need to be seen and held and loved. It’s a little existential in the way that I’m thinking about it right now … generally being aware. So many things go into what makes a performer at a show do what they’re doing. Some people don’t have access to a vehicle, they have to be driven to a show by a friend. Or like, they don’t have access to an amp, they need to borrow one. Trying to be aware of what people have and what they don’t, and how we can better support each other. No matter what. Pandemic or not. 

Also, there’s a lot of value in online programming! I really fucking hope that the Columbus could get an elevator at some point, because people who can’t walk well can’t access that spot. Accessibility right now is huge, cause if you have a phone, if you have  an iPad if you have a computer, [or] you can go to the library and watch things, the accessibility through technology is huge. 

So older folks who are just at home, and anybody who is — we have this option now. In the future it would be cool to always allow things to be livestreamed as much as possible. I don’t want people to forget there’s a lot of people who can’t access spaces that we play, and I think that highlighting those things and making sure that we’re all staying aware and are trying to address [that] as much as possible into the future is important I used to book shows in an attic space that was three flights of stairs to get up there, and there’s just certain people that can’t make it to those spaces. It was so dreamy up there, this is like Chronicles of Narnia shit, but you have to be thinking about what’s accessible and what’s not. 

And then for me as an artist, I started a Patreon. And I have loved connecting with my fan base that way. It’s been so fun to be able to create pieces. Essentially, I’ve created prompts for myself. I do a cover once a month, and it’s really pushed me to make. And I’m also giving songwriting and instrument lessons and I’m drawing comics on there, something I haven’t done actively for a long time. I think I wanna continue doing that stuff, it’s a nice way to be able to engage in community with people who don’t live in Rhode Island. There’s someone on my Patreon who lives in England!

MA-O: Access to virtual spaces increases access and it also increases your reach as an artist.

RR: Totally, like even it being… an honor system, like hey I’m playing a show at AS220, it’s ticketed for people to come, we are also gonna livestream it. And on the honor system, here’s my Venmo. If you have the means, send $10. It also could be a viable option for people. Like say I’m playing a show on a Monday and you can’t come cause you’re doing work at your house, you can have the livestream on, you send $10 over, that’s [money] that wouldn’t have existed for the performer before that. It’s win-win if we’re able to keep that component involved. 

MA-O: Have people reached out to you yet for future live performances? 

R: So they have not. I think a lot of people are wary about what that looks like to do it in a responsible way  I do know places are doing live music indoors. I don’t feel comfortable doing it unless it was something like, for example, I might be doing an AS220 pre-recorded stream soon. I’m up for going to spaces to record with minimal people, masked, sanitized. It’ll be interesting to see what it will look like to do outdoor stuff this year. I was offered to do an outdoor gig in the fall and I was just feeling so anxious, I said to the booker, “You know, you’re amazing, but I don’t think that my energy will benefit the show, and I wish you luck with it. I think it’s good to know when you can and can’t do. I spent like a week being like, “Ughhhh what do I want to do??” Cause I wanna fucking play. It’s been months and I wanna play.

My big question is what it’s gonna look like when things come back because everybody and their mom is gonna wanna play a show… I think that booking is gonna be real wild. Booking of venues is gonna be super competitive.

MA-O: You know there is no substitution for the live experience, and yet there is connection to be had even in virtual space. It’s about really taking a step back and thinking about the comfort level of the performer and the audience. 

RR: Honestly, I think that one of the most nerve-wracking things for me is not even putting on the shows, it’s really more what it looks like to interact with people. I’ve been to numerous protests this year and people generally did a good job being masked. I had a few people try to hug me, and I was like, “Yo, were’ not doing that though right?” And at shows people are way more apt to wanna do that stuff, cause they feel connected. “I saw you play and I wanna hug.” I’ve hugged countless people after shows. When you involve alcohol and emotional connection, people want to be physical. So to me the most difficult thing to navigate is how to interact with people when they don’t have clear boundaries and are not seeing other people’s boundaries and respecting [them]. 

MA-O: Yeah, I don’t think you’re alone in that at all. Everybody has had to figure out what safety means for them. And when live music returns, we’ll have to renegotiate boundaries. We’re still trying to be careful. 

