Brooklyn’s Violet Sands are sort of an indie “supergroup” – featuring as they do members of French Horn Rebellion, Savoir Adore and Mighty Five. Their dreamy pop reveals the influencers of the likes of Peter Gabriel, Cocteau Twins and The Cure – the latter shining through particularly on the breezy, wistful new single “Drive,” which BlackBook premieres here.
Singer Deidre Muro’s vocals are full of longing as she tells of “moments in the lamplight” and longs to “get my second chance,” over mellifluous, echo-y guitar melodies that remind of Robert Smith’s cheerier moments (“Friday I’m in Love”).
“This song was started while [band member] Derek [Muro] was still living in California,” she recalls, “and it kept a lot of its warm, desert highway vibe as it traveled to Brooklyn. It’s about someone who is resolved to move on – even in the face of self-sabotage and getting stuck in the past, she armors herself in a number of ways to get through it. There’s always been some magic in the catharsis of a long car ride…”
A full album is coming in June on the cleverly monikered new label YouTooCanWoo. They’ll also be playing a special show (with French Horn Rebellion) at NYC’s Mercury Lounge on March 31.
With a vital, exciting new album, Spirit, released this week, Depeche Mode once again prove that they are post-punk’s most enduring and relevant act. Not to mention one of the most influential. Worldwide ticket sellouts for their Global Spirit tour confirms that they are also the most popular,
Here we revisit a strikingly visceral and revealing 2009 BlackBook interview with godlike singer Dave Gahan and the frontman of one of their most successful musical progeny, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
Brandon, how have you been influenced by Depeche Mode?
BF Before I ever thought of myself as a musician, I was personally affected by Depeche Mode. Some Great Reward and Songs of Faith and Devotion shaped me as an individual before I even wrote a song. So they mean a lot to me… [laughs]. God, this is surreal.
It’s interesting that you bring up Songs of Faith and Devotion. I’ve always seen Depeche Mode’s work as being about exploring guilt, perversity and sexuality as a reaction to society’s ideas about religion and morality.
DG The three subjects that you mentioned and that Depeche Mode write about are the keys to wanting to be a part of something, and wanting to be able to be intimate, and ultimately having some sense of peace within yourself. For me, I can’t get that from somebody or something else. You have to feel it within, that there’s something that the universe is offering; but we often seem unable to grasp it.
Brandon, there also seems to be a search for moral and spiritual grounding in your songs.
BF It’s been a constant struggle for me. Growing up in Las Vegas really prepared me for this. There’s so much that goes on there that is taboo everywhere else, and it finds its way into our songs. I’m trying to come to terms with the reality that I’m a believer, and I’m getting more comfortable with it as I get older. Sometimes it’s a weird contradiction with what I do, I know.
DG Not really. It takes a lot of courage nowadays to actually come out and say that. I think we all want to believe in something.
The lyrics to the songs “Kingdom” and “Miracles” on your solo record Hourglass deal directly with the struggles of being a non-believer.
DG Yeah, it’s a constant search for hope and faith that there is a higher power that has a better eye on things—because, obviously, we’re not doing a very good job of it.
Well, the Killers’ “Are we human?” is a big, poignant, existential question.
DG Through music, you’re able to express that, whether lyrically or atmospherically. I hear it in the landscape of the Killers’ songs; I can hear the search.
I think it was Wagner who said that if you want to find God, look for Him in music.
BF They say that making your own music can be the closest thing to a religious experience. When I do go to church, the hymns are what always suck me in. I can be having a day of doubt, but as soon as I hear the right gospel song, it’s over. There’s no more doubt.
Dave, you were a part of destroying everything that the music industry had become comfortable with. It was punk, it was electronic music and the bands did it. Now, technology is changing things for the bands, rather than the bands being in control of the revolution. How are you both dealing with it?
BF I’m paranoid all the time because of YouTube [laughs]. But the great thing about technology is that it allows you to make an amazing sounding record in your kitchen.
You could argue that Daniel Miller took the first step down that road. He said that a guy, alone with his synthesizer, was the most punk thing ever. And he made this incredible club hit, “Warm Leatherette,” as the Normal, with just himself and his machine.
DG Yeah, that was pretty radical at the time. We had that as our template for the kind of music we wanted to make. Coming out of punk, we knew we weren’t going to blag our way through guitar, bass and drums. But we could just plug our three synthesizers into a PA, and we could play all these little clubs in London. At the time, it was not considered “real” music.
Brandon, you’ve derided the lack of ambition from the general music culture, and with the latest Killers record, you seem to be reaching for grandiosity. U2 had The Unforgettable Fire and Depeche Mode came out with Music for the Masses. Are you consciously preparing for that next step?
BF Well, in talking about all the blandness, I think it’s a fear of just going for it. All the bands I grew up listening to, they went for it. Now, we’re finally feeling comfortable enough, and we’re not going to be afraid of it.
DG That’s right. You have to go out there and embrace it. We just made another record that was produced by Ben Hillier, and he said to me that he’s never worked with a vocalist who works as hard as I do. But a lot of discipline goes into maintaining any kind of ongoing success and ongoing growth. It’s not something you just pull out of the air. You have to believe in what you’re doing.
What do you want to give people with your music?
BF There’s never been a song that we put out that I don’t want to sing. It’s inevitable that someone else is going to feel that same feeling that I have, that transcendence. For instance, no matter how dark a Depeche Mode song might be, there was always something uplifting about it.
DG I’ve never quite understood why people think our music is so depressing. We’re making music that relates to life. I could be singing about hiding away within myself, but the music takes you to a higher place. It’s that human contradiction. There is a lot of black comedy in our music that I don’t think people really get.
BF The last song on Black Celebration, “But Not Tonight”… [sighs heavily in adoration]. The line, “My eyes have been so red I’ve been mistaken for dead / But not tonight.” Those are the moments I’m talking about—in all the dark, there’s optimism.
We’ve never met a Firmdale hotel we didn’t utterly adore. Their eight London properties are amongst the capital’s buzziest (The Soho Hotel), most fashionable (The Ham Yard), and most dashingly elegant (The Knightsbridge). All of those qualities came magnificently together in their first US property, the Crosby Street Hotel – which opened in Soho, NYC 2009.
Now they’ve taken all that panache uptown…to W. 56th Street specifically. The new Whitby Hotel has just debuted, a few blocks from Central Park – a perfect counter to the area’s concentration of glitzy luxe hotels and old classics. Firstly, the rooms bear the instantly recognizable aesthetic stamp of inimitable designer-partner Kit Kemp – with their brightly mod color patterns and alluringly tactile fabrics. A wall of windows frames awesome views of the area’s towering edifices.
Playtime is also important (imperative?) here. For cocktails and bites there’s the The Whitby Bar, opening to the public March 19, is an exotic mixture of the baroque and contemporary – with walls adorned with striking plate displays. The Whitby Theater should finally take screening events out of those musty old Midtown screening rooms.
And best of all, American address, English heart – don’t forget to book a proper and very stylish Afternoon Tea at the Whitby. Lovely.
Our love for all things David Lynch has never been a secret. So it’s hardly a surprise, we’ve also fallen hard for his current and always stunning muse Chrysta Bell. The ethereal vocalist and songwriter has regularly collaborated with the modern Renaissance man, including the gorgeous recent single and video “Beat the Beat.”
Leading up to the quite anxiously awaited release of her new album We Dissolve, produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey), as well as her starring role in Showtime’s equally anticipated new Twin Peaks series, we asked the lovely Mlle. Bell to give us a peek into her current creative mindset…and also to share some insights into where she goes to seek sustenance and inspiration in her new adopted home of Oakland, California.
Chrysta Bell on Her New Music
The new record has a lot of the same darkness and tension of my music with David Lynch, but with some radio-friendly aspects as well. I venture into some “goth soul” territory, which comes pretty naturally with my most prevalent artistic motifs of the life/death/life cycle, the Great Unknown and Ultimate Transcendence. The lyrical matter is still pretty heavy and twisted… death ballads/murder ballads/obsession/passion/escapism. In the music I always want to convey that there will be a final and total peace, but the record romanticizes the trip of humanness, being trapped in a feedback loop. In the song “Over You’ I want to get over you but I don’t want to get over you. In “Heaven” I’m calling a dead lover and leaving phone messages.