RR: I always try to emphasize that artists, all of us need to be really patient with ourselves, which is a challenge, you know? But just to be aware that if you don’t put out a record this year, it’s all good. If you have days when you can’t get out of bed like, it’s all good. Do what you gotta do for your mental health. Do what you gotta do to take care of yourself and your survival first and foremost. And the creativity — it will be there. This is a hard moment. I just wrote a song about the pressure to make when there’s a lot of time. I was just talking to a friend of mine [who] is being really hard on himself for not making enough while he had ample time to make. And sometimes it’s just not that easy, and we’re all facing a lot of different really heavy issues of varying kinds, so I think we just gotta be kind to ourselves and be patient, and the creativity will come. 

Follow Nova One (aka Roz Raskin): https://novaonenovaone.bandcamp.com, https://www.patreon.com/novaone and @novaone_




The 60s!: One of our favorite folk enters a new decade

Okee dokee folks… YIKES! I am 60! How did this happen? I still think I’m 30, but my body feels like I’m 90, so I guess that averages out to 60. The first time I met Pete Seeger, he was 60 and he seemed old to me then. I don’t think I am old, but I suppose that I really am. At least I am coming out of the other side of the pandemic alive and healthy unlike 575,000-plus Americans. I am fully vaccinated and now have immunity. Getting the vaccine was a relief. Both shots were painless and neither bothered me in any way — except maybe that pesky third nipple that popped up. KIDDING!!! The same applied for my girlfriend and parents, they were all fine. It is a huge step toward hope — hope that we can start playing gigs again and can get back to whatever normal will be. I was supposed to play a show last week but it was canceled because of COVID restrictions. I was disappointed, but understood. This thing is winding down, but it’s not done with us yet. Jumping the gun is a mistake and precautions still need to be taken. I wish that more people would understand this. I still see people arguing against mask mandates and won’t get vaccinated. I have actually seen a man standing by the side of 295 protesting mask wearing. Seriously? When I went to Japan in the late 1980s I was freaked out when I saw people wearing surgical masks. I didn’t understand why. I found out that it was polite to wear a mask if you were sick. Thirty five years later and this is something that many Americans are CHOOSING to complain about: common sense! Until society comes together completely over this and complies, the pandemic will linger longer than it has to. Venues are beginning to open and host live music. Some of it will be outside, some of it is limited indoors while some still remain shuttered. Safety precautions will hopefully remain in effect for a while. A handful of festivals will take place this year, such as Newport Folk Fest, Rhythm and Roots Fest and The RI Folk Festival (formerly PVD Folk Fest). Details about these events are still being hammered out. As far as the Rhode Island Folk Festival in East Providence, this year will be a lower key event. It takes months and months to raise the money, coordinate the artists and volunteers and do all the other things that go on behind the scenes. It is hard to pull together with less time as well as gamble on the whims of an unpredictable pandemic. I am sure that this will apply to other events that require lots of advanced planning, so take this into consideration if you are going to be cranky about abridged affairs. I know you are tired of hearing this, but wear a mask and get your damn vaccine! Read on…

The Narrows Center for the Arts continues its Friday Night Streaming Series with Heather Maloney on May 14, The Blue Ribbons on the 21st, and Tom Rush on the 28th. George Winston is performing a limited audience show on May 7, but that is only because Winston is strictly piano music and there is no singing, which is currently prohibited indoors in Massachusetts. Alas, this show has already sold out. The Colby James show on June 12 is already sold out as well. For more, navigate to narrowscenter.org for updates on in-person shows as well as the streams.

With the weather warming up, the Millrace Music Series will be getting underway. On May 7th, this eight-week, Friday night series kicks off with The Kickin Brass Band outside on the patio of The Millrace Kitchen, 40 South Main Street, Woonsocket. The free shows begin at 6pm and continue to 8:30pm. The series continues with Kim Trusty on the 14th, Lisa Bello May on the 21st, Dynamite Rhythm on the 28th, High Planes on June 4 and Eastern Medicine Singers on the 11th. Seating is limited and all COVID-19 capacity limits will be enforced. For more, side by each to: Facebook.com/MillraceKitchen

The Greenwich Odeum is presenting a livestream in May with Marielle Kraft and The Naticks to help raise some clams for the Odeum. The Odeum’s calendar also boasts a few limited capacity, in-person shows so it’s best to get your tix before they go. Coming up: Hubby Jenkins from The Carolina Chocolate Drops on May 15, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins on May 21 (it will be streamed on the 22nd as well), The Verve Pipe on May 22, Richard Shindell & Lucy Kaplansky on June 10, and The queen of mall concerts, Tiffany, on June 25. To stay in the know about the O go to greenwichodeum.com

The Evening Sky band’s One Mic, Two Weekends was recorded over two weekends in 2020 by musicians Eric Hastings, Gino Rosati, Chris Brooks and Joe Potenza, with amps and drums strategically placed in the same room around just one stereo ribbon microphone. The eight-song disc features guitar and pedal steel instrumentals with a country twang, bluesy-jazzy-funk feel. Some of it even leans into the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” territory. You may even hear echoes of the Grateful Dead and Asleep at the Wheel in there as well. Slide over to eveningskyband.com for more, or catch them live at the Pump House on May 14 or The Music Mansion on May 30.

Unfortunately, we lost another member of the Rhode Island music community to COVID last week. Bill McGrath, a musician who was also a staunch supporter of other local musicians and produced showcases for up-and-coming artists, passed away after a month-long battle with COVID. This loss has heavily affected many in the music community as well as his daughter, singer-songwriter Allison Rose.

Anyway, chin up, mask up-over the nose, please. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com




Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams Come Through: R.I.P. Jim Steinman

As a kid I hated music like Meat Loaf. I thought it was pompous and overdone, and I never liked having to hear that stupid “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” song at every wedding. It wasn’t till years later that I was reading a review of a Meat Loaf concert that it all clicked and I realized the genius of Meat Loaf and of his songwriter, Jim Steinman. If the record label told him couldn’t have seven choruses in a song, Steinman put nine choruses in. He curb-stomped the idea of the 3-minute, radio-friendly pop song. In that respect, Steinman was more punk than Fugazi. Everything he did had great lyrics and dramatic storylines, and went against what pop songs are supposed to be. In addition to working with the Loaf, Steinman wrote the hits “Total Eclipse of The Heart” for Bonnie Tyler and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” for Celine Dion. Sadly, Steinman recently passed away in Connecticut. But through his music, he will live forever. 

The Living Pins — Freaky Little Monster Children EP  

It’s normal for bands to take a little time after their debut and second release. In the case of Austin psych-rockers The Living Pins, that little time translated into a quarter of a century. Was it worth the wait? I just hope nobody was holding their breath. Freaky Little Monster Children is like a basket of shiny psych-rock nuggets. “Jaguar” is fueled by a guitar riff reminiscent of “Honkey Tonk Women” with a chorus that sounds like ’80s UK alternative rock on acid. “Downtown” sounds like the Strawberry Alarm Clock covering the Velvet Underground. My favorite track is “Raven” because the background effects sound like a jungle with searing guitars and the mystery and menace of singer/guitarists Pam Peltz and Carrie Clark’s vocals floating through the moonlight. Freaky Little Monster Children is available now on Bandcamp.  

Guided By Voices — Earth Man Blues (Rockathon Records)

Let’s go from a band that had 25 years between releases to Guided By Voices, who is releasing their fourth album of this pandemic, Earth Man Blues. The press release describes the release as a magical cinematic album following the adventures of Harold Admore. I’d describe it as a great album that contains all the elements of classic Guided By Voices. Earth Man Blues is by far the best album of COVID-era GBV. From the unexpected circus-like breakdown on the opening track “Made Man” through the prog-rock madness of the closing “Child’s Play,” Earth Man Blues rocks like a tilt-a-whirl spinning through a funhouse. “The Disconnected Citizen” sounds like Alien Lanes-era GBV through a lens darkened by the millennium mayhem.  The concept theme pops up from time to time like on “Dirty Kid School” where it sounds like Tommy-era The Who. “Sunshine Girl Hello ” starts off like late ’60s power pop before shapeshifting into an NRBQ rocker; it should not work, but somehow it does. Of course singer/songwriter Robert Pollard has been pulling off tricks like these since back when new episodes of “Cheers” were being filmed, but there is something different with Earth Man Blues. Pollard and the band haven’t sounded this fresh and invigorated in years. I haven’t really settled on a favorite track, but the album centerpiece is “Lights Out Memphis Egypt.” It sounds like an indie prog-rock playing Deep Purple and Black Sabbath covers all within one song. Earth Man Blues captures the classic sound of Guided By Voices, but also sounds like it’s from the future.  

Dinosaur Jr. — Sweep It Into Space 

I go back and forth on whether Dinosaur Jr. is the ultimate reunion success story. Since getting back together in 2005, they have released four albums and played hundreds of mesmerizing shows, but none of those albums are ones I’d ever want to go back and listen to. I wasn’t expecting much from Sweep It Into Space, but just like that, Dinosaur Jr. hits you with their best album since Hand It Over from 1997. Sweep It Into Space was mostly produced by Kurt Vile till the pandemic hit and production shut down.  Singer/Guitar wizard J. Mascis ended up finishing the recording alone.  Sweep It Into Space starts off like the ’70s — loud and out-of-focus, with jams like “I Ain’t” and “To Be Waiting” made to be blasted out of a cassette deck in convertible speeding down the freeway. Mascis said he was listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy when recording Sweep It Into Space, and that comes through in the melodies beneath the thrash. “I Met The Stones” is a glimpse inside Mascis’ mind as he wrestles with anxieties about meeting the Stones.  It might be the oddest subject matter in the Dinosaur Jr. catalogue, but more importantly it RAWKS! The marriage of post-hardcore guitar and hooks on “Hide Another Round” makes for another classic Dino Jr. whammer jammer. “And Me” reminds me of The Head on the Door-era Cure, which, I guess considering Dinosaur covered “Just Like Heaven, ” isn’t a leap too far.  “Take It Back” has a keyboard-driven verse that sounds like something broken off of Phil Spector’s wall of sound before blossoming into a power ballad. Bassist Lou Barlow contributes his usual two songs with the closing, “The Wonder,” being the more compelling. Play this sucker loud!

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com




This Mini EP Packs a Big Punch: Fast by Rather Nice showcases wall-to-wall micro bops with meaning

Rather Nice day in the forest

If you’re at all familiar with this indie band, you’ll know their songs are always a Rather Nice blend (see what I did there?) of cleverly presented humorous angst layered against bright melodies. Although I’ve never listened to an EP quite as short as four minutes before, I must say that the boys have stumbled across a new art form. There’s something to be said about showing art in such a concise manner. As much as I love getting lost in a song for a while, these sound bites bring a whole new element to the music industry. Each song has a unique sound, while still somehow staying consistent with the rest of their catalogue. 

In celebration of their new EP, I’m taking a deep dive into this mini album that packs a big punch. As you listen, you’ll notice how incredibly talented Joe Johnson, Mike Tenreiro, Nick Reagan and Oliver Littlefield truly are – and they won’t even need much of your time to prove it!

Ripping guitar riffs courtesy of the incredible Mike Tenreiro launch listeners into “Flippin’ Out.” Then the catchy melody comes in with goofy lyrics that make me smile: “I’m tripping over my words and flippin’ out in the street.” Then it ends with “Haven’t you heard I’m a dummy,” which sounds like something straight out of some PSA announcement. It’s so random and funny, and begs to be plastered on their band merch.

Easily the most romantic song on the EP, “Alright,” is a very sweet song with beautiful guitar melodies mimicking the vocals. No wonder these guys joked they’ve had to move many times to avoid getting overrun by fangirls (read this recent interview with Rather Nice HERE: https://motifri.com/rathernice/). This song sounds like something Jason Mraz or John Mayer might release, with the addition of ending harmonies that immediately reminded me of the Beatles. This song is also the most jazz-infused of the selection, with a good bossa nova vibe in it that you can sink into despite its brevity.

My favorite on the EP is “Stupid DMV,” probably because it has the most varied dynamics. After starting off with vocals and a light acoustic guitar (or perhaps it’s a ukulele), the drums and electric guitar quickly join the mix. The tongue-in-cheek subject of whining about being stuck at the DMV is something basically anyone can relate to (“Is it so much to ask / for this line to move an inch”). And that guitar solo is something so special, especially with Joe’s vocals layered behind it in the mix. I hope these guys keep bringing such joy and hilarity to the most mundane things. 

“Thai Food” has a bit of a romantic quality to it as well, but with a lot more angst: “Laying here twenty dollars down the drain / shattered heart and a mouthful of Lo Mein / I’m sitting here with a ruined mood / eating Thai Food in the afternoon/” The guitar riff feels like something more in the pop-punk realm, so that means I immediately love it — obviously. Again, it’s something very typical, but these guys have managed to infuse so much emotion into a super short song with a pretty simple concept. But the thing is, when you dig into it, there are layers of poetic emotion within those inventive rhyme schemes. Don’t discount it for seeming simple – I’ve found sometimes the most effective art forms are straight to the point. 

As you take the four minutes required to listen to this very brief EP, I think you’ll notice how smart and slick it is. These guys have said so much by saying so little, and that says the most of all. 

Listen to Rather Nice on Spotify HERE: open.spotify.com/artist/4PFth2EYBdcDvVMs7y3BUr?si=Nb90K2i3SGKXYGoKbjLgQw; And on YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UC–kIq0aPEZGUxEGvOs2cQA




Kevin’s Culture Picks: What did our expert watch in April?

Every week, I’ve been doing a deep dive into cultural issues, usually theater-related, that are bothering me or that deserve a second look. But who needs another thinkpiece, right?

I host two weekly programs on my theater company’s Faceboook page (Facebook.com/EpicTheatreCo) where I ask guests what has been keeping them creatively engaged or excited, and I thought I could put together some of the movies, television shows, books and music we discuss.

I’ll do this at the beginning of every month (until we’re out of … this), and hopefully it’ll keep you busy as we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

So, here’s what I enjoyed in the month of April:

Movies

Minari

French Exit

The Last Blockbuster (Streaming on Netflix)

Bad Trip (Streaming on Netflix)

Come True

The Father

Tina (Streaming on HBO Max)

Television

All Creatures Great and Small

Drag Race

Sasquatch (Streaming on Hulu)

Books

Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner

Peaces, by Helen Oyeyemi

100 Boyfriends, by Brontez Purnell

Music

Today We’re the Greatest, Middle Kids

OK, Orchestra, AJR

Our Country, Miko Marks & The ResurrectorsMusic, Benny Sings

Six Cover Songs, Wild Pink

Californian Soil, London Grammar

Flu Game, AJ Tracy

Best Streaming Theater of the Month

The Belle of Amherst — Granite Theatre in Westerly chose a perfect show for the digital form in William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst. The one-woman show all about the enigmatic Emily Dickinson was smartly directed by Paula Glen and featured a must-see performance from Steph Rodger. I didn’t review it for this magazine because I’m friendly with all involved, but since this is a space where I can laud my favorites unapologetically, I’ll take this opportunity to say that my very talented friends knocked it out of the park.




Jazz Insights: Dan Moretti

Noted reedman Dan Moretti, one of the nation’s top tenor saxophone artists, lives in Narragansett. Dan has been composing, recording, leading, teaching and performing jazz and some R&B around the world for more than 30 years. He has played with many of the great names in jazz during his veteran years, and Dan represents quality sound in the art-form.                 

Local musicians choose Dan to supplement and solo during their performances. His stints have included work in Europe, Asia, Africa and Greenland, and Dan’s recordings are well-known.

He and his groups continue to appear locally, at Chan’s (Woonsocket) and several other establishments. Years ago, he was inducted into Rhode Island’s Music Hall of Fame.




Gotta Be Mandi: Alternative rocker Mandi Crimmins explores self-acceptance with new song “Anyone But Me”

If you’ve never met Mandi Crimmins, you wouldn’t know how iconic her deep scarlet locks are in her grunge-but-trendy aesthetic. That’s why in the video to her recent release, “Anyone But Me,” viewers initially see only brief flashes of her “alter ego” alongside the blonde, preppy version of herself that, in reality, couldn’t be any more opposite. 

“I’d change me if I could / if it could help” is the main hook of this dynamic song, all about managing the delicate balance of who you are with what you feel like others want you to be.

I am not only a huge fan of Mandi’s particular brand of angsty punk rock heavily influenced by Amy Lee of Evanescence, but also her bravery and honesty. It takes major guts to bare all of that in a song for countless listeners to hear (and she has so many, with an impressive following on Tik Tok @mandicrimminsmusic of 35,000 and growing). Musically, she’s an expert at crafting melodies with impressive replay value, constantly hitting all the right notes. As she delves deep into the odd in-between of being a full-grown emo kid, followers from all walks of life who have an alternative aesthetic will feel perfectly at home in her music. 

“Anyone But Me” seeks to calm the stresses and insecurities that exist in a world that snuffs out all individuality. It’s tempting to hide your true personality and style just to fit in to the adult world of success that’s driven by everything beige and boring. But what Mandi beautifully embodies is how fulfilling it is to embrace exactly who you are without hesitation. Confidence is what sets you apart from the crowd, no matter how you like to dress. 

“Every mistake / every thought I can’t shake / keeps me awake” is a very accurate depiction of anxiety and the unfortunate way it often comes on full-force while trying to rest. Mandi’s dramatic glances into a fractured mirror offer a tangible feeling of what it is to be missing pieces of yourself, or not recognizing the person in the mirror looking back at you. 

Then halfway through the song, she starts to transform by trying on an edgier outfit, but the blonde hair and delicate makeup remain – a stagnant reminder of her need to branch out even more. The concept isn’t complicated, but the best things often aren’t. A simple idea executed artfully and with distinct intention often fares a lot better than the flashier ideas that have way too much going on to be impactful. This video perfectly encapsulates the heart of the song, effectively fleshing it out into a gorgeous visual of the warring personas that somehow exist simultaneously in all of us. 

Musically, this song is built on a typical pop progression and beat with a driving bass, but the most sparkling moments happen in the bridge section. True to her signature artistic voice, Mandi loves using musical pivot points to modulate to a new key – even just for a single note – elevating the most poignant moments of her songs. In “Anyone But Me,” the entire bridge is modulated up, which brings the listener to a whole new place before returning to the original key for the final chorus and outro. Listen to the glittering power move that is this bridge section, layered against the narrative moment when Mandi finally embraces her true self. 

Parallel moments from this concept video include a prim and proper Mandi sipping from a dainty teacup (which she didn’t initially know how to drink from properly – that’s how punk rock she is) compared to her chugging down a skull-shaped clear mug filled with black coffee. As the viewer is introduced to a very demure and sweet-looking Mandi, you see quick flashes of the real Mandi (but don’t blink, or you’ll miss it). 

It’s not until the utterly delectable key modulation in the bridge that the real Mandi is here to stay, with only a final, brief flashback to her blonde-haired alter ego. Gone are the pastel hues and the pink headband. In their place are combat boots, leather pants and a trendy beanie. The radiant smile on Mandi’s face proves she’s never felt better – and for a good reason! Being shamelessly and unapologetically yourself is always a good look – and she rocks it effortlessly.

Watch Mandi Crimmins’ new music video HERE: youtube.com/watch?v=kAoBFFRs59A and stream her music on Spotify HERE: open.spotify.com/artist/7lAYNCc413YgXmGxpEj8NN?si=OiikWdD7Sd-VpsjedjsslQ




Jack Downey Live at The Parlour

Jack Downey is a one-man band extraordinaire, with his new project Wave Goodbye based on a loop pedal, drum machine and a whole lot of talent. Since he began with lyrics even before learning an instrument, Jack’s poetry within these songs rivals greats like Bon Iver or Vance Joy. Still in college, Jack is a music student with big dreams and an even bigger imagination. Recently, he visited The Parlour for a set over livestream and an interview with Motif magazine’s own Hakeem Kushimo

Hakeem Kushimo: The style of music is pretty interesting! I’m that guy who, if I’m driving, and we’re listening to music, I’m gonna take you on a journey through old rap, new school rap, metal, everything. I don’t know what it is, I just go for different scales, I just like the way things sound – not really glued to any one genre. So I like everything you’re working with – the beat, the tempo, everything. It’s like a Beach Boys kind of vibe, just puts me in a good mood. The EP sounded great as well. How many tracks were on it, in total?

Jack Downey: On the digital version there’s seven, and on the tape version there’s eight. 

HK: Okay, that’s smart! Kind of an incentive to go with the old school. I like that! So you go to Providence College, right? Is the school doing any performances?

JD: So I’m part of the jazz band there, and they want to do a concert at the end of the year. The way things are going, it’s feasible that it can happen. Aside from that, though, the school ensembles aren’t planning any performances. So I want to talk to them about maybe an outdoor concert on campus, with maybe even some local acts around the campus. If I can get that off the ground, it’d be great. I don’t know if they’d go for it, but it’s probably worth a shot. 

HK: Now is definitely the time for you to start pushing for that as things are opening up, and we’re getting that sense of normalcy again. Every industry really felt the impact of the lockdown, but the arts in Rhode Island definitely felt it a lot, too, just because we weren’t able to get together with more than 10 to 15 different people. But this is nice — even though it’s a small venue, you were able to do your thing, and it looked really good on the stream end. So as a musician, how long have you been doing this?

JD: I’ve been writing music since probably around fifth or sixth grade. Picked up the guitar in seventh grade. The Wave Goodbye sets with the looping and everything like that is definitely more recent. Senior year, because I got a loop pedal for Christmas and that’s when I thought maybe I could start taking this on the road. I’ve been playing in bands since sophomore year of high school.

HK: Nice! And I’m glad you brought that up, because when I listened to the music before, it was awesome. But seeing you actually perform it kinda intrigued me a bit, because I like that you’re a one-man band essentially, with the equipment that you have here. And it’s nice to have your drummer and your band, but you’re kind of like the Thanos – the trifecta. You do everything on your own, and that’s really neat to see! You don’t have to rely on anybody to get your content out – you can do your own thing and be creative. And like you said, you can take your stuff on the road with you. It’s really cool to see you work with that, and put together a whole composition on your own. I thought you had a whole team, or whatever. Or you were doing it from a computer. But to see you do it live was actually really cool. In the grand scheme of things as an artist, what’s your goal? Are you trying to perform at a certain venue, or are you looking to get a job with music? At what point in your music career will you think you’ve made it? That you’re happy with what you’re doing with it, and this is what you wanna do?

JD: That’s a good question. What I want most is to perform and make enough money doing that, then I can call it a living. I’m not gonna be like U2 big, or anything like that. But I want to be able to sustain myself while I’m doing this so I’m not constantly losing money. I want people to listen to my music. People have actually been buying the tapes. I actually just did an Instagram ad campaign, and someone actually bought a tape from that – which is pretty crazy to see. This is the first time I’ve ever put one of Wave Goodbye’s EPs on tape. So the reception that’s it’s gotten is pretty cool. But I’d say, there’s a lot of different aspects of music that interest me. I like to play it – obviously. I like to write about it – I do a music column for the school paper. I go to shows and take photos, as well as set up concerts. So there’s a lot of different avenues in music that I really enjoy. I’m majoring in music tech and production, so I’m trying to learn more about mixing and mastering as well. That’s always cost me a lot of money – so at the very least, doing all that myself so I don’t have to pay anyone to do that. 

Hear the rest of this interview on The Parlour’s Facebook page, or listen to Motif Between the Notes wherever you get your podcasts, and stream music by Wave Goodbye on Spotify HERE: https://open.spotify.com/artist/54Jc7j7K2YgiD1jaNMdVU4?si=pT-sBEpDQIiCErsFcO5g7A

Tapes and music also available on Bandcamp HERE: https://wavegoodbye.bandcamp.com/album/summer