On Why Oakland Inspires Her
Oakland is the most raw, exciting, brutal, depressing, vibrant and inspiring place I have ever lived. The plight of existence and the will to overcome adversity is everywhere. The duality of the organic ice cream shop next door to a tent community of homeless is commonplace. There are signs of life, death, struggle, survival, compassion and courage on every block. I have been undeniably enriched and expanded by my time living here.
The line out the door will not be an issue once you taste this bagel. As you wait you’ll be sufficiently entertained by the stellar people-watching due to its location in the young, alternative and vibrant Temescal neighborhood. I always get the everything breakfast bagel with braised greens. The coffee is a standout as well.
The food at this vegan spot is simple, wholesome and extremely tasty. The atmosphere is super chill and it’s a great place for having a thoughtful conversation with your dining companion. There’s only one thing on the menu (it changes daily) and it comes with soup and all-you-can-drink hot tea that is earthy and satisfying. There is a selection of after-dinner treats and I always indulge.
Geta is a tiny sushi joint serving traditional Japanese fare. Get the special of the day even if you have never tried it or even heard of it. Prepare your mouth for some of the freshest, most exotic and tastiest fish of your life; it’s the closest to an authentic Tokyo sushi experience as I have found in California. I love to order a carafe of hot sake and a beer and sit at the sushi bar; when the beer comes, ask for an extra glass and pour the sushi chef a beer. They love it and it’s a great and enjoyable way to bond.
This boutique of expertly curated spirits, wine and beer is what would happen if an art gallery and an upscale liquor store had a baby. The interior is all white and chic, and the elegant presentation of the wide range of liquors, liqueurs, bitters, and exotic mixers (you name it) includes handwritten information about flavor profiles and origins. I love looking at all the creative bottles, labels and packaging and imagining how a bouquet from the farmer’s market will look in the bottle once the spirits have been enjoyed. The free Saturday “tastings” offer opportunities to expand your palate and meet locals.
If you have a chance to see a band you love at Fox Theater, TAKE IT. It’s an architectural marvel built in 1928 that is beautifully maintained and features state-of-art sound and light packages – so the shows sound and look incredible. This venue will make a great performace from one of your favorite artists into a life event. Killer spot. An Oakland treasure.
This dive bar is the right mix of grime and personality. The owner is a great guy and somehow that shows through in the atmosphere. I filmed my music video for “Beat the Beat” at Eli’s, and he plays one of the bar patrons. A great place to meet friends who live close by, you feel lucky if this bar is your local hang. As David Lynch would say “it’s got a thing.”
Under the current administration, reproductive rights have come under significant and worrying threat. Indeed, President Trump has already signed an executive order to defund Planned Parenthood, on essentially false pretenses.
So calls to action have become ever more exigent; and it’s a cliche, yes – but every little bit counts.
To wit, our fave new Soho Italian restaurant, the cool and stylish Café Altro Paradiso, is holding a…bake sale – to raise money for the essential women’s health care organization. From 11:30am – 2;30pm on April 2, they’ll be joined by Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernardin, Morgenstern’s, Momofuku Milk Bar, Le Coucou, Del Posto and Reynard, all offering up their signature sweets and baked goods. A similar sale will take place at Estela and at Flora Bar.
SXSW has been arguably overwhelmed with corporate-sponsored events and parties. But what if someone tried to get it back to its essence: bringing together musicians to celebrate creativity?
And so it was that innovative music networking site Treble (check out the Treble app) organized the fittingly named Treble House, sponsored by JBL Audio and Shure, this past week in Austin – which turned into, well, a massive house party. We caught up with Founder Matt Bond for a chat about it.
What inspired the SXSW Treble House?
I hatched the idea a month and a half ago with our friends from Ear2Ground, Babes Only, Just Chicago, and a few other grassroots collectives we love working with. We just wanted to create a place where artists could feel at home. During SXSW, there’s no where in Austin where artists can step away from the overcrowded masses 6th street and just hang out with each other and create. And thats what Treble is all about.
Back in New York, we have this amazing growing community of artists and musicians on the platform. Our “users” sit beside our developers and designer in product meetings. They organize and run our live events. There’s a really unique energy, a true family atmosphere within Treble, and I think those vibes are very needed at SXSW.
The House Party was very wild. Everyone was blown away by The Skins’ performance. My personal highlight was watching all up and coming artists on Treble thrive. Cliche, Riz La Vie, Sol, 88th Key, Kaisson, J Factor. These guys have been supporting our platform since day 1, so to have them come out to Austin with us and tear it up on stage and in the stu alongside big name artists was a blessing. Made me feel like a proud dad.
What is Treble’s overall “mission?”
Right now, the ground floor of the music industry is a massive, fast-growing pool of people and talent resources with no real infrastructure to connect them. Treble’s goal is to create that infrastructure. We want to help artists easily discover collaborators, find talent resources, and navigate the global music-making world. And we’re just getting started…
Though Mexico’s Grupo Habita lord over a mini-empire of boutique hotels in their home country, their expansion into the US has been somewhat careful and methodical. Indeed, after opening the art-and-fashion-fave Americano in New York’s Chelsea in 2011, they waited more than five years before debuting in another American city.
And so it is that Chicago’s hip Wicker Park neighborhood is now home to The Robey – recently unveiled in the renowned Northwest Tower building, dating to 1929. The striking Art Deco edifice remains stunningly intact – but inside, the brand’s inimitable sense of style is everywhere you look. The structure’s unique triangular design means the sleek, black-white-and-glass rooms are flooded with light; while the gorgeous public spaces are a combination of Corbusian modernism and warm urban-rustic.
Interestingly, there’s a sister building next door, The Hollander, with long-term-stay spaces.
But what we love most about Habita hotels, of course, is that they are galvanizing forces for the local creative classes. So, expect a particularly artistic scene to coalesce around its ground floor Cafe Robey (great for a lunchtime kale caesar salad or pork belly cassoulet), its 13th floor Up & Up lounge (with impressive terrace), and, coming in spring…a rooftop pool and its attendant Cabana Club party spot, serving Greek specialties and cocktails along with spectacular views.
Best of all, the Robey’s location means you’re near all the cool kid action – especially city’s notably iconoclastic music scene.
This year’s Lollapalooza will bring together pop princesses (Lorde), dance-goth overlords (The xx), alt-rockers (The Killers, Phantogram), Britpoppers (Liam Gallagher), hipster godheads (Arcade Fire) and hip-hop innovators (Chance the Rapper, Run the Jewels).
Dance geeks were not unconsidered: Justice, Kaskade and Crystal Castles (minus Alice Glass) are all on the bill. As are veteran singer-songwriters (Ryan Adams) and buzzworthy newcomers (Rag’n’Bone Man).
In its 13th year in Chicago, the unstoppable festival will take place August 3-6 in its usual Grant Park locale.
Where to Stay
The Virgin Hotel is just blocks from the festival grounds, and draws a steady parade of mediarati and musicians – who can be found schmoozing it up in the hotel’s super hip Commons Club.
Airport security won’t be getting cheerier anytime soon. But once boarded, things are looking decidedly up for the perpetual traveler.
To wit, the fabulously groovy new Delta partnership with Italian design house Alessi – which we were privileged to have a peek at before its official launch on April 1. The airline, long America’s “cool” carrier, has been ratcheting up the comfort and luxury of late, with plush new seats, wifi access on most flights, bigger overhead bins, notable-chef-created meals and seasonal wine offerings. But this new program brings a welcome dose of style at 30,000 feet.
The Alessi for Delta collection includes signature mod flatware, stylishly patterned trays, stark bone china, curvy crystal glassware…even the tabletop accessories – napkin rings, salt & pepper shakers – get a clever reinvention. It all makes reference to popular items created and inspired by some of Alessi’s most renowned designers; but smartly, feedback was also solicited from both passengers and flight attendants during the design process.
“Alessi was a natural choice for Delta,” says the company’s President Alberto Alessi. “We have worked with some of the most exciting designers in our international network to create the most innovative and advanced in-flight collection in the contemporary design scene.